Covering events from January - December 2003

Important legal reform packages (known as the "harmonization laws") relating to human rights protection and aimed at meeting the criteria for accession to the European Union continued to be introduced by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Implementation of the reforms was uneven and it was too early to gauge significant progress on human rights as a result of the legislation. Reports of torture and ill-treatment in police detention and disproportionate use of force against demonstrators continued to be matters of grave concern, although the use of some torture methods appeared to diminish. Those who attempted to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully or express dissent on some issues continued to face criminal prosecution.


On 1 March parliament refused to authorize US troop deployment on Turkish soil, signalling that Turkey would not be closely involved with the war in Iraq.

A change in the Constitution brought in by the new AKP government paved the way for AKP Chair Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stand for parliament in a by-election in Siirt province, and on 14 March he replaced Abdullah Gül as Prime Minister.

Four "harmonization" reform packages entered into law on 11 January, 4 February, 19 July and 7 August. Among the notable elements were: provisions aimed at removing certain regulations and practices that had contributed to impunity for torture and ill-treatment; the possibility of retrial for those whom the European Court of Human Rights ruled had suffered a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights as a result of a court ruling in Turkey; abolition of Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law (the crime of spreading separatist propaganda); lifting of restrictions on non-Turkish language broadcasting on private television and radio stations; the end of incommunicado detention and the right to immediate legal counsel for State Security Court detainees; and changes in the organization and status of the National Security Council.

Changes were also made to other laws, including the Law on Associations, the Press Law, the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations, and the Law on Foundations. However, the reforms consisted of amendments to articles of these laws rather than the fundamental redrafting of the laws that human rights lawyers and defenders had called for.

There was concern that despite amendments to and repeal of certain articles of the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) and Anti-Terror Law, the lack of an holistic approach meant that similar articles to those altered or repealed were retained in other laws. AI feared that these could be used by prosecutors in place of the earlier articles.

As a result of the new law on retrial, four former Democracy Party (DEP) deputies – Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Doğan and Selim Sadak – attended the first hearing of their retrial on 28 March. AI believed that the four prisoners of conscience, imprisoned since 1994, were punitively punished for their non-violent political activities relating to the Kurdish question. One-day hearings of the retrial were subsequently held once a month; AI and other international observers voiced serious concerns about the fairness of the trial procedures and the continued imprisonment of the four former deputies.

The pro-Kurdish political party HADEP (People's Democracy Party) was banned by a Constitutional Court ruling on 13 March.

On 23 September Turkey ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

On 25 September Turkey signed the Ottawa Convention (Law on Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and their Destruction). During the year at least 15 people, several of them minors, were killed by landmines or abandoned explosives in the southeastern and eastern provinces. Many others were injured.

On 15 November the Neve Şalom and Beth İsrail synagogues in Istanbul were bombed, allegedly by militant Islamists, killing 26 people and injuring hundreds. On 20 November the British Consulate and the HSBC bank headquarters in Istanbul were bombed, killing 31 people and again injuring hundreds.

Torture and ill-treatment

Torture and ill-treatment in police detention remained a grave concern. Although there were far fewer reports of the use of torture methods such as electric shocks, falaka (beatings on the soles of the feet) and suspension by the arms, there were regular reports of detainees being beaten, stripped naked, sexually harassed and denied adequate sleep, food, drink and use of the toilet.

One reason for the persistence of torture and ill-treatment in detention was the failure of law enforcement officials to follow prescribed procedures, including the duty to inform detainees of their rights and to allow access to legal counsel. Lawyers said that in some cases they were told by police officers that a detainee did not wish to see them without providing any evidence of this. Other contributing factors included inadequate documenting of torture and ill-treatment in medical reports, and the acceptance as evidence by courts of statements extracted under torture.

Disproportionate use of force by police during demonstrations was widespread. Television news programs regularly broadcast scenes of demonstrators being beaten, kicked and ill-treated by law enforcement officials. Groups particularly targeted during demonstrations included supporters of the political party DEHAP (Democratic People's Party), leftist parties, trade unionists, students and anti-war activists.

Of particular concern were the many allegations of people being abducted by plainclothes police and then tortured or ill-treated. These incidents of unrecorded detention were almost impossible to investigate and the perpetrators continued to enjoy impunity.

  • Sixteen-year-old S.T. reported that on 26 November in the town of Siirt, southeast Turkey, he was abducted in the street by plainclothes police, had a sack put over his head and was pushed into a car. He said that his hands and feet were bound and he was beaten over the head and knocked unconscious. He stated that he was beaten severely and threatened with a gun held to his head for information about the whereabouts of his brother. He was later left in a cemetery outside the town.
  • Gülbahar Gündüz, active in the women's section of the Istanbul branch of DEHAP, reported that on 14 June she was abducted in the street in Istanbul by plainclothes police officers, blindfolded, taken in a car to an unknown building, raped and otherwise tortured. Although a report from the Forensic Institute documenting the evidence of torture was pending, an internal police investigation was dropped.

Impunity for police abuses

The 11 January reform package ended the possibility of prison sentences handed down for torture and ill-treatment by police being suspended or converted to fines. The new law was not applied retrospectively. As a result, trials and sentences in such cases continued to be suspended, sometimes on the basis of previous laws.

  • On 18 February the trial of Süleyman Ulusoy (known as "the Hose"), a police superintendent, was suspended under the terms of the December 2000 "amnesty law" (Law No. 4616 on Conditional Suspension of Trials and Sentences for Offences Committed up until April 1999). A videotape showing him beating transvestites with a hosepipe in the Beyoğlu police headquarters in Istanbul had been broadcast on television in 2000. He remained on duty in Istanbul.
  • Two police officers convicted of ill-treating Veli Kaya, a student taking part in a demonstration on 6 November 2002, received a six-month suspended prison sentence in June. The rescue of Veli Kaya by members of the public from a depot beneath a branch of the Şeker Bank in Ankara where he was beaten by police had been broadcast on television. The case was referred to the Supreme Court.
The 11 January reforms also removed the requirement to secure permission from a senior official to investigate allegations of torture or ill-treatment by police. This reform was sometimes ignored.
  • Ali Ulvi Uludoğan and his brother İlhan Uludoğan were detained on 25 May for driving through a red traffic light in the Kulu district of Konya province. They were reportedly beaten, kicked and subjected to verbal sexual harassment in detention in Kulu police station. In contravention of the 11 January reforms, the Kulu kaymakam (local state official) on 8 August decided not to allow an investigation of the alleged torture and ill-treatment.
The 7 August reform package stipulated that trials relating to cases of torture and ill-treatment should be prioritized. Despite this, the ratio of prosecutions of members of the security forces in relation to the number of reports of torture and ill-treatment remained extremely low.
  • The trial of the police officers charged with torturing two women – Fatma Deniz Polattaş and 16-year-old N.C.S. – in İskenderun police headquarters in March 1999 was repeatedly delayed because of the Forensic Institute's two-year failure to supply medical reports detailing their torture.
In a few cases, steps were taken to hold to account perpetrators of human rights violations.
  • In the final stage of the "Manisa Youths" case, the Court of Appeal on 4 April approved the prison sentences ranging from five to 11 years of 10 police officers found guilty of torturing 16 young people in December 1995. The high-profile case almost exceeded the statute of limitations, grounds on which less well-known cases faced collapse.
  • On 22 September, Adil Serdar Saçan, former head of the Istanbul Organized Crime Branch, was reportedly discharged from the police force by the Interior Ministry for ignoring torture committed under his authority. The prosecutor's indictment also detailed incidents of torture committed by him personally. This was a landmark ruling.

Harassment of human rights defenders

A range of laws and regulations was used to restrict freedom of expression and obstruct the activities of human rights defenders. Peaceful statements and activities were prosecuted on grounds of "insulting" various state institutions (Article 159 of the TPC), "aiding and abetting an illegal organization" (Article 169) or "inciting the people to enmity" (Article 312). Other activities were prohibited or punished under Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations, the Law on Associations, press laws and public order legislation. In some cases human rights defenders were imprisoned. However, most of the investigations and trials resulting from such prosecutions ended in acquittals or with sentences being suspended or commuted to fines, highlighting what AI regarded as a pattern of judicial harassment of human rights activists.

Some individuals – including Alp Ayan, a psychiatrist at the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) in Izmir; Rıdvan Kızgın, Head of the Bingöl branch of the Human Rights Association (İHD); and Eren Keskin, a lawyer who co-runs a legal aid project for women survivors of sexual assault in custody – appeared to have been particularly targeted. Punitive fines were a heavy burden on branches of associations and their members.

  • On 12 November, the first hearing of a trial against TİHV took place in Ankara. Seeking the suspension of nine executive board members of the foundation, the prosecutor alleged that in 2001 TİHV had violated the Law on Foundations by "cooperating" with international organizations without securing the permission of the Council of Ministers, and by raising funds via the Internet. The alleged "cooperation" took the form of translating reports and distributing them to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the European Parliament Rapporteur for Turkey, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • Özkan Hoşhanli began serving a 15-month prison sentence on 28 October. He had attempted to observe demonstrations in April and May 1999 in his capacity as the then Chair of the human rights group Mazlum Der (Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People) in Malatya, and was sentenced to prison and fined in May 2003 under Law No. 2911 for "participating in an illegal demonstration and not dispersing after orders and warnings, and having to be dispersed by government forces with force". He was a prisoner of conscience.
  • According to the İHD, 450 prosecutions had been brought against it since 2000 compared to 300 in the previous 14 years. On 6 May police searched the headquarters and local offices of the İHD in Ankara and confiscated books, reports on human rights violations, files, cassettes and computers. The Ministry of Justice informed AI that the search had been carried out on the orders of Ankara State Security Court under Article 169 of the TPC because the İHD was suspected of "coordinating a campaign to voice support for the terrorist organization PKK/KADEK [Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress]".
Teachers and health workers were often posted away from their home as a disciplinary measure for involvement in human rights or trade union activities, and some student activists were expelled or suspended from university.

Violence against women

Sexual assault and harassment of women in police custody continued to be a grave concern, and in February AI published a report on the subject.

Family violence, including so-called "honour killings", was also a grave concern. AI supported the campaign of women's groups in Turkey to remove gender-discriminatory articles in the revised draft of the TPC, work on which was started by a parliamentary sub-committee in October.

Killings in disputed circumstances

A few dozen civilians were shot dead by the security forces and village guards, most of them in the southeastern and eastern provinces. Many may have been victims of extrajudicial executions or the use of excessive force.

  • On 8 July, five people in the village of Pul, Bingöl province, were killed by unknown assailants. There were conflicting allegations as to whether the perpetrators belonged to the state security forces or the PKK/KADEK.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Turkey in March, June and November to conduct research on human rights and observe trials.

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