Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2003 - Turkey

Law on Association51

A number of amendments to the Turkish Law on Association n° 2908 of 6th October 1983, which contains numerous restrictive provisions, were passed in 2003. These amendments were drafted as part of the 4th, 5th and 7th "reform or harmonization packages", and passed on 2nd January, 21stMarch and 30th July respectively in the context of Turkey's application for membership of the European Union.

The amendment to article 6 states that apart from official correspondence, associations can now use other languages than Turkish. The amendment to art. 16 states that legal entities can now be members of associations. The amendment to art. 44 revokes the obligation for associations to submit their press releases and "declarations" to the authorities for approval; however, administrative bodies can still confiscate publications. The amendment to art. 10/1 standardizes the time for which an application for registration must be examined by the governor's office and the Interior ministry, changing it to 60 days (it was previously 30 days for examination by a governor and 90 days by the ministry); and the amendment to art. 38 extends the range of activities of students entitled to belong to associations to include art, culture and science. Finally, the amendment to art. 31 revokes the minimum residence obligation for people wishing to set up an association. This amendment particularly facilitates the creation of branches.

These amendments mainly constitute a favourable change in Turkish legislation on freedom of association. The reforms were also accompanied by amendments to sections of the Criminal Code often used to obstruct the activities of human rights advocates, especially as regards freedom of expression. For example, art. 159 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits "insults towards the Republic, the legal personality of Parliament, the Government, Ministers of State, the armed forces and security forces and the legal personality of the courts" has been amended to allow greater freedom of opinion and expression; in particular, the minimum penalties for the offence of insult have been reduced. Art. 312/2 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits "incitement to hatred and enmity", states that in future this offence will only be punished if such incitement constitutes a threat to public order, and the penalty for the offence has been reduced. Finally, art. 7 of the Anti-terrorism Act, which prohibits propaganda in favour of an illegal organization, states that in future this offence will only be committed in the event of incitement to use "terrorist" methods.

However, despite this legislative progress, prosecutions of human rights advocates are still numerous in practice. They are still prosecuted and convicted under art. 159 for criticizing the army, police, etc. and there has been an increase in the use of art. 169 of the Turkish Criminal Code which prohibits "aid and assistance to an illegal organization". During the last two years, a number of human rights advocates, political and trade union leaders have been prosecuted under this section for "aid and assistance to an illegal organization" because they criticized the widespread use of F-type prisons and the conditions under which political prisoners are held in custody.

IHD and its members targeted

Ankara headquarters and section

Search of IHD's Ankara premises.52 On 6th May 2003, the headquarters of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (IHD) and the offices of the Ankara branch of the IHD were raided by the special anti-terrorism forces accompanied by the prosecutor of the Ankara State Security Court. The police seized computer equipment, and files and registers held by the Association.

The prosecutor informed members of staff that the operation was performed by order of the Security Court, in the course of a preliminary investigation and prosecutions for "aiding an illegal organization" (art. 169 of the Criminal Code).

The raid took place when members of the IHD had just participated in the 28th session of the UN Committee against Torture (2nd-5th May 2003), during which a member of the Turkish delegation had challenged the validity of the questions posed by the Committee's Rapporteur relating to harassment of human rights advocates in Turkey.

Most of the computers and files seized during the raid were returned to IHD after examination by the Anti-terrorism Department, except for the address book of IHD's chairwoman Feray Salman, and some files.

At the end of 2003 the preliminary investigation was still continuing.

Proceedings against 46 members of IHD board of directors.53 On 5th May 2003, the 46 members of the IHD board of directors who were prosecuted for "possession of prohibited documents" (Article 526/1 of the Criminal Code), following a raid conducted on the headquarters' premises by the Police in January 2001, were sentenced to three months in prison and a fine of 36 million Turkish pounds by the Ankara n° 1 Criminal Court of Peace. That same day, their prison sentence was commuted to a fine of 249,130,000 Turkish pounds for each of the defendants.

Proceedings against the members of the Ankara section executive office.54 Since 11th January 2001, proceedings were commenced against the members of the executive office of the IHD section in Ankara for "supporting an illegal organisation" (Art. 169 of the Criminal Code), in connection with the activities of the IHD subsequent to the events that occurred in the prisons in December 2000. After several postponed hearings, the IHD members were acquitted on 21st October 2003.

Bingöl section55

On 5th July 2003, when the Bingöl division (South-Eastern Turkey) published its bi-annual report, Mr. Ridvan Kizgin, president of the IHD Bingöl division, presented the conclusions to this report during several press conferences, that put forward the matter of renewed violations to human rights, in particular the ill treatment and acts of harassment by the police forces and the gendarmerie.

On 8th July, an individual, posing as the commandant of a regiment in the gendarmerie of the province, called Mr. Kizgin on his mobile telephone, and asked him to present himself at the gendarmerie camp. This person also demanded that Mr. Kizgin publish a disclaimer in the press on his claims about the forces of law and order. The following day, in another telephone call, the same individual reiterated to him that the commandant wanted to see him. Mr. Kizgin refused to hand himself over to the gendarmerie and publicly condemned the methods used by the authorities. The IHD immediately denounced this situation before the Prime Minister, the ministers of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs, as well as before the Command of the gendarmerie and the parliamentary Commission on human rights.

Since its creation on 12th April 2001, the members of the IHD Bingöl division have been under permanent pressure from the local authorities. At the end of 2003, Mr. Ridvan Kizgin was the subject of 29 inquiries and lawsuits. In 2002, Mr. Ridvan Kizgin and Mr. Fevzi Abkulut, division secretary, were arrested after participating as observers in a press conference organised for the Kurdish party HADEP. Detained for two months, they were prosecuted on the grounds that they were said to be infringing law n° 2911 on demonstrations.56 At the end of 2003 the trial was still pending.

Istanbul Section

Harassment of Mrs. Eren Keskin.57 Mrs. Eren Keskin, lawyer and former president of the IHD Istanbul division has been readmitted to the Istanbul Bar Association. She was "asked to resign" by the Association for a year and no longer had the right to practise following her sentencing on 10th April 2001 to a year of imprisonment for "separatist propaganda". This resignation took effect on 18th November 2002.

Moreover, proceedings commenced against her in July 2002 for "inciting hatred" (Article 312 of the Criminal Code), due to a speech she made in March 2002 in Germany relating to women's rights. Mrs. Keskin was acquitted on 12th September 2003. Moreover, the complaint made by Mrs. Keskin against the journalist Mr. Fathi Altayi, is still in progress before the Sisli Court of First Instance n° 3. Following her speech in Germany during which she mentioned in particular the sexual attacks suffered by women in Turkish prisons, Mr. Altayli confirmed in a radio programme of 8th April, that he would willingly sexually assault Mrs. Keskin at the first opportunity.

Conviction of Mrs. Kiraz Biçici. The appeal launched by Mrs. Kiraz Biçici, representative of the IHD division in Istanbul is still pending. In November 2002, Mrs. Biçici was sentenced to forty-five months imprisonment for having supported, during an interview broadcast on Media TV, different illegal organisations, one of which was the PKK, on the subject of F-type prisons. At the end of 2003 the appeal process was still pending.

Diyarbakir Section58

The members of the executive committee of the IHD Diyarbakir section remain subjected to legal proceedings based on Article 64/1 of the Criminal Code and Articles 6 and 77/1 of the law on associations stating that official papers must be exclusively rewritten in Turkish, in connection with publications in which the Kurdish letter "w" was used when writing the word "Newroz". On 28th February 2003, the Diyarbakir Criminal Court n° 3 acquitted the members of the section.

Bursa Section59

The directors of the section who have been subjected to legal proceedings since 2001 before the Court of Assises were acquitted in 2003.

Malatya Section60

The section that was closed for an indefinite period of time since 29th November 2000, following a decision of the Malatya Criminal Court, has been able to reopen and hold its congress.

The HRFT and its members targeted

Legal proceedings against the members of the HRFT board of directors61

On 28th July 2003, the General Directorate of Foundations commenced legal proceedings before the Ankara Civil Court of First Instance against nine members of the board of directors of the Human Rights Foundation in Turkey (HRFT). The people affected are: Mssrs Yavuz Onen, president, Selim Olcer, general secretary, Sabri Dokuzoguz, treasurer, and Mehmet Vurale, Mustafa Cinkilic, Günseli Kaya, Sukran Irencin, Okan Akhan, Sedat Aslantas, members.

These proceedings were instituted on the basis of a report drawn up by three inspectors who had examined the activities of the Foundation in 2001.

The members of the Foundation are formally accused of having:

  • collected donations on the Internet without prior authorisation from the authorities;
  • translated into English and distributed to the international community the "special report on the problem of prisons in Turkey" drawn up by the Foundation's documentation centre;
  • given documents about compulsory disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Turkey to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Mrs. Asma Jahangir;
  • handed over dossiers concerned with F-type prisons and police operations within the prisons in December 2000 to Mr. Johannes Svoboda, Rapporteur on Turkey in the European Parliament;
  • relay to the Commissioner on Human Rights of the Council of Europe an evaluation report of the human rights situation in Turkey, as well as information about compulsory migrations.

The nine members of the Foundation are being prosecuted for violation of articles 6, 7 and 8 of the law n° 2860 (1983) on the collection of donations and articles 5, 6 and 7 of its ruling (1999), also for the violation of article 2 of the appendices to the Ruling on the foundations established in accordance with the Turkish Civil Code, that provides for "the cooperation of foreign foundations or organisations with similar objectives requiring authorisation from the Council of Ministers".

The proceedings affect the suspension and deposition of the nine members under Article 112 of the Turkish Civil Code and articles 23 and 24 of the Ruling on Foundations.

On 12th November 2003, during the first hearing of the trial to which the Observatory sent a representative, the Civil Court of First Instance decided to postpone the hearing until 20th January 2004, taking into consideration that the information regarding the first charge of indictment on the collection of donations on the internet was insufficient.

Moreover, the General Directorate of Foundations lodged an official complaint with the Ankara Public Prosecutor's office against the same people. Should the prosecutor decide that the accusations made are valid, the proceedings will then be transferred to the criminal division.

Legal proceedings against Dr. Alp Ayan62

The trial of Dr. Alp Ayan, psychiatrist and member of the Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture in Izmir, a HRFT programme, took place in 2003. Dr. Alp Ayan was prosecuted under article 159 of the Criminal Code for "insulting the armed forces" and "insulting the ministry of Justice" in connection with the declaration made on 10th February 2001, in protest against police operations in prisons and human rights' violations in F-type prisons. On this occasion, he had denounced the inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, also the acts of torture inflicted on the inmates in F-type prisons. On 24th April 2003, at the hearing to which the Observatory sent a representative, the Criminal Court of First Instance considered that the amendments to article 159 had been adopted after the facts brought against Dr. Ayan, and declared the matter was not within his field of competences. The matter was referred to the Final Court of Appeal, which later decided this conflict of competences by referring the dossier to the Izmir High Criminal Court. At the hearing of 10th December, 2003, attended by a representative of the Observatory, the High Criminal Court postponed the trial of Mr. Ayan until 3rd March 2004.

Legal proceedings against Alp Ayan and Mehmet Barindik63

The proceedings against Mssrs Alp Ayan and Mehmet Barindik, executive member of the LIMTER-IS trade union, remain pending. On 10th June 2002, Mr. Alp Ayan and Mr. Mehmet Barindik were respectively sentenced to one year and one day's imprisonment and one year's imprisonment according to article 159 of the Criminal Code. The matter was therefore referred to the Supreme Court that re-evaluated the expressions used in the press release that was read by the two men, in respect of the amendments made to article 159 of 2nd August 2002. The n° 9 Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court had cancelled the decision of the Izmir Criminal Court n° 4. At the hearing of 19th June 2003, the prosecutor asked for acquittal with the motive that the expressions used did not fall under the definition of "criticism". Nevertheless, the Court upheld the sentence of one year's imprisonment and the matter has once again been referred to the Supreme Court at the end of the hearing.

Legal proceedings against Alp Ayan and Günseli Kaya64

The legal proceedings against Dr. Alp Ayan and Mme Günseli Kaya remained pending until the end of 2003. They are being prosecuted, along with 68 people, for having organised an illegal demonstration during the funerals of one of the victims of the violent repression in the central prison in Ankara on 26th September 1999. At the last hearing of 19th December 2003, the prosecutor of the Aliaga Criminal Court of First Instance recommended 30 of the defendants to be sentenced to 3 to 5 years imprisonment, including Dr. Alp Ayan, Mrs. Günseli Kaya and four members of the Bar Association of Izmir lawyers: Mssrs Sevgi Binbir, Seray Topal, Zeynek Kaya and Erdal Yagceken, under article 32/3 of the law n° 2911 on demonstrations concerning "attacking policemen with stones and bottles" and "opposition by violent means". The prosecutor recommended 1 to 3 years imprisonment for 26 other defendants whose lawyer, Berrin Esin Kaya is a member of the foundation, under article 32/1 of the same law. The hearing was postponed to 26th January 2004.

Mr. Veli Lök, surgeon and HRFT delegate in Izmir, was sentenced to a heavy fine on 13th June 2000 and took his case to the final Court of Appeal. The case was definitively closed under the law on conditional liberty (amnesty law), adopted in December 2000, on condition that he did not commit the same crime within the next five years.

Mr. Yavuz Önen, president of the HRFT, was sentenced to imprisonment and a fine – the prison sentence later being commuted to a heavy fine – on 27th March 2001, after his declarations in an article published in the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet on 19th January 2000, criticizing the proceedings against Mrs. Kaya and Mr. Ayan. He was acquitted in appeal by the Izmir Criminal Court of First Instance on 23rd September 2003. The sentence of Mr. Filkret Ilkiz, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, was upheld in appeal on the same day. On 24th September, the Izmir public prosecutor's office appealed to the Court of Appeal in order to cancel this verdict.

Legal proceedings against the members of the Centre for the Treatment of Victims of Torture in Diyarbakir65

Following a raid led by the authorities on the premises of the Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture set up in Diyarbakir by HRFT on 7th September 2001, Mr. Sezgin Tanrikulu, representative of the Centre, was prosecuted for "possession of prohibited documents" and "opening the Centre without authorisation". He was acquitted of this last charge but remained subjected to proceedings for the former. On 3rd December 2003, The Criminal Court of First Instance of Diyarbakir decided to acquit Mr. Tanrikulu.

Following this raid, proceedings were also launched on 31st May 2002 against Mssrs. Emin Yuksel and Recai Aldemir, two doctors at the Centre for "misconduct in the framework of professional obligations". On 16th December 2003, Mr. Ezmin Yuksel was acquitted. Mr. Recai Aldemir was sentenced to imprisonment, this sentence later being commuted to a fine. Mr. Aldemir appealed and the case was transferred to the Court of Appeal.

Trial of GIYAV66

The 21 founding members of GIYAV (Migration and Humanitarian Assistance Foundation) organisation, which offers economic, social, cultural and legal assistance to displaced peoples, were accused of having used, in documents published by the organisation, expressions such as: "Kurdish mother-tongue", "multi-culturalism", "displaced persons" or "practices implemented in the context of a state of emergency". They were sentenced to seven and a half years in prison under article 169 of the Criminal Code, for "supporting an illegal organisation".

Their trial started on 26th February 2003 at the Adana State Security Court, in the presence of a representative of the Observatory.

On 20th October 2003, after numerous postponed hearings, the Court acquitted the GIYAV members, in the presence of a representative sent by the Observatory. The Court also ordered that the various legal and administrative documents confiscated by the State prosecutor should be returned to the association. This acquittal followed the adoption of law n° 4928 and its article 2, passed in the context of the 6th train of legislative measures, and amending the article 169 of the Criminal Code. According to this article, references to "Kurdish mother-tongue", as well as public declarations and petitions denouncing human rights violations, are no longer subject to sentencing.

Nevertheless, seven members of GIYAV, Mssrs. Mustafa Erdoglu, Kadir Arikan, Hikmet Özcan, Mehmet Barut, Ayse Bakaç, Remzi Erkut and Ömer Dogan, all members of the board of directors when the legal proceedings started, were referred to the Mersin Criminal Court of First Instance, under article 312-1 of the Criminal Code concerning "the apology of a crime"

Trial of four lawyers of the Diyarbakir Bar67

On 3rd June 2003, legal proceedings started against four lawyers, members of the Diyarbakir Bar association: Mssrs. Sezgin Tanrikulu, president of the Bar Association, Sabahattin Korkmaz, Burhan Deyar and Habibe Deya, were accused of "dereliction of duty" and "abuse of their legal responsibility", under articles 240 of the Criminal Code and art. 59/1-2 of the law on legal professions. According to the province governor, Mssrs Tanrikulu, Korkmaz, Deyar and Deya attempted to "obtain unwarranted compensations, by promising villagers new houses and money, when their houses had not been demolished. The four lawyers were also reproached to have seized the governor of the province in order to re-open the cases of 96 villagers, whose homes had been evacuated and burnt at Çaglayan in the Kulp district, and in Ziyaret and Uluacak in the Lice district, during the events of 1993 and 1994.68 Based on the conclusions of an inquiry conducted at his request by the gendarmerie, the governor decreed that the villagers' complaints were unfounded, and opened a judicial case against their lawyers.

The trial of the four lawyers started on 3rd October 2003 before the Diyarbakir High Criminal Court. On 5th December, in the presence of a representative from the Observatory, the Court decided to postpone the hearing until 24th December 2003. The four lawyers were then acquitted.

Legal proceedings against sixteen intellectuals for the publication of Freedom of Thought 200069

In 2001, sixteen intellectuals were prosecuted for the publication of a book entitled Freedom of Thought 2000, which contained sixty censored articles. Four trials were conducted against them before the Military Court of Chief Office of the General State, the Criminal Court of First Instance, the Heavy Penal Court as well as the Istanbul State Security Court. The cases in the first three courts were concluded with an acquittal. The case before the Istanbul State Security Court, for "publication of prohibited articles", "inciting hatred", "supporting an illegal organisation" and "distributing separatist propaganda" remains pending, as the Court of Appeal decided to revoke the acquittal of the intellectuals on 18th June 2001. On 19th August 2003, after several postponed hearings, the prosecutor requested 15 of these intellectuals to be acquitted by the Court, due to the abolition of article 8 of the anti-terror law and the amendments to articles 169 and 312 of the Criminal Code. They were all acquitted on 29th September 2003.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

51. Idem.

52. See Press Release of May 6, 2003.

53. See Annual Report 2002.

54. Idem.

55. See Urgent Appeal TUR 001/0703/OBS 032 and Annual Report 2002.

56. See Annual Report 2002.

57. Idem.

58. Idem.

59. Idem.

60. Idem.

61. See Press Release of 13th November 2003.

62. See Annual Report 2002 and Press Releases of 15th April 2003 and of 15th December 2003.

63. See Annual Report 2002.

64. Idem.

65. Idem.

66. See Press Releases of 28th February 2003 and 22nd October 2003.

67. See Press Release of 9th December 2003.

68. In 1993 and 1994, the Turkish authorities launched a wave of repression against the Kurdish population living in the South and South-East of the country. Several villages were evacuated and burnt, and incidences of forced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture were reported. Since then, the authorities took no measures to guarantee an independent inquiry, nor for identifying those responsible and putting them before a competent and impartial tribunal. Moreover, most of the victims had to sign, under threat, a discharge confirming that they would renounce their right to compensation, and have never been able to obtain compensation for the demolition of their homes. 69 See Annual Report 2002.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.