Turkish authorities suspend 370 CSOs as efforts to eradicate dissent escalate

Association

On 15th November, Turkish authorities suspended 370 NGOs for alleged links to the Gulen movement, the Kurdish PKK or leftwing organisations. The latest purge has targetted CSOs working on a variety of issues, including women's rights, child rights and justice. The scale and speed of the purge is illustrative of the Turkish authorities' determination to eliminate critical and independent opposition. The mass suspension, together with the lack of a proper appeals mechanism for suspended organisations, casts a huge shadow over Turkey's commitment to democracy. In a recent interview, the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, who themselves have been suspended, said the following: 

'It is impossible for us to say that the closure or suspension of activities of organisations without court orders is democratic.'

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the situation for civic activism in Turkey has deteriorated at an alarming rate. On 24th October, a group of intellectuals called 'Unity for Democracy', gathered to condemn the unrelenting assault against basic freedoms in Turkey. The group, comprised of academics, opposition party members and civil society released a statement:

'The rule of law has been abolished; the judiciary has been made totally dependent on power. Power is gathered in the hands of one person. The use of this power is subject to no expiration. It is more true to speak of the unity of forces, not the division of forces in Turkey.'

The group's comments have drawn attention to Turkey's democratic slide towards a system that heavily concentrates power with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The statement comes as Erdoğan's government plans for a referendum in 2017 to formalise his consolidation of executive power. In parallel, a new NGO called Başkan-Der which supports a movement towards a presidential system has embarked on a campaign of advertising, documentaries and leaflets to build support for President Erdoğan's reforms. The freedom that this pro-government group enjoys sits in stark contrast to the mass suspension of activities and arrests experienced by independently critical NGOs in Turkey. According to a report by the Turkish Human Rights Association, published on the 22nd October, Turkish prisons are now operating at 120% capacity due to the mass arrests and arbitrary detentions of many people alleged to have been involved in the coup. The group also drew attention to the prevalence of maltreatment of detainees in Turkish prisons: 

'Reports and photos in the media show that there are serious instances torture and maltreatment in Turkish prisons as people were kept naked in cold sports complexes and handcuffed. They are left without food or water. And they are also beaten.'

According to monitoring groups, as of 10th November, at least 35,389 people have been arrested and 76,485 detained since the post-coup purge began in July. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 17th October, authorities in the Turkish capital Ankara banned all public assemblies and demonstrations until the end of November, after receiving information on the threat of 'possible terrorist attacks'. The freedom of peaceful assembly has become nearly impossible in Turkey, particularly when exercised by anti-government groups, with security forces routinely using excessive force to disperse protesters.

The highly publicised arrest of leaders of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, sparked a wave of protests. On 5th November, Turkish security forces used water cannon and tear gas to break up a gathering in Istanbul called to protest against the HDP leaders' arrest. On 6th November, a police officer died from gunshot wounds sustained during protests in Adana province, which were also sparked by the arrest of HDP deputies. In all, the protests in Istanbul and Adana led to the arrest of at least 100 people by Turkish security forces. 

On 8th November, a HDP parliamentary group meeting witnessed the attendance of many European diplomats and representatives from CSOs who sought to extend their support to the party in the wake of the arrests. 

In a rare example of the successful exercise peaceful assembly rights, on 8th November 340 workers from İZBAN, a commuter rail system connecting suburban and urban areas in the western province of İzmir, went on strike over disputes in collective bargaining talks with their employers.

Expression

The clampdown on freedom of expression in Turkey also continues. As of 10th November, 186 media outlets have been closed and 144 journalists have been arrested. Most recently, Turkish judicial authorities arrested the CEO of daily publication Cumhuriyet. The arrest took place on 12th November, a day after he was detained upon arrival at Atatürk Airport from a trip to Germany.