Rubber bullets, tear gas and arrests as police break up pride protest

At the time of writing, Turkey remains on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an immediate and developing threat to civic space.

Peaceful Assembly

Citing security concerns, the Turkish Ministry of Interior denied permission for the annual gay pride parade to take place for the third year in a row. Undeterred, however, members of Turkey's LGBTI community attempted to protest in central Istanbul on 25th June 2017. Police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at a small group of activists, and some arrests were reported. Police also prevented a clash between LGBTI protesters and members of ultraconservative groups in Taksim square, arresting members of both groups.

In more positive news, eleven people who had been charged for participating in last year's banned pride parade were acquitted by a Turkish court on 20th June.

Other protests took place in Turkey in recent weeks, despite the state's extension of its state of emergency from 17th April 2017. These included protests in Ankara and Istanbul against the imprisonment of two teachers who have been on a two-month anti-government hunger strike, as well as a march from Ankara to Istanbul by the Turkish opposition and their supporters against the imprisonment of an MP who has been sentenced to 25 years in jail for allegedly leaking information. The march was ongoing at the time of writing.

Association

On 9th June, lawyer and Chair of Amnesty International's Turkey branch, Taner Kiliç, was charged with membership in the "Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation". His arrest and detention come almost one year after a failed coup attempt against the government of President Tayyip Erdogan, for which the authorities have blamed Gülen who lives in exile in the U.S. Amnesty International highlighted that, apart from the presence of a secure messaging app on Kiliç's phone, authorities had produced no evidence to substantiate the charges against him. Head of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, said:

"Taner’s arrest highlights not just a disregard for human rights, but a desire to target those who defend them. We are calling on all those in Turkey and around the world who care about human rights to speak up for a courageous campaigner who has dedicated his life and now sacrificed his liberty in their cause".

Kiliç was arrested with 22 other lawyers in the Aegean coastal province of Izmir, many of whom were also charged or remain in custody. These arrests follow thousands of others as well as the shutting down of 130 news outlets as the state denies fundamental freedoms to anyone it suspects of supporting the coup plotters or being critical of the government.

In a separate development on 30th May, the Turkish authorities expelled four Syrian workers with Dan Church Aid (DCA). The four, who had been detained for two months following closure of the DCA operations, were sent to Khartoum in Sudan to protect them, should they have been forced to return to Syria. DCA's General Secretary Birgitte Qvist-Sørensen said: "We are relieved that they are free and that they have not been deported to Syria, where their lives would have been in imminent danger”.

The expulsions come at a time when many international organisations are facing increased pressure in Turkey, and many have been forced to either scale back their operations, manage programmes from other countries or leave entirely. This has particularly impacted international humanitarian organisations operating in support of Syrian refugees on the border with Turkey.

Expression

The Turkish authorities continue to blatantly violate freedom of expression, especially by extending its state of emergency once again from 17th April 2017. The government has relied heavily on its power over the legal system to target any critical voice, mainly on the grounds of "spreading propaganda for a terrorist organisation”. Recent examples of violations of free expression include:

  • 25-year prison sentence for an opposition MP, who is also a journalist and writer; 
  • targeting the editor of Aydinlik newspaper for failing to print a correction or pay a fine for allegedly insulting Turkey’s energy minister;
  • terrorism propaganda charges against the editor of Sosyalist Dayanışma magazine who was arrested on 24th May; 
  • charges of spreading terrorist propaganda against the editor of Cumhuriyet website; 
  • five-month prison sentence (deferred) for the editor of Evrensel daily newspaper; and
  • detention of eight people on suspicion of using the chat software ByLock - software allegedly used by the group which plotted the 15 July coup attempt.

The authorities have also banned access to 18 webpages that reveal facts about the 2016 coup as well as the Kurdish-language newspaper Rojava Medya. The state has also prohibited the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality from publishing its cultural publication, 1453 İstanbul Culture and Arts Magazine, because of a photograph published in the latest issue of the magazine featuring the slogan “Erdo-Gone! İnşallah - Maşallah” appearing as graffiti on a city wall.