How Turkey weaponizes counter-terrorism legislation against human rights defenders

News release

Geneva – Brussels, 13 June 2022

Turkey has been employing counter-terrorism and national security legislation to restrict rights and freedoms and silence the voices of human rights defenders, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) said in a briefing published today. In the last three months of 2021 alone, no less than 1,220 human rights defenders suffered judicial harassment or reprisals.

The women and men who monitor respect for our rights and freedoms also play a crucial role in protecting societies from terrorist acts”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “It is ironic that these are the very people that the Turkish authorities target by subverting the fight against terrorism to quash any form of dissent, including the defence of human rights. With Turkish courts becoming willing executioners of State policy, we see an increase in the arbitrary sentencing of human rights activists.”

Since 2016, Turkey has been governed by a State of Emergency regime. Although officially abolished on 19 July 2018, this regime was in fact made permanent via a raft of regulations. Key to the government’s strategy is Anti-Terrorism Law No. 3713, which is used to fully restrict rights and freedoms and silence the voices of human rights defenders. The excessively vague and broad definition of terrorism in the law allows to label peaceful human rights defenders as "terrorist offenders".

This has resulted in increasing numbers of investigations and prosecutions. Official data show that in 2020, 6551 people were prosecuted under the anti-terrorism law, while a staggering 208,833 were investigated for “membership in an armed organisation”, including thousands of human rights defenders.

Targets include the Human Rights Association (HRA) – a member of OMCT’s global SOS-Torture Network - and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), whose leadership have at least 30 investigations and prosecutions pending against them. The OMCT has documented the ongoing intimidation and criminalisation of Eren Keskin and Öztürk Türkdoğan, HRA co-chairs.

The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council have issued resolutions on Turkey’s failure to respect human rights and the rule of law. The Council of Europe has also recently launched proceedings against Turkey following its refusal to comply with decisions by the European Court of Human Rights.

This briefing note is the second in a series documenting the collapse of the rule of law in Turkey and is based on the work of OMCT’s partners in Turkey. Read it in English and Turkish .

The first briefing note, focusing on emergency decrees, can be accessed here in English and Turkish

The full report on Anti-Terrorism Laws and Their Impact on Human Rights in Turkey can be accessed

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the largest global NGO group actively standing up to torture and protecting human rights defenders worldwide. It has more than 200 members in 90 countries. Its international Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

For more information, please contact :
Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications

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