US State Department 2018 report highlights gross human rights abuses across Turkey with others resulting in murder and disappearances

Torture, arbitrary killings, wide-ranging practices of rights violations and forced disappearances.

These are some of the horrors happening in Turkey found in the 2018 country report on human rights that was on Wednesday released by the US State Departments.

In its executive summary, the report gives an account of the post-coup crackdown pursued by Ankara after the botched 2016 coup.

The report notes the dismissals of more than 130,000 civil servants from their posts and the imprisonment of more than 80,000. Citing the figures issued by the Turkish state, the report notes nearly 600,000 were subjected to some kind of criminal procedure.

Pointing out the narrative of the Turkish government, which defines the Gulen movement, led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, as a terrorist organization as the main organizers of the failed coup, the report notes this narrative formed the grounds for an array of rights violations.

Arbitrary murders aplenty

The detailed document cites a report of Human Rights Watch (HRW), that gave the accounts of nine Syrian immigrants describing their crossing of the Turkish border. In March 2018, 14, among them, five children, were killed by Turkish border guards who arbitrarily shot at them.

The report also underlines the civilian casualties as a result of the conflict between the Turkish Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an armed insurgency in southeastern Turkey for decades.

There are also references to Turkey’s cross-border military intervention into Syria, called Operation Olive Branch, with its civilian casualties and possible war crimes perpetrated by the armed forces and the Free Syrian Army contingents who accompanied them during the operation, such as attacks at sites protected by the 1949 Geneva convention.

Forced, unaccounted for disappearances

The report points out to the 28 cases of forced disappearance, citing the case of Umit Horzum, who disappeared in December 2017 and was handed over to the police after 133 days.

The document also names the extraordinary renditions conducted by the country’s intelligence service (MIT). Referring to the figures given by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, it further asserts more than 100 alleged Gulen Movement affiliates were brought back to Turkey from 18 countries unlawfully.

The State Department document alludes to the cases in Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Kosovo, underlining how deported individuals were not able to contest the grounds for their deportation, violating the regulations for due process.

Torture and other inhuman treatment

The document cites a report by UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, which noted “allegations that a large numbers of individuals suspected of links to the Gulen movement or PKK were exposed to brutal interrogation techniques aimed at extracting forced confessions or coercing detainees to incriminate others,” further laying out that abuse entailed, “severe beatings, electrical shocks, exposure to icy water, sleep deprivation, threats, insults, and sexual assault.”

The report also alludes to HRW’s World Report 2018, which named the “widespread reports of police beating detainees, subjecting them to prolonged stress positions and threats of rape, threats to lawyers, and interference with medical examinations.”

The State Department’s annual report recounts media reports regarding the abuses that took place in the Kurdish-majority cities of southeastern Turkey, including severe beatings of a Kurdish soldier by other soldiers for speaking Kurdish in the eastern province of Van.

The report further mentions over-crowded prison cells, pointing out that more than 260,000 prisoners are being held in facilities with a capacity for 211,000 inmates.

The mass arrests targeting tens of thousands of people are also covered in the report, which notes that alleged Gulen Movement and PKK affiliates were denied their right to a fair and free trial and being held in pre-trial detention for long terms often with charges based on flimsy evidence.

“Broad definitions used to prosecute and intimidate government critics” 

The report points out to a backsliding with regards to freedom of expression, association, movement and protest following the failed 2016 coup.

“Hundreds of incarcerations were widely viewed as related to freedom of expression. In an example of the government’s use of broad definitions of terror to prosecute and intimidate critics,” says the report.

It carries on with giving details on one particular case to offer a glimpse of the current situation in Turkey regarding civil liberties, “in June, authorities arrested two teenagers who drew a picture of an electric kettle and wrote the name of the pro-Kurdish HDP [Peoples’ Democratic Party] on a wall in Istanbul’s Gazi neighborhood.

The teens were charged with disseminating propaganda of a terrorist organization. The tea kettle reference came from remarks by jailed HDP presidential candidate Demirtas, who had joked, through social media posts by his lawyers, about tweeting via an electric kettle in his prison cell.”

The report also includes the government’s displacement of more than 90 elected mayors in southeastern Turkey, who were members of HDP and its regional sister Democratic Regions Party (DBP) underlining only four mayors from these parties remain in office.

Human Rights Watch report paints a bleak picture in over 100 countries, including the jailing of journalists in Turkey

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