Turkish FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Turkey

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Last updated 12 July 2019

Update: On July 18, 2018, the Turkish government lifted the nationwide state of emergency that was imposed after a failed July 20, 2016 coup attempt. The state of relations between civil society and the government then deteriorated from 2016 to 2018. In addition, Turkey officially transitioned to an executive presidency after President Erdoğan took office on July 9, 2018. In this new system of government, which replaced a parliamentary system, the president alone holds the executive power granted by the Constitution. Since Erdoğan took office, the central government has been reorganized through presidential decrees to determine the main policymaking actors, their role in the new system, and how roles and responsibilities function in the policymaking process. 

Presidential decrees have also brought changes concerning foundations and associations. Presidential Decree No. 17, published on September 13, 2018, amended Presidential Decree No. 1 of July 10, 2018 and abolished the Department of Associations and established a Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society under the Ministry of Interior. The regulation on the organization and duties of the Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society, which came into force on October 10, 2018, defined policy objectives to improve the civil society environment and established an advisory body, the Civil Society Consultation Council, as a new mechanism for civil society participation. However, as of July 2019, the Council has not been established.


Civil society organizations (CSOs) are at the heart of Turkey’s democratization process. Over the past two decades, the not-for-profit sector in Turkey has grown in size and played a significant role in providing services and contributing to the democratization of the country. There has been a roughly 50 percent increase in civil society organizations’ membership and activity since 2000. As of July 2019, there are around 117, 290 associations and 4,915 new foundations (established after the Republic) operating alongside many informal organizations, such as platforms, initiatives, and groups. Their areas of work are mostly concentrated in social solidarity, social services, education, health, and various rights-based issues.

Since officially becoming a European Union (EU) candidate country in 2003, Turkey has implemented a series of reforms that promote democratization, including reforms to its basic framework laws affecting civil society. Turkey still operates, however, under the 1982 Constitution, which was written immediately following a military coup. Until 2004, when a new Associations Law was enacted in Turkey, the autonomy of Turkish CSOs was restricted. The new Associations Law was viewed positively by both civil society and the EU. It lifted some of the limitations on civil society. Subsequently, in 2008, Turkey adopted a Foundations Law, which further improved the legal environment. Nonetheless, today, Turkish CSOs are more aware of the deficiencies in the laws that restrict their activities. Although constitutional regulations comply with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the legal framework still contains numerous incompatibilities with international standards.

Despite improved legislation concerning associations and foundations in 2004 and 2008, challenges and constraints continue, especially regarding secondary legislation and its implementation. In fact, no extensive reforms have been made since the major reform packages accepted in 2004 and 2008 improved the enabling environment of civil society. On the other hand, even before the coup attempt and the subsequent consequences of the state of emergency in 2016, shrinking civic space had been a concern since 2013. The enabling environment for civil society activity further deteriorated after the Gezi Park protests of 2013, which challenged the government's urban development plans. The Turkish government tightened measures against political dissent and public activity it deemed undesirable. For instance, Parliament passed a controversial security bill, the Law Amending the Law on Powers and Duties of the Police, Other Laws and Decrees, which is widely referred to as the “Internal Security Reform Package,” on March 27, 2015 despite fierce opposition. It broadened police power to conduct searches, use weapons, conduct wiretaps, detain individuals without a warrant, and remove demonstrators from sites of protest.

As of 2019, the legal-political environment is not conducive for civil society in Turkey. Restrictions limiting freedom of association, assembly, and speech/advocacy remain. There is still no concrete definition of civil society or legislation, policy documents, or a singular, overarching, and binding legislative framework to govern the relationship between CSOs and public institutions. In addition, freedom of expression has been steadily eroding in Turkey since 2013 through arbitrary and restrictive interpretations of legislation, pressure, dismissals, and frequent court cases against activists, journalists, academics, and social media users. Not-for-profit entities can be inspected on the grounds of their political affiliations, rights-based issues, proximity to government or opposition, and personal complaints. Therefore, they remain prone to arbitrary implementations and interpretations of the law.

Civil society has also been affected by many destabilizing pressures, including renewed tensions over the Kurdish conflict, instability spilling over from neighboring Syria, a series of terrorist attacks by ISIL, an increasing flow of refugees, political deadlocks, economic decline, and a failed coup attempt. The deadly coup attempt on July 15, 2016 was coordinated by a faction of Turkey's military allegedly loyal to the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which deployed tanks and fighter jets to overthrow the government. This unforeseen incident caused a severe interruption in policy making. The context of political instability and post-coup measures have paved way for a state of constant readiness to curb basic freedoms, including the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, for the sake of the preserving national security or public order.

The National Parliament approved a three-month state of emergency on July 21, 2016 to enable authorities to investigate and punish those responsible for the attempted coup. Following the coup attempt, the Turkish authorities also informed the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that Turkey would provide notice of derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights under Article 15 of the Convention. On April 18, 2018, the government extended the state of emergency for a seventh and final time. During this period, the government carried out mass arrests and firings of civil servants, academics, journalists, and opposition figures relating to the coup attempt.

Against this background, in April 2017 the people of Turkey narrowly voted in a referendum for constitutional amendments and more than 2,000 laws that remove many of the checks on executive power. A snap general and presidential election were then held on June 24, 2018. President Erdoğan won the presidential election, paving the way for him to govern under a new Constitution granting the president increased powers. Turkey officially transitioned to an executive presidency when Erdoğan was inaugurated to a new term on July 9, 2018.

The new presidential system has been highly criticized for its lack of separation of powers and the concentration of powers in the president. Under new presidential decrees, several changes have been made to the organizational structure and functions of state councils, bodies, and ministries. Presidential Decree No. 17, which was published on September 13, 2018, amended Presidential Decree No. 1 of July 10, 2018, for example, and established a Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society under the Ministry of Interior and abolished the Department of Associations. The regulation on the organization and duties of the Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society came into force on October 10, 2018.  The regulation puts forward targets to improve the civil society environment, including but not limited to the identification and development of strategies for relations with civil society, the coordination and cooperation between the public and non-governmental organizations, the enhancement of the effectiveness of civil society organizations and the improvement of service quality. The mandate and priorities of this unit, including the drafting of an overarching strategy for civil society or the improvement of the legal framework, remain unclear. An October 2018 regulation requires all associations to register all their members in Ministry of Interior’s the information system.  This requirement is burdensome, especially for CSOs with many members.  The regulation on the organization and duties of the Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society defines the Civil Society Consultation Council as a new mechanism for participation and will act as an advisory body to give direction to the policy agenda. The Civil Society Consultation Council will bring together the Deputy Minister, representatives of the Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society, and representatives of universities, public institutions and organizations, and non-governmental organizations under the chairmanship of the Minister. There are no rules and procedures defining the selection process of the members of this Council. There has been no further developments regarding establishment and operation of the Civil Society Consultation Council.

The 2019 Presidential Annual Program, which was published on October 27, 2018, includes a separate section on CSOs and lists the measures and policies to be carried out by the end of December 2019. One of the objectives is related to accessing the membership information of natural and legal persons in CSOs through e-government applications. The Presidential Annual Program, in combination with the amendment to Article 83 of the October 2018 Regulation on Associations, requires associations to report information about members through an e-application to the Ministry of Interior (DERBIS) within 30 days. Associations must provide an array of information about their members, including identification numbers, name and surname, occupation, education status, and dates of membership in the association. This requirement has been criticized, especially by CSOs with large numbers of members. A local bar association has challenged this amendment in court on grounds related to data privacy as well as freedom of association and expression.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Associations Foundations
Registration Body

Ministry of Interior, Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society

The courts, with possible review made by the General Directorate of Foundations
Barriers to Entry At least 7 founders required to establish an association.

Executive board of at least 5 people required. Board must have Turkish majority. Foreigners can be members of board provided they reside in Turkey.
The minimum endowment amount for foundations is 60,000 TRY (approx. $10,600).
Barriers to Activities Standard annual reporting forms and numerous mandatory books considered cumbersome and time consuming.

All associations are obliged to obtain permission from the governorship of the city in which they will be conducting the fundraising activity and indicate the exact amount of money they aim to collect.

Requirement to complete standard forms before receiving or using foreign funding or opening new branch offices.
Standard annual reporting forms considered cumbersome and time consuming.

All foundations are obliged to obtain permission from the governorship of the city in which they will be conducting the fundraising activity and indicate the exact amount of money they aim to collect.

Requirement to complete standard forms before receiving or using foreign funding or opening new branch offices.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Different provisions set forth in the Constitution provide protection to speeches regardless of the content of the speech, expressed by a natural person or a legal entity, or expressed individually or collectively.

However, the Constitutional protection provided for Freedom of Expression is diminished at level of laws. Many articles in the laws are sustained despite of their controversy with Constitution.
Different provisions set forth in the Constitution provide protection to speeches regardless of the content of the speech, expressed by a natural person or a legal entity, or expressed individually or collectively.

However, the Constitutional protection provided for Freedom of Expression is diminished at level of laws. Many articles in the laws are sustained despite of their controversy with Constitution.
Barriers to International Contact Required to notify Government when receiving grant from international organization. Required to notify Government when receiving grant from international organization.
Barriers to Resources Required to notify Government before using foreign funding. Required to notify Government within one month of receiving foreign funding.
Barriers to Assembly Vague grounds to justify restrictions, excessive force on protesters, and advance notification requirement. Vague grounds to justify restrictions, excessive force on protesters, and advance notification requirement.

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Key Indicators

Population 81,257,239 (July 2018 est.)
Capital Ankara
Type of Government Parliamentary Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth male: 72.9 years
female: 77.7 years (2018 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 98.6%
Female: 92.6% (2015 est.)
Religious Groups Muslim (mostly Sunni): 99.8%; other (mostly Christians and Jews): 0.2%
Ethnic Groups Turkish: 70-75%; Kurdish: 18%; other minorities: 7-12% (2008 est.)
GDP per capita $10,542 (2017, The World Bank data)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2019.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 64 (2018) 1 – 178
World Bank Rule of Law Index 45 (2018) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 28 (2018) 100 – 0
Transparency International 78 (2018) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 6 (2018)

1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
Rank: 58 (2018)
178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 2003
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 2006
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 2003
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 2002
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1985
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Yes 2002
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1995
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 2004
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2009
Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) Yes 2012
European Convention on Human Rights
Yes 1954

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution was adopted in 1982, immediately following a military coup. Although the Constitution is sometimes criticized for its lack of democratic principles, it still guarantees basic rights and freedoms. Relevant articles include:

  • Article 22: Everyone has the right to freedom of communication.
  • Article 25: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and opinion.
  • Article 26: Everyone has the right to express and disseminate his thoughts and opinions by speech, in writing or in pictures or through other media, individually and collectively.
  • Article 33: Everyone has the right to form associations, or become a member of an association, or withdraw from membership without prior permission. 
    No one shall be compelled to become or remain a member of an association.
    Freedom of association may only be restricted by law on the grounds of protecting national security and public order, or prevention of crime, or protecting public morals, public health.
    The formalities, conditions, and procedures governing the exercise of freedom of association shall be prescribed by law.
    Associations may be dissolved or suspended from activity by the decision of a judge in cases prescribed by law. In cases where delay endangers national security or public order and in cases where it is necessary to prevent the perpetration or the continuation of a crime or to effect apprehension, an authority designated by law may be vested with power to suspend the association from activity. The decision of this authority shall be submitted for the approval of the judge in charge within twenty-four hours. Unless the judge declares a decision within forty-eight hours, this administrative decision shall be annulled automatically. 
    Provisions of the first paragraph shall not prevent imposition of restrictions on the rights of armed forces and security forces officials and civil servants to the extent that the duties of civil servants so require.
    The provisions of this article are also applicable to foundations.
  • Article 34: Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.
  • Article 35: Everyone has the right to property and inheritance.
  • Article 90: International agreements duly put into effect have the force of law. No appeal to the Constitutional Court shall be made with regard to these agreements, on the grounds that they are unconstitutional. In the case of a conflict between international agreements, duly put into effect, concerning fundamental rights and freedoms and the laws due to differences in provisions on the same matter, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail.

On April 16, 2017, Turkey held a referendum that adopted an 18-article bill to switch from a parliamentary to a presidential system:

  • The president becomes the head of the executive, as well as the head of state, and retains ties to a political party (prior to this, presidents renounced political parties on taking office).
  • The office of prime minister is eliminated. The new post of vice president is created.
  • The president is given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.
  • The president alone can announce a State of Emergency and dismiss the parliament.
  • Article 98 of the Constitution is abolished, equipping Parliament with five mechanisms to hold the government to account.
  • The Parliament loses its right to scrutinize ministers or propose an enquiry. However, it is able to launch impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs.
  • Putting the president on trial requires a two-thirds majority.
  • Presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held on the same day every five years. The president is limited to two terms, and the presidential government system will be enacted.

General elections and a presidential election were held throughout Turkey on June 24, 2018. Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the country's key presidential election and became Turkey's first executive president with increased powers. The first decree for the harmonization of current laws for the new executive presidential system was issued on July 4, 2018. The 74-article decree dissolved the office of Prime Minister and stipulated the transfer of some powers of the cabinet to the president. The first three Presidential Decrees were issued on July 10, 2018 to restructure the Turkish administrative system. The first Presidential Decree introduced the vice-presidency as well as presidential offices, policy councils, and directorates, which will work directly under the president. The other two decrees change the structure of regulatory institutions and define terms, duties, and appointment procedures for high-level bureaucrats and presidents. The president will be able to directly appoint and remove the vice president, ministers, and high-level officials. In the former parliamentary system, the president had the power to appoint and remove the prime minister and ministers only upon the prime minister’s proposal. These high-level bureaucrats and presidents of key institutions, who were formerly recommended by different posts, such as ministries, will now be appointed directly by the President.

The Turkish local elections of 2019 were held on March 31, 2019. The candidate of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the Istanbul mayoral election by a narrow margin. The candidate of opposition party, Ekrem İmamoğlu, won by an even greater margin in the re-run of the mayoral election of Istanbul that was held on June 23, 2019. Accountability and transparency of the public funding cycle for CSOs became one of the issues discussed during the electoral campaign. İmamoğlu emphasized the allocation of a large chunk of the Istanbul municipality budget (over 800 million TL) to foundations and associations under the previous AKP administration. 

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

The state of emergency was regulated under Articles 119, 120, and 121 of the Constitution and State of Emergency Law No. 2935. It allowed the Council of Ministers, chaired by the President, to issue statutory decrees that carry the force of law. Furthermore, according to Law No. 2935, the Council of Ministers can issue regulations suspending or restricting use of fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of association and assembly. While the state of emergency was in effect from July 21, 2016 until July 18, 2018, the government issued thirty-seven emergency degrees, seven of which had a direct effect on CSO operations.

On January 25, 2017, the judiciary set up a Commission of Inquiry for State of Emergency Practices to review sanctions under the state of emergency and provide new judicial avenues for appeals. However, the means of selecting the members of this Commission raised concerns about its independence. The Commission began receiving objections to state of emergency rulings starting on July 17, 2017 and by May 18, 2018 had received 108,905 applications and made decisions on 17,000 cases. The rulings of the Commission have not been announced. Given the number of applications, there are concerns that it will become virtually impossible for the Commission to observe due process and deliver timely justice. In May 2018, the Commission gave its initial decisions on six associations that had been closed by the statutory decrees. The Commission ruled that the associations should be reopened because no linkages to terrorist associations were identified. As of May 3, 2019, the number of applications submitted to the Commission is 126,120 and the number of the decisions delivered by the Commission is 70,406). The Commission, therefore, remains active.

On July 24, 2018, Parliament passed the new Anti-terror Law No. 7145, which amended existing laws to effectively deal with the fight against terror after the state of emergency ended by strengthening the authorities' powers to detain suspects and impose public order. A provisional article will be added to the bill to implement detention times for offenses committed against state integrity, organized crime, and terrorist crimes differently in the coming three years. The regulations, which apply for three years, grant broader authority to local governors, including the ability to ban public gatherings, extend detention periods, and allow public servants’ dismissals if they have links to or contacts with terrorist organizations or other perceived threats to national security.

Presidential Decree No. 17, published on September 13, 2018, amended the previous Presidential Decree No. 1, which was passed on July 10, 2018, by abolishing the Department of Associations and establishing a Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society under the Ministry of Interior.

There are a number of national laws affecting the civil society sector:

  • Law 5253: Associations Law
  • Law 5737: Foundations Law
  • Law 4721: Civil Code
  • Associations: Articles 56-100
  • Foundations: Article 101-117
  • Law 8965: Penal Code
  • Law 2860: Law on Collection of Aid
  • Law 2911: Law on Demonstrations
  • Law 4982: Law on Right to Information
  • Law 4962: Law on the Amendment to Certain Laws and Tax Exemption for Foundations Law
  • Law 193: Income Tax Law
  • Law 5520: Corporate Tax Law
  • Law 1319: Property Tax law
  • Law 488: Stamp Tax Law
  • Law 3065:VAT Law
  • Law 1606: Law on the Exemption of Certain Associations and Institutions from Certain Taxes, All Fees and Dues
  • Law 5072: Law on the Relations of Public Institutions with Associations and Foundations
  • Law 4641: Law on the Establishment and Functioning of the Economic and Social Council
  • Law 3335: Law on Establishment of International Organizations
  • Law 5018: Public Financial Administration and Control
  • Law 3713: Prevention of Terrorism Law

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

There are no publicly-known major pending initiatives to amend the legal framework for civil society in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the failed coup attempt coup in July 2016 has made any real commitment to reform in this field less likely. Nevertheless, the following initiatives are worthy of attention:

1. Turkey’s National Action Plan for the EU Accession (Phase I November 2014 - June 2015), which addressed the government’s undertakings to reform the Associations Law, Law on Collection of Aid, Civil Law, and Foundations Law, did not come into force. The legislation to be amended/enacted in the National Action Plan covering the period June 2015 to June 2019 for EU Accession (Phase II) include Law No. 5253 on Associations, Law No. 4721 Turkish Civil Code, Law No. 6581 on the Organization and Duties of the Ministry of Interior, Law No. 2860 on Collection of Aid, Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations, by-Law on Associations, and by-law on Collection of Charitable Donations.

2. The 65th Government Program included the adoption of a comprehensive Civil Society Law to regulate legal statutes, institutional structures, activities, and financial resources of CSOs, as well as civil society-public sector relations. These objectives have been adopted by the 2019 Presidential Annual Program (please see #7 below in this section).

3. Within the scope of the 2017 Annual Report, the Ministry of Interior reported that there have been ongoing initiatives to advance data sharing and data integration among relevant public institutions. As of 2017, the Department of Association’s information system (DERBIS) integrated with the Ministry of Interior’s other platforms and with the Ministry of Finance Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) and the General Directorate of Security and the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The data integration of DERBIS with the e-government platform, Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), and the Gendarmerie General Command is in testing. The next steps will be taken to integrate database systems of the Turkish Statistical Institute and the Prime Ministry.

4. By resolution 2018/32 of the Protection Committee of Personal Data, foundations and associations are exempted from their obligation to register with the Data Accounts Register, which is regulated by Article 16/2 of the Protection of Personal Data Act No. 6698.

5. Prime Ministry Circular Decision No 2017/16 on the Preparations of the 11th Development Plan was published in July 2017 and detailed the special committees and working groups to be established for the consultation process. The Ministry of Development launched the consultation process for the preparation of the 11th Development Plan before the end of December 2017. There was then a special committee formed called “Civil Society Organizations in the Process of Development” that brought together representatives from the relevant public authorities and CSOs. The report of this committee was finalized in April 2018.

The 11th Development Plan was published and submitted to Parliament for ratification on July 9, 2019. The major objectives for civil society are raising public awareness of civil society, strengthening organized civil society, ensuring CSOs have a structure in accordance with the principles of transparency and accountability, and facilitating participation of CSOs in decision-making processes.

Previously, the 10th Development Plan Ministry of Development published the "Primary Transformation Program and Action Plans" for the implementation of the 10th Development Plan of Turkey (2014-2018) in 2015. This document included several initiatives to improve the civil society environment, including improving the legal environment to support CSOs and facilitating participation of CSOs in decision-making processes. The 2018 program of the 10th Development Plan 2014-2018, which is already in force, includes policies and measures related to civil society. The main objective is establishing an enabling environment for a strong, diverse, pluralistic, and sustainable civil society and ensuring the active participation of all segments of society in social and economic development processes. In this context, prospective reforms include improvements of the legal framework and administrative structure as well as civil society-public-private sector cooperation with supporting institutional capacities of CSOs.

6. The 2019 Presidential Annual Program was prepared by the Ministry of Treasury and Finance and the Presidency of Strategy and Budget and was published in the Official Gazette on October 27, 2018. The Presidential Annual Program includes a separate section on CSOs and commits to carry out the following policies by the end of 2019:

  • There will be secondary legislation related to CSOs.
  • The information system related to CSOs will be updated and will be integrated with public institutions and organizations.
  • Efforts will be made to increase the transparency and accountability of CSOs with public interest status.
  • The membership of natural and legal persons in CSOs will be able to be searched through e-government applications.

An amendment to Article 83 of the Regulation of Associations, published in the Official Gazette on October 1, 2018, requires associations to provide a long list of information about their members, including identification numbers, name and surname, occupation, educational status, and date of membership in the association. This amendment has been criticized, especially by CSOs that have a large number of members. A local bar association has challenged this amendment in court on grounds relating to data privacy and for dismantling freedom of association and expression.

7. At the policy level, the Ministry of Youth and Sports announced 2019 as the "Year of Volunteering" and kicked off the 2019 National Volunteering Strategy with actions to be taken in 2019. In general, the strategy aims to promote a culture of volunteering by investing in the efficient use of technology, dismantling legal obstacles to volunteering, and adopting a new law that recognizes volunteering, builds the capacity of organizations that work with volunteers, and coordinates relevant public bodies on this strategy. The strategy also highlights that the public sector will be collaborating with CSOs and other stakeholders to promote a culture of volunteering and to initiate new policies and initiatives.

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

There are two legal forms of CSOs in Turkey: associations and foundations. Article 33 of the Constitution grants the right to form these entities. These organizations must be not-for-profit establishments. Article 56 of the Civil Code states, “An association is defined as a society formed by unity of at least seven real persons or legal entities for realization of a common object other than sharing of profit by collecting information and performing studies for such purpose.” Article 101 of the Civil Code defines foundations as “charity groups in the status of a legal entity formed by real persons or legal entities dedicating their private property and rights for public use.

The registration process and the timeline for registration of associations and foundations are regulated by the Law on Associations and the Law on Foundations. To register an association, seven citizens and/or foreigners holding residency permits must apply to the provincial office of the Department of Associations with the necessary list of documents. No registration fee is required. As soon as the association starts official procedures, it is assumed that the association is already founded and thereby it can start its activities. The Department has up to 60 days to review the application. If the administration decides there are missing documents, or the application of association violates the existing rules and regulations, the association is given 30 days to rectify the problem. According to Articles 84 and 86 of the Civil Code, at least 16 members are required to form the mandatory board of directors and the auditors’ board. In addition to Article 62, which requires the general assembly to be held within the first six months, newly founded associations are expected to have 16 members and form their mandatory organs (executive board, internal auditing committee, and general assembly) within six months.

Registration of foundations is much more complicated. To establish a foundation, there should be assets (all types of immovable and movable property, including cash, securities and bonds, and rights that have an economic value) allocated for the specified purpose of the foundation. The Council of Foundations, highest decision-making body of the General Directorate of Foundations, determines the minimum asset value applicable on the establishment of a foundation on annual basis. As of 2019, the minimum value is set at approximately 60,000 TRY ($10,000). Foundations are founded by a charter verified by a court. This charter contains information on the title, purpose, assets, and rights to attain its goals, as well as organs and applicable administrative procedures. The foundation is granted legal personality when it is approved by the court and registered by the General Directorate of Foundations. The timeline for founding a foundation varies depending on the work load of the courts.

Public Benefit Status

“Public benefit” (for associations) and “tax exemption” (for foundations) statuses are vaguely defined, the decision-making process is highly political, and the privileges the statuses provide are very limited.

Article 19 of the Presidential Decree Law No. 703 of July 2, 2018, which amended Article 27 of the Associations Law and Article 57 of the Decree Law No. 698 of July 2, 2018, authorized the President to grant public benefit status to associations and foundations. Prior to this amendment, the Council of Ministers had the authority to grant public benefit status to eligible CSOs based on the opinion of the Ministry of Finance and the proposal of the Ministry of the Interior. Under the previous system, the selection process was highly bureaucratic and political at times and was not guided by an autonomous, transparent, and easily accessible institution. Furthermore, the procedures for these statuses were not clearly defined with a list of the selection criteria, and the conditions for gaining public benefit and tax exemption statuses differed.

Presidential decrees, including Presidential Decree Law No. 703, have not brought substantial changes to the decision-making process for determining public benefit status for CSOs. Notably, while the law in Turkey provides for public benefit status for CSOs, only a very limited number of organizations have been granted that status. According to data compiled in July 2019, there are 283 tax-exempt foundations out of 4,915 foundations in Turkey. The ratio of the number of tax-exempt foundations to the total number remained similar (5%) to previous years. As of July 2019, the 385 associations with public benefit status constituted only .32% of the total number of 117, 290 active associations. The number of associations with public benefit status was slightly higher (395 in 2015).

Barriers to Entry

Article 33 of the Constitution on associations and foundations protects freedom of association. It states that everyone is free to establish associations without permission, that anyone may become a member of associations or give up membership, and that no one can be forced to become or stay as a member of any association. Individuals and legal persons with legal capacity have the right to establish CSOs. There are certain restrictions in special laws applicable to the members of the Turkish Armed Forces, the police force, and civil servants.

The number of minimum founding members required to register an association is quite high (seven) compared with international and European standards (2-3 people). In addition, to continue operating six months after its registration, an association must have at least 16 members. The executive board must have at least five people on it and must have a Turkish majority. Foreigners can be members of the board if they reside in Turkey.

According to Article 5 of the Foundations Law, “Foreigners shall be able to establish new foundations in Turkey in accordance with the principle of de jure and de facto reciprocity." A foundation is granted legal personality when it is approved by the court and registered by the General Directorate of Foundations. The timeline for founding a foundation varies depending on the workload of the courts. In 2016, the minimum endowment amount for foundations was increased to 60,000 TRY (approx. $10,000). The law contains vague limitations (e.g. general morality, public order) that can lead to subjective registration processes that grant broad discretion to public officials responsible for registering foundations and associations.

To form a federation or a confederation, the Associations Law requires a minimum of five and three organizations, respectively, to come together. Problematically, however, the law requires that member organizations must have the “same purpose,” which is unnecessarily limiting.
Foreign organizations are subjected to serious bureaucratic hurdles when opening a branch office in Turkey. Foreign organizations/representative offices require permission, provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs upon the opinion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to operate or open a branch office in Turkey. The legislation does not provide a time limit for the Ministry of Interior to respond to foreign CSOs’ applications to operate in Turkey. According to the guidelines published by the Department of Associations, the conclusion period of foreign CSOs’ applications varies depending on the field of activity of the CSO, the region where the activities will be carried out, the origin country, and their international recognition, among other things.

The registration processes of foreign CSOs is subject to a different authorization process than national associations. Foreign CSOs are subject to different liabilities and restrictions regarding matters such as the manner of application and notification of activities. Under Article 22 of the Regulation on Associations, foreign foundations’ establishment of branches and representative offices in Turkey is subject to reciprocity and is restricted to situations deemed beneficial for international cooperation. As of July 15, 2019, 132 foreign CSOs were listed as permitted to work in Turkey. The number of foreign CSOs with permits to operate in Turkey was 130 in April 2019, 131 in January 2019, 133 in September 2018 and 138 in January 2015.

The Law on Associations contains vague limitations (e.g. general morality, public order) that invite the exercise of excessive governmental discretion into the activities of CSOs, particularly at the time of registration. According to Article 56 of the Turkish Civil Code, “No association may be formed for an object contrary to the laws and morality.” Article 101 of the Civil Code states that the “formation of a foundation contrary to the characteristics of the Republic defined by the Constitution, Constitutional rules, laws, ethics, national integrity and national interest, or with the aim of supporting a distinctive race or community, is restricted.” CSOs are required to declare the type of work/activities they intend to carry out in writing in official documents, such as the governing statutes of associations or the articles of foundations.

According to implementing regulations for the Law on Associations, associations seeking office space within residential buildings must secure the permission of all residents living in the building—a requirement that is burdensome at best, and in some cases practically impossible. The failure to secure office space may be a barrier to the process of registration for associations.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Legislation does not explicitly limit the purposes of associations and foundations. However, Law No. 4721 of the Turkish Civil Code states associations and foundations “cannot adopt a purpose or aim that is contradictory with law or morality” and permits government interference based on interpretation.

Legislation also permits state interference in CSOs’ internal affairs. The legal framework explicitly defines the ways in which the decision-making system (i.e. governance) should work. For example, the law details decisions that can only be made by the general assembly and the decision-making authority of the executive and internal auditing committee. Therefore, CSOs cannot choose how they want their decision-making system to work. Even where CSOs are not required to seek permission in the decision-making process, they can face fines for not following the decision-making process set forth in secondary legislation such as by-laws. Legislation also over-regulates the formation of CSOs’ management bodies.

The legal framework does not protect against state interference in internal matters of associations, foundations, and other types of non-profit entities. While legislation does not openly limit the permissible purposes for associations and foundation, it states associations and foundations “cannot adopt a purpose or aim that is contradictory with law or morality” and permits government interference based on interpretation. The same is true for CSOs’ activities. The Law on Foundations No. 5737 and the Law on Associations No. 5253 allows authorities to inspect their activities and assess if they are in line with the organization’s statute. Associations and foundations are not prohibited from directly engaging in political activities, but opposition and rights-based CSOs reportedly face more government interference in practice than others.

Inspections of businesses and for-profit entities are applied on the grounds of more established procedures, such as with tax related and social security contributions cases. Not-for-profit entities have similar responsibilities and can be inspected on the grounds of their political affiliations, right-based issues, proximity to government and opposition, and personal complaints. Therefore, they are more prone to face arbitrary implementation and interpretations of the law and legislation. Furthermore, penalties constitute an important barrier for fully exercising the freedom of association, particularly given the laws’ comprehensive bureaucratic requirements. Reductions in administrative fines, guidance, and warning mechanisms are not effective, if they are even available.

Several standard forms that CSOs must complete each year can be cumbersome and time consuming for some organizations. Specifically, associations and foundations must complete annual statements that are submitted either to the Interior Ministry, Department of Associations, or the General Directorate of Foundations. Additionally, CSOs must complete standard forms before receiving or utilizing foreign funding and opening new branches or offices.
In addition, CSOs frequently are fined for improper record keeping. Article 33 of the Associations Law holds the chair of the executive board of the association personally liable for any sanctions or fines assessed against the association. If a CSO becomes involved in an illegal activity, the organization can be terminated only by a court order.

After the 2016 failed coup, the government began to shut down and seize the assets of organizations that are allegedly linked to Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and other terrorist organizations. Under the State of the Emergency, from July 2016 to July 2018, the government closed 1784 foundations and associations by decree; 207 of them later reopened. All movable property, real estate, assets, receivables and rights, and documents and papers of those CSOs were seized and transferred to the General Directorate of Foundations without compensation on the grounds of Article 2 of the first Emergency Decree No 667 of July 23, 2016. This decree envisages the dissolution and seizure of assets of associations and foundations with alleged links to the FETÖ.

The reasons for suspension and closures of CSOs not affiliated with FETÖ are not yet known. However, Article 3 of the Executive Decree no. 677, which closed 375 registered associations on November 22, 2016, states that, “Associations listed linked to terrorist organizations or that the National Security Council has established they belong to, cohere with or are linked to structures, formations or groups that are acting against national security, are closed.” This decree permanently closed CSOs that included human rights organizations, women’s right organizations, local cultural associations, student and business associations, service provider associations, and sports clubs. All assets of these associations are considered to have been transferred to the Treasury free of charge, including the deeds for any premises, without any restrictions. There is no possibility for appeal or judicial remedy.

These provisions contradict Article 11 of the Law on State of Emergency, which allows only for the “suspension of the activities of associations for periods not exceeding three months, after considering each individual case.” Article 11, therefore, does not envisage dissolution of an association as a legitimate measure during a state of emergency. In addition, it does not envisage dissolution of associations en masse, but rather on a case-by-case basis. Nor does it envisage confiscation and transfer of assets of a dissolved legal entity to state authorities. Furthermore, Article 11 refers to associations only, and not to foundations.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are numerous provisions on freedom of expression in the Constitution. These include provisions regarding both the means employed for exercising freedom of expression and the form of exercising freedom of expression. Article 25 states that “Everyone has the freedom of thought and opinion. No one shall be compelled to reveal his/her thoughts and opinions for any reason or purpose; nor shall anyone be blamed or accused because of his/her thoughts and opinions.” According Article 26, freedom of expression may be restricted for the purposes of “national security, public order, public safety, safeguarding the basic characteristics of the Republic and the indivisible integrity of the State with its territory and nation, preventing crime, punishing offenders, withholding information duly classified as a state secret, protecting the reputation or rights and private and family life of others, or protecting professional secrets as prescribed by law, or ensuring the proper functioning of the judiciary.”

Since 2013, freedom of expression has been steadily eroding in Turkey through arbitrary and restrictive legislative interpretation, pressure, dismissals, and frequent court cases against journalists, writers, and social media users. The number of people in Turkey prosecuted and convicted for “insulting the president” has risen sharply since then. From 2016-2018, CSOs, human rights defenders, journalists, and citizens that publicly oppose government policies and are critical of the President have often faced legal and financial obstacles in exercising their freedom of expression and activities. The situation on freedom of expression, both on and offline, is widely restricted, and court cases launched about expression on social media and website bans continue to be held with administrative and civil court orders. Monitoring reports and statements of international CSOs and international institutions such as the Council of Europe, European Union, United Nations, and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have highlighted the concerning de facto restrictions and limitations that were instituted during state of emergency.

In 2016, CSOs faced investigations under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code’s prohibition for “insulting state, public, or nation,” for their work monitoring and reporting on rights violations in security operations and curfews in southeastern Turkey. Based on an anonymous complaint, police raided a workshop on digital security and well-being of human rights defenders and detained human rights defenders from major CSOs, including Amnesty International Turkey’s director, on the island of Büyükada on July 5, 2017. In the indictment, the prosecutor charged the suspects from 7.5-15 years in prison on the charge of “being a member of the armed FETÖ.” Other rights advocates have faced from 5-10 years in prison on charges of “aiding an armed terrorist organization.” An Istanbul court released all of these human rights defenders on November 22, 2017. An Istanbul court ordered the arrest of a Turkish businessman and human rights advocate Osman Kavala on October 18, 2017 for alleged links to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and anti-government Gezi Park Protests. There has been no official statement from the authorities, and details have yet to be provided. Overall, the detention and prosecution of human rights activists and had severe consequences upon silencing the advocacy and monitoring work of rights-based CSOs operating in Turkey.

2016-2017 Freedom of Press reports indicated “media is not free” in Turkey, and it remained among the countries that suffered the largest declines during that period. Authorities have increased internet censorship and blocking or slowing access to social media networks in the recent years, posing challenges to the exercise of freedom of expression. Turkey was downgraded in its internet freedom status as well. According to Freedom House’s 2018 ratings, internet freedom in Turkey is ranked as “not free.”

The government intensified its crackdown on the media throughout 2016. In the post-failed coup period, authorities detained critical journalists, closed down media outlets, censored online outlets, detained and deported foreign correspondents on the grounds of terrorism-related laws, and alleged their connections with the Kurdish conflict and the ongoing conflict in Syria and the FETÖ. Decree Law No. 671 closed down the Directorate of Telecommunication and Communication, and authority over the Internet has been transferred to the Information Technologies and Communication Authority (BTK). On November 5, 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that the authority of the BTK to block access to "obscene" sites granted by Article 8/4 of Law No. 5651 violated the Constitution and cancelled this authority with a majority vote. This decision was published in the Official Gazette on February 7, 2018 and came into force after one year in February 2019. Academics and experts welcomed this ruling and stated it may result in revoking the full authority of BTK.

In the wake of the failed coup attempt, executive decrees brought the closure of 169 media organizations, including news agencies, TV stations, newspapers, radio stations, magazines, publishing organizations, and the detainment of more than 100 journalists and media workers over the course of a month. In 2017, the number of journalists on trial for allegations related to the Turkish Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Law reached 520. As of March 2018, there were 135 journalists and media workers behind bars in Turkey, and in 2018, the trend of imprisoning journalists continued. According to database of Committee to Protect Journalists, 50 journalists were imprisoned in 2016, 73 journalists were imprisoned in 2017, and 68 journalists were imprisoned in 2018.

The 2018 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders has seen Turkey fall to the rank of 157 among 180 countries, and Turkey remains at 157 in the 2019 Index. The 2018 Index ranking marked a 58 point-decrease over the past 13 years, noting that, “A state of emergency has allowed authorities to eliminate dozens of media outlets with the stroke of a pen, reducing pluralism to a handful of low-circulated and targeted publications. Turkey is again the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, with members of the press spending more than a year in prison before trial and long jail sentences becoming the new norm.”

Authorities continued to detain and prosecute large numbers of people in 2017-2018 over social media posts on charges of propagandizing terrorism. The Ministry of Interior announced the ongoing operations targeted terrorist propaganda on social media. From June - December 2016, within the scope of combating terrorism, 3,710 social media users faced legal proceedings. 1,656 of them were arrested, and 203 were released under the condition of judicial custody. During 2018, the government took legal action against 18,376 people after a review of 42,406 social media accounts.

On November 16, 2018, prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 20 people, including renowned academics and civil society activists deemed to have links to a prominent financier of civil society activities, Osman Kavala, who has been jailed for the past year. All but one of the 20 people arrested, however, were released after giving testimony to police. The law of indictment was accepted by the court on March 4, 2019. 16 defendants, including Osman Kavala, are alleged to be the "head executives" of the anti-government Gezi Park protests and were charged with "attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey or preventing it from performing its duties," under Turkish Penal Code Article 312/2. The first hearing was held on June 24, 2019, and the court ruled that Yiğit Aksakoğlu shall be released on probation with an international travel ban and Osman Kavala shall remain in detention.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no restrictions for Turkish CSOs to operate in other countries. However, when receiving a grant from an international organization, CSOs must notify the appropriate government office. International CSOs operating in Turkey must receive permission from the government prior to starting their activities. 

Barriers to Resources

Foreign Funding

There are no limitations on foreign funding, but there is a notification requirement for foreign funding. Foundations must notify public authorities within one month after receiving the funding, while associations must notify the government before using the funding.

Domestic Funding

CSOs face serious problems in their fundraising activities mainly due to the highly restrictive, bureaucratic and limiting Law on Collection of Aid (No 1983, 23/6/1983). The Law requires receipt of permission for each fundraising activity by a CSO though an application procedure in which the CSO is requested to provide a set of comprehensive information (e.g. amount of money to be raised, how it will be used, the timeframe of the activity, and where it will be conducted). The decision to evaluate the application and approval or disapproval lies with the local state authority. Associations and foundations must obtain permission to collect donations in open public spaces (e.g. activities on the street, public campaigning, internet fundraising, etc.). This law does not apply when individuals or corporations donate to CSOs voluntarily. CSOs do not have to ask for an official permit when they only publish their bank account number on their website. However, other online forms of collection of donations are regulated.

For example, associations cannot start up a SMS donation campaign or a fundraising campaign on their websites or social media accounts without getting permission. The collection of donations, under this Law is regulated with highly bureaucratic rules and procedures. This results in a repressive environment for donation collection and income generating activities of CSOs. Vew CSOs among organizations with public benefit/tax exempt status have been granted a special status that provides them an exemption from the Law on Collection of Aid. This means that these CSOs can collect donations, as they wish, without prior permission from the relevant authority. Currently only 26 CSOs have this status, which is strikingly low.

There is a general lack of strategy and coordination among ministries, which impacts public funding. There is no regular and continuous public funding mechanism that supports the institutional infrastructure and activities of CSOs. There is also a lack of data of the total amount of annual public funding: the total budgets, modality, and forms of funding for CSOs are determined at the discretion of ministries, and they are not predictable since the total budget may vary from year to year. There is no standardized approach, code of conduct, or legislation on public funding mechanisms to support the capacities and activities of CSOs.

Economic activities of CSOs are permitted only if they set up a separate economic entity under their legal entity. The commercial enterprises of associations and foundations are treated as business corporations, and the corporate tax is levied on profits. This burdens CSOs that undertake economic activities to create social benefit.

Barriers to Assembly

In addition to the 1982 Turkish Constitution, the primary legislation that regulates freedom of assembly is Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations, adopted on October 6, 1983. Secondary legislation regulating the implementation of Law No. 2911 includes the Regulation on the Implementation of Law on Meetings and Demonstrations, adopted on August, 8, 1985; Law No. 2559 on the Duties and Discretion of the Police; Law No. 3713 on The Prevention of Terrorism Acts; and Law No. 5326 on Misdemeanors.

Article 34 of the Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to organize an assembly and demonstration without having to obtain any prior authorization. However, Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations significantly limits the right to peaceful assembly with vague grounds for limitations and does not comply with international standards. In accordance with Article 34 of the Constitution, rights to assembly and demonstrations may be restricted with a wide range of reasons such as “preservation of national security,” “public order,” “prevention of crime,” and protection of “public moral” and “public health.” Although these restrictive measures are in compliance with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, since the legal framework does not define these concepts, at times, they continue to be interpreted narrowly, restrictively and in an arbitrary fashion. Furthermore, under Article 10 of Law on Meetings and Demonstrations, all members of the organizing committee must sign a declaration 48 hour prior to the assembly and submit it to the district governor’s office during working hours. If they fail to do so, the administration considers it an illegal assembly and has the right to take all measures to disperse it, which may include police intervention.

The Law Amending the Law on Powers and Duties of the Police, Other Laws and Decrees, which Parliament passed in March 2015 and is widely referred to as the "Internal Security Reform Package," strengthened police powers during demonstrations by extending police authority to detain anyone without consulting the prosecutor's office. In addition, protestors who cover their faces fully or partially during demonstrations can face a five-year prison sentence.

Under the state of emergency following the failed coup attempt, the freedom of peaceful assembly has become severely restricted in Turkey, particularly when exercised by anti-government groups. During a state of emergency, the administration may restrict use of the right to assembly. According to Articles 9 and 11 of State of Emergency Law no. 2935, measures can be taken during the state of emergency “to prohibit, postpone or impose permission obligation for assemblies and demonstrations in closed and open areas, as well as to determine, publicize, supervise and disperse areas of assemblies and demonstrations.”

There were instances of police use of excessive force, including beating, during peaceful demonstrations in 2016-2017. In addition to prohibiting a large number of peaceful gatherings organized by dissident groups, all kinds of publicly open events were totally banned for weeks or months. There were also instances of authorities outlawing any kind of assembly or gathering due to possible risk of terrorist attacks. Various cases of restrictions and limitations were reported under the state of emergency both country-wide and in specific provinces based on decisions by governors’ offices. Cases of restriction include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride parade, feminist march, and others. These restrictions were not limited to marches and demonstrations, but rather affected activities of rights-based CSOs. While a number of commemorative ceremonies and meetings were allowed, many events and anti-government or rights-based demonstrations were prohibited for “safety reasons.” For instance, as of November 18, 2017, the Ankara governor’s office banned public showing of all films, exhibitions, and events related to LGBT issues, citing “public sensitivities.” The Ministry of Interior occasionally reports the number of citizens detained for participating in specific gatherings. Between January 20 and February 26, 2018, there were 845 people taken into custody for participating in protests to oppose Turkey’s military operation in the northwest Syrian district of Afrin, which was launched on January 20, 2018.

In its judgment of September 28, 2017, the Constitutional Court found the major opposition party’s application regarding Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations to be correct and canceled the Law’s articles that require “ending assemblies and demonstrations before sunset, and a ban on them from being carried out on public roads and not making daily lives of citizens difficult.” Law No. 7145 on the Amendment of Some Laws and Emergency Decrees, which was adopted on 25 July, 2018, contains regulations concerning articles on assemblies, demonstrations, and marches and is in accordance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court that "everyday life should not be overdone and unbearably difficult" by removing the requirement of "making the daily life difficult." The expression "meeting and walking must be dispersed before the sunset" was replaced in this law by the expression "to be ended one hour after the sunset of the sun, at the beginning of night time." This amendment has been interpreted as a forward-looking change in accordance with the Constitutional Court's decision. However, experts also noted that this amendment would prevent night demonstrations (e.g., women's marches on March 8, 2018) or could lead to the disruption of unwanted activities by the public authorities. The Women’s Day march on March 8, 2019, for example, was banned by the Istanbul Governorate. Riot police prevented women from advancing along the district’s main pedestrian avenue and fired tear gas to break up a crowd. The governorates of different cities in southeastern Turkey banned any March 8-related programmes of CSOs, including marches and demonstrations that would take place in public areas.

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UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Not available
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Turkey
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Not available
U.S. State Department 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Turkey)

Council of Europe or Venice Commission Reports

Expert Council Opinion on "The impact of the State of Emergency on Freedom of Association in Turkey"

IMF Country Reports Turkey and the IMF
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International World Report 2018 (Turkey) (HRW)

Report 2017/2018 (Amnesty)
European Commission Report Turkey 2019
TUSEV Civil Society Monitoring Report 2012

Active Participation in Civil Society: International Standards, Obstacles in National Legislation and Proposals
Monitoring Matrix on Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development: Turkey

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Turkey
State of Emergency The Expert Council on NGO Law: “Opinion on The Impact of The State of Emergency on Freedom of Association in Turkey”

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Yiğit Aksakoğlu to be Released on Probation, Arrest of Osman Kavala to Continue (June 2019)
Announcing its interlocutory judgement, the court has ruled that Yiğit Aksakoğlu shall be released on probation with an international travel ban and the arrest of Osman Kavala shall continue. The next hearing will be held on July 18, 2019.

Civil Society Organizations from Germany: ‘Kavala and Aksakoğlu Should be Released’ (June 2019)
Seven organizations have released a joint statement on the Gezi Park trial which began today, demanding the case should be dropped.

CHP members say ruling party fears losing billions in grants to charities tied to government (May 2019)
Ekrem Imamoğlu of the Republican People’s party (CHP), who won the March vote, said a ‘beneficial relationship’ existed between the AKP government and the charities.

Turkish police use tear gas to break up Women's Day march (March 2019) 
Turkish police fired tear gas to break up a crowd of several thousand women who gathered in the evening in at the edge of Taksim Square in central Istanbul for a march to celebrate International Women’s Day. Hundreds of riot police blocked their path to prevent them from advancing along the district’s main pedestrian avenue. Police fired pepper spray and pellets containing tear gas to disperse the crowd, and scuffles broke out as police pursued the women into side streets off the avenue.

Minister Kasapoğlu launched 2019 Year of Volunteering (March 2019) 
Ministry of Youth and Sports announced the 2019 Year of Volunteering. Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoğlu announced the 2019 National Volunteering Strategy and steps to be taken in following months.

Turkish police use tear gas to break up Women's Day march (March 2019) 
Turkish police fired tear gas to break up a crowd of several thousand women who gathered in central Istanbul evening for a march to celebrate International Women’s Day. The crowd gathered at the edge of the city’s Taksim Square planning to hold a march. Hundreds of riot police blocked their path to prevent them advancing along the district’s main pedestrian avenue. Police fired pepper spray and pellets containing tear gas to disperse the crowd and scuffles broke out as they pursued the women into side streets off the avenue.

Minister Kasapoğlu launched 2019 Year of Volunteering (March 2019) 
The "2019 Year of Volunteering" was announced by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoğlu announced the 2019 National Volunteering Strategy and steps to be taken in following months.

Turkey academic jailed after raids on professors and activists (November 2018)
A court in Turkey has jailed an Istanbul academic pending trial following raids on professors and activists deemed to have links to an imprisoned prominent financier of civil society activities.

Ministry of Interior to collect information of association members (October 2018)
The new amendment to the Regulation on Associations has required that all associations operating in Turkey inform the Ministry of Interior about the personal identifying information of their members, including their occupations and educational backgrounds.

Prohibition of March 8 events in the region (September 2018) 
The Governor of Diyarbakır and Van banned any March 8 programme that would take place in public areas. Van Governorate banned all kinds of demonstations and marches were banned for a month by the governorship before the 8th of March,

Turkey issues first decree for new executive presidential system (July 2018)
Turkey issued the first decree for the harmonization of current laws for the new executive presidential system on July 4.The 74-article decree, published in Turkey’s official gazette, stipulates the transfer of some powers of the cabinet to the president in line with the change, abolishing the office of Prime Minister.

The Start of a New Era in Turkey: Presidential System of Government (July 2018)
Following the general elections on Jun 24, 2018, Turkey prepares to adopt the "Turkish Model" Presidential System, the patent of which Mr. Erdoğan claims. It is explained that the new system aspires to speed up administrative proceedings by eliminating bureaucracy and enabling quick responses to the most pressing matters.

Understanding The "Turkish Model" Of Presidential System (July 2018)
Following the general elections on Jun 24, 2018, Turkey prepares to adopt the "Turkish Model" Presidential System, the patent of which Mr. Erdoğan claims. It is explained that the new system aspires to speed up administrative proceedings by eliminating bureaucracy and enabling quick responses to the most pressing matters.

Turkey ends state of emergency after two years (July 2018)
The Turkish government has ended the nationwide state of emergency that was imposed two years ago after a failed coup attempt, state media say.

Turkey election: Erdogan win ushers in new presidential era (July 2018)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking on extensive new executive powers following his outright election victory in Sunday's poll. Parliament has been weakened and the post of prime minister abolished, as measures approved in a controversial referendum last year take effect.

Turkey ends state of emergency, but eyes tough terror bill (July 2018)
After prolonging the state of emergency seven times, Ankara finally ended the measure introduced after the 2016 coup attempt. However, the state now aims to keep many emergency powers in place with a new anti-terror law.

Turkey's Erdogan says state of emergency may be lifted after June 24 elections (June 2018)
Turkey may lift a state of emergency, imposed shortly after a failed coup attempt in 2016, after the June 24 elections, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

Ministry of Interior: 624 Social Media Accounts Investigated in One Week (June 2018)
The Ministry of Interior has announced that 624 social media accounts have been investigated and legal action has been taken against 306 social media users over last week.

Q & A: Turkey’s Elections (June 2018)
Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, 2018, with a second-round run-off election for the presidency on July 8 if no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round

Turkey’s Data Protection Board Announces Exemptions from Registering with the Data Controller Registry (May 2018)
Turkey’s Data Protection Board (“Board”) has announced exemptions for certain data controllers, meaning they will not be required to register with the Data Controllers Registry (“Registry”). The exemption applies to associations, foundations, notaries, lawyers, public accountants, unions, political parties, as well as data controllers which process personal data through non-automatic means.

The Commission of Inquiry for State of Emergency Practices (May 2018)
Commission of Inquiry for State of Emergency Practices gave its initial decisions on the institutions which were closed with the statuary decrees. 6 Associations will be reopened because no terrorist linkigaes of associations have been identified.

Turkish government to extend state emergency for seventh time (April 2018)
Turkish government plans once more to extend the state of emergency for another three months after ratifying a Prime Ministry motion.

Ban on access to website violates freedom of expression: Constitutional Court (December 2017)
Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled to reverse a local court’s decision to ban access to a news website, which had posted a story criticizing the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK), on the grounds that “the ban is a violation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

Turkey worst in world for jailed journalists for second year (December 2017)
Turkey was ranked as the country where the most journalists are imprisoned in the world for a second consecutive year, followed by China and Egypt, according to the latest annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Court arrests Turkish activist Osman Kavala over failed coup attempt (November 2017)
An Istanbul court has ruled for the arrest of a Turkish businessman and activist over alleged links to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and the December 2013 corruption probes targeting senior government figures.

Turkish LGBTI activists condemn 'illegal' ban on events in Ankara (November 2017)
The Ankara governor’s office said on Sunday night (19 November 2017) it was imposing a ban on all LGBTI cultural events until further notice, citing threats to “public order” and the fear of “provoking reactions within certain segments of society,” days after it banned a festival on German-language gay films in the capital city. 

EU cuts Turkey funding after 'democratic deterioration (November 2017)
The European Union will cut funds allocated to Turkey due to the "deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights" there, according to a European Parliament (EP) statement. 

'Massive anxiety' as Turkey cracks down on international NGOs (October 2017)
A series of detentions and the expulsion of Mercy Corps earlier this year have rattled the aid community in Turkey. At the same time, mounting bureaucratic obstacles are threatening NGOs' ability to operate: the Turkish government has allowed permits to lapse, leaving organizations in legal limbo and employees at risk of deportation. With little official indication as to what's behind the crackdown, aid organizations are unsure how to adapt. Many have taken to lobbying the Turkish government while drawing up contingency plans. Several NGOs with expired permits have taken a wait-and-see approach, hoping the issue is one of an overwhelmed bureaucracy. A handful have made the risky decision to continue their work without legal permission.

Arrest of rights activists 'chills' Turkey’s civil society (July 2017)
On July 5, police raided a hotel on an island off the Istanbul coast where leading rights groups had gathered for a training seminar. Ten people, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, were detained in a terrorism probe.

Turkey arrests two opposition journalists over alleged coup links (May 2017)
Turkish authorities have formally arrested two journalists from the opposition Sozcu newspaper, accusing them of supporting Fethullah Gulen. Officials recently arrested a Cumhuriyet editor on terrorism charges. After the initial detention, the pro-government daily Sabah reported that the two journalists had been wanted in connection with an online article published on the same day as the attempted coup, saying it could have facilitated "a real attack on the president." The arrests are part of Erdogan's clampdown on Turkey's independent media and civil society. Since last year's coup attempt, authorities have detained thousands of journalists, rights activists, lawyers, teachers and writers, accusing them of being involved in anti-state activities.

Turkey Blocks Wikipedia (May 2017)
Following last year's failed coup, Turkey's strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has expanded his crackdown on civil liberties, consolidating his power by restricting speech, jailing accused dissidents, and creating a culture of fear in a country that once hoped to join the European Union. This weekend, Erdoğan deepened his assault on civil society by blocking access to Wikipedia, purging almost 4,000 civil servants, and closing down 45 civil society groups and health clinics, The New York Times reported, bringing the total number of people who have been purged to about 140,000 and the number of groups that have been banned to 1,500.

As Turkey's Democracy Takes a Hit, Civil Society Must Take Center Stage (April 2017)
President Erdoğan of Turkey has spent his career building up to the powerful position he now holds, and this week's vote has concentrated his power even more than was previously possible. Turks voted to reform their constitution in favor of "stability," removing many of the checks on executive power.

State of emergency review body paves way for justice (January 2017)
A new Turkish commission to review sanctions under the state of emergency will give new judicial avenues for appeals, said the nation’s prime minister. Speaking at the opening of a new judicial database in the capital Ankara, Binali Yildirim spoke on the State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission set up by decree, which will consider all appeals of dismissals, suspensions, and closures under the decree laws in the period since the July 2016 failed coup.

Turkish PM cools down demands to reinstate death penalty (August 2016)
“The death penalty is a one-time death, but there are deaths worse than death for the coup plotters. That is an objective and fair judgement,” Yıldırım said in a parliamentary group meeting of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on August 16, adding that they would not act with the feeling of revenge.

Turkey arrests novelist Aslı Erdoğan over ‘terror’ charges (August 2016)
A Turkish court arrested prize-winning novelist Aslı Erdoğan on Aug. 19 over alleged links to the outlawed PKK, three days after she and two dozen more staff from the Özgür Gündem newspaper were detained. 

Tayyip Erdogan hints at return of death penalty in Turkey (August 2016)
If the Turkish public want the death penalty following last month's failed coup then political parties will follow their will, President Erdogan said at a rally in Istanbul.

Turkey shuts down telecommunication body amid post-coup attempt measures (August 2016)
Turkey has shut down its Department of Telecommunications and Communication (TİB) as a part of new state of emergency decrees published in the Official Gazette on Aug. 17.
The decree hands all authority held by the TİB to the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK).

Europe and US urge Turkey to respect rule of law after failed coup (July 2016)
European politicians and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, have called onTurkey to respect the rule of law amid a purge of state institutions in the aftermath of this weekend’s botched coup.

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 42 journalists after failed coup (July 2016)
Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists, state-run news agency Anadolu reported Monday, as a purge on the country's democratic institutions following a failed military coup intensifies.

In latest escalation, 102 media outlets closed by decree (July 2016)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is dismayed to learn that the Turkish authorities closed 102 media outlets yesterday. The closure and expropriation of 45 newspapers, 16 TV channels, 23 radio stations, three news agencies and 15 magazines were ordered yesterday evening in the second decree-law issued under the state of emergency. Twenty-nine publishing houses were also closed.

Turkey's Erdogan shuts schools, charities in first state of emergency decree (July 2016)
The first decree signed by Erdogan authorizes the closure of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions over suspected links to the Gulen movement, the Anadolu agency said.

Turkey dismisses military, shuts media outlets in crackdown (July 2016)
Turkey ordered another 47 journalists detained on Wednesday, singling out columnists and other staff of the now defunct Zaman newspaper, the government official said. Authorities in March shut down Zaman, widely seen as the Gulen movement's flagship media organization.

President Erdogan texts 68 million people in fresh call for protests(July 2016)
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged all Turks to stay on the streets as he continues to purge state institutions following last week’s attempted coup. Mr Erdogan issued an appeal via text message to 68 million people urging them to not “give up on the resistance for your country, land and flag.

Turkey coup attempt: State of emergency announced(July 2016)
Turkey's president has declared a state of emergency for three months following Friday night's failed army coup. The emergency allows the president and cabinet to bypass parliament when drafting new laws and to restrict or suspend rights and freedoms.

Turkey to temporarily suspend European Convention on Human Rights after coup attempt(July 2016)
Turkey will temporarily suspend the implementation of its obligations emanating from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), in line with the declaration of a state of emergency, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has said, while vowing that fundamental rights and freedoms will not be affected during this period. 

Turkey: Istanbul gay pride march banned over 'security' concern (June 2016)
An annual gay pride march in Istanbul planned for later this month will not be allowed to take place, the Turkish city's authorities have said.A statement cited "safeguarding security and public order" as the reason for calling off the event.

Turkey jails Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul (May 2016)
Erdem Gul received five years and Can Dundar five years and 10 months. Mr Dundar and Mr Gul, editor and Ankara bureau chief of opposition daily Cumhuriyet, had reported that Turkey had tried to ship arms to rebels fighting the Syrian government. Shortly before the verdict, a gunman attempted to kill Mr Dundar.

Turkish LGBT group releases annual monitoring report on hate crimes (May 2016
The Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (Kaos GL) has published an annual report monitoring human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, calling on the Turkish state to adopt anti-discriminatory measures to prevent hate crimes against LGBT individuals that remain largely unreported by media and security authorities. Noting that the findings of the report were based on crimes that were only reported in local media, Kaos GL announced that five hate murders, 32 hate attacks, two cyber-attacks and three suicide cases were reflected in the press in 2015. 

Erdoğan’s latest target is CSOs (April 2016) (Turkish)
President Erdoğan targetted CSOs that monitor and publish annual reports on on human rights violations during counter-terrorism operations in the country’s southeast since July 2015. In his speech adressing polices in the anniversary of foundation of the Police Institution, her urged that further precautions shoud be taken towards activities of CSOs in Turkey.

How Turkey uses terrorism to justify its crackdown on the press (March 2016)
The American media warned of Erdogan's growing authoritarianism, citing his attacks on critical journalists, academics and parliamentarians. Turkish media claimed that these domestic critics were terrorists engaged in a American-backed coup plot against Erdogan. The accusations are not unrelated. In recent years, the Turkish government has used widespread fears over coups and terrorism to justify ever more brazen efforts to silence legitimate opposition. To do so, it has widened the definition of both terms, to the point where government rhetoric increasingly depends on the threat of coups without soldiers and terrorists without guns.

Turkey Seizes Newspaper, Zaman, as Press Crackdown Continuing (March 2016)
Backed by a court order, the Turkish authorities moved on Friday to seize Zaman, the country’s most widely circulated newspaper, in the latest crackdown by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoganon freedom of the press.

Ruling AKP creating its own NGOs (March 2016)
In contrast to more liberal policies pursued by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in its initial years in power, the space for civil society in Turkey today is deteriorating rapidly, Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TÜSEV) head Tevfik Başak Ersen has told the Hürriyet Daily News.  AKP rule increasingly relies on “GONGOs,” or government-oriented NGOs, with groups close to the government supported but the rest excluded and seen increasingly as a threat, according to Ersen, whose TÜSEV issues regular reports on the state of civil society in Turkey.

Two journalists arrested for story on trucks bound for Syria (November 2015)
Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül were arrested on November 26, 2015 as part of an investigation into the newpaper's coverage of a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) truck scandal. They have been charged of being members of a terrorist organization, espionage and revealing confidential documents related to trucks of  MİT that were allegedly transferring arms to Syria. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) launched an international appeal for the release of Cumhuriyet journalist and all other journalists unjustly detained in Turkey.

Pro-Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci shot dead in Turkey (November 2015)
Diyarbakır Bar Association president and prominent human rights lawyer/ activist Tahir Elçi, who was shot dead in the crossfire of a gun battle between security forces and terrorists while giving press statement in Diyabakır on November 28. A criminal investigation had been opened against Elçi for saying in October on a TV show that the PKK was not a terrorist organisation.  It is not known whether that was a planned assassination or unfortunate coincidence. Later, in Istanbul, thousands of people marched at Taksim Square but they were driven back by riot police using water cannon and tear gas.

Turkey Dominates Global Twitter Censorship (October 2015)
In the first half of 2015, there were 1,003 requests from courts and government agencies to remove content from Twitter. Out of this, 72 percent came from the Turkish authorities. Twitter removal requests leads to tweets no longer being displayed in individual countries rather than being deleted altogether. In the United States, there were only 25 requests in the first six months of the year. The number of content removal requests is soaring. In the second half of 2014, 13 percent of these requests were successful; between January and June, it was higher -- 42 percent of requests were granted. (See also blocking of Kurdish websites).

Political parties suspend election rallies over Ankara bombing (October 2015)
There terrorist attacks not just traumatized people but also before snap elections political parties could not organize gatherings for their campaigning. As an example, pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) was forced to cancel election rallies following two deadly attacks on pro-Kurdish gatherings since July.

Journalists, legal experts decry Turkey's media blackout (October 2015)
Media blackouts on the information considered as sensitive, including reporting on the terrorist attacks in Ankara and Suruç, are new approaches towards blocking access to information.

Water cannon used to disperse Istanbul gay pride parade (June 2015)
In June 2015, the gay parade was interrupted by the police and police fired pepper sprey and used water cannons against marchers.  Organizers of the parade released a statement reporting that “The 13th Istanbul LGBTI Pride Parade has suddenly been banned by the governorate using the month of Ramadan as the reasoning without any announcement”. The government has not released an official statement addressing whether the parade had been banned.

Turkey Lifts Ban on Access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (March 2015)
Turkey unblocked access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after social media websites followed an Istanbul court's order to remove images of a slain prosecutor that were deemed to abet terrorism. Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. said they would appeal the court ruling even though they complied with it. The court's decision requires Google to follow suit or face suspension of its services in Turkey.

Turkey Passes Tough New Security Law (March 2015)
Turkey's parliament overwhelmingly passed a security law to broaden police powers and allow the use of firearms against demonstrators, deepening fears of crackdowns on dissent ahead of parliamentary elections. The legislation comes at a sensitive time, given difficult talks to end three decades of Kurdish insurgency. The Kurds say the security law could be used to target them.

Security Bill Undermines Rights (October 2014)
The Turkish government’s proposed expansion of police powers to search and detain and for the use of firearms would undermine human rights protections. A number of the proposals in a draft security bill would circumvent the role of prosecutors and judiciary in ways that directly undercut safeguards against the arbitrary abuse of powers. On December 2, 2014, Turkey's Parliament passed a separate law that also widened police and court powers. The new security bill, published on the parliamentary website on November 25, would stiffen penalties for people involved in some protests and allow provincial governors to instruct police to focus on particular crimes and perpetrators, seemingly usurping the role of prosecutors and judges. Its introduction followed violent protests in southeastern Turkey on October 6 and 7 that left up to 50 people dead.

Turkish Parliament to Consider New Protest Laws (October 2014)
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that the Turkish government will introduce a bill in parliament which would give law enforcement greater powers over protests. The introduction of the bill follows violent clashes between pro-Kurdish protesters and police that killed more than 35 people across Turkey. Prime Minister Davutoglu said one goal of the bill is to enable law enforcement to respond to "massive acts of violence" more rapidly and efficiently. Gunal Kursun, a professor of penal law at Cukurova University, expressed concern over Turkey's increasing security restrictions. Unlike in established democracies, where rule of law and transparency are well grounded, "the rule of law has lost much of its meaning in Turkey; [Turkey] is turning more and more into a police state."

Withdrawal of the Bill on the Right to Collect Aid by the Cabinet (September 2014 (Turkish)
The draft law on the right of the cabinet to collect aid without permission that was granted to the Istanbul based association named “Kimse Yok mu?” has been withdrawn without any justification and notice by a decision of the cabinet on September 22, 2014.

Circular Issued after the Mining Incident (July 2014) (Turkish)
A mining accident which caused the death of 301 workers occurred in Soma, which is a small district on the western cost of Turkey. Right after the accident, the Prime Minister’s Office published a circular claiming that all aid collected by individuals or CSOs must be sent to a singular state body named AFAD (Directorate for Disaster and Emergency Management), which is accredited as the only institution to collect aid for the recovery efforts related to the accident. Such an arbitrary limitation on collection and utilization of aid by civil society can be articulated as an example that demonstrates the problematic nature of the Law on Collection of Aid in Turkey.

Action Plan of Right to Peaceful Freedom of Assembly (June 2014)
On June 3, 2014, Turkey submitted an Action Plan on Communication from the Government of the Republic of Turkey concerning the Oya Ataman Group of Cases to the Council of Europe. The plan incorporates important information, statistics and foreseen actions of Turkey’s government on the right to peaceful freedom of assembly and ill-treatment on account of excessive use of force to disperse the demonstrations, including the ombudsman institution’s decision and advices on the 23 applications concerning Gezi Park events.

Turkish Parliament Approves Internet Crackdown (February 2014)
The Turkish parliament has easily passed a measure that will tighten government controls on the Internet. If it gets final approval, the proposal would require service providers to make users' browsing histories available to the government for up to two years at a time. The measure was passed by the legislature, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK party holds 319 of the 550 seats.

News Archive

Listen to, Don't Attack Protestors (June 2013)

Turkey spared from FATF Blacklist (February 2013)

Article on Turkey's Expanding Role in Development Aid (February 2013)

Reconsider appointment to key rights body (December 2012)

Police fire tear gas at Republic Day protesters (October 2012)

Journalists targeted by smear campaign (September 2012)

Confirmed pre-trial detention of defender Osman Isci and 27 trade union members: Joint press release (July 2012)

NGO report slams Turkish government (May 2012)

European Union critical of human rights in Turkey (October 2011) 

Activists prosecuted for criticising the judges (February 2011)

Human Rights Watch slams journalists' arrests in Turkey (March 2010)

FIDH supports joint declaration of its member organizations in Turkey and Armenia (April 2010)

Turkey: Summary of Amnesty International’s Concerns in Turkey, July to December 2009 (March 2010) 

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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner in Turkey, TUSEV.