Turkey

Last updated 20 July 2021

Coronavirus Response

On May 17, 2021, the government announced an economic assistance package aimed at supporting small business owners. As with previous packages, this one does not apply to civil society and no monetary support was provided to CSOs. In addition, as of June 30, 2021, the short-term working allowance, wage support, and ban on employment termination and unilateral unpaid leave have ended for all sectors, including civil society. It had been applied to certain CSOs working in education, health, and food provision. On July 1, 2021, the government also announced that all curfew and inter-city travel restrictions have ended. For more details, see the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker’s entry for Turkey.

Introduction

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are at the heart of Turkey’s democratization process. Over the past years, 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 are around 122,162 CSOs and 5,914 new foundations (established after the foundation of the Republic in 1923) as of July 2021 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.

While foundations in Turkey are predominantly working in the fields of education and social assistance, associations are carrying out activities to enhance vocational training, social solidarity, sports and religious services. Despite the increase in their numbers and visibility, rights-based organizations constitute a very small segment of CSOs in Turkey. According to the data provided by the Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society, as of July 2021, out of all the associations registered, only 1.22% (1,488 associations) are active in the fields of human rights and advocacy.

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 Law on Associations 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 Law on Foundations, 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. In addition, despite the improved legislation concerning associations and foundations in 2004 and 2008, respectively, challenges and constraints continue, especially regarding the 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 for civil society.

Shrinking civic space has been a concern since 2013. The enabling environment for civil society activity deteriorated after the Gezi Park protests of 2013, which challenged the government’s urban development plans. Civil society has also been affected by many destabilizing pressures, including the renewed tensions over the Kurdish conflict, instability spilling over from neighboring Syria, the uncertain situation regarding refugees, political deadlocks, economic decline, and a failed coup attempt. The 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 the 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. 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.

Turkey officially transitioned to a presidential government system when Recep Tayyip 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 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 and put forward targets to improve the civil society environment. As of July 2021, the mandate and priorities of this Directorate, including the drafting of an overarching strategy for civil society or the improvement of the legal framework, remain unclear.

Following the amendment of the Regulation on Associations, the obligation of notifying the registered members of associations to the Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society via an online system (DERBIS) was included for a law proposal in order to be added to the Law on Associations. The law proposal was accepted and entered into force in March 2020 and mandates the notification of the first name, surname, date of birth and ID number of the members. The Expert Council of the European Council released an opinion and evaluated the amendment and its process. It indicated that lack of an impact assessment and proper public discussion undercut the legitimacy and ran afoul of the requirement for inclusive, participatory and evidence-based policy development that underpins European best practices in public administration. The legal requirement may bring along bureaucratic obstacles for many associations, and it may also negatively impact individuals’ right to association, freedom of expression and protection of personal data.

Public institutions do not attach strategic importance to cooperation with civil society. While national documents, including the National Development Plan and the Annual Presidential Program, underline the importance of cooperation with CSOs and their participation in decision-making processes, there is no policy or strategy that defines and encourages cooperation and participation modalities. Within the Presidential Government System, there is no overarching policy, national strategy or legal framework that governs civil society and government relations and there is no institution or mechanism that is mandated to facilitate, monitor and report on civil society and government relations. Furthermore, with a few exceptions, there are no specially-designated units or subject-experts within the ministries for governing relations with civil society. The Regulation on the Procedures and Principles of Drafting Legislation includes provisions about CSO participation in decision-making processes in consultative capacity, but these provisions do not make consultation mandatory. In the Presidential Government System, while the President as well as its affiliated organizations and councils are the primary policy-makers, ministries are now functioning as implementing agencies and supervising bodies at a lower level. However, as of 2021, there has not been any regulation with provisions defining such a decision-making process and ensuring a participatory policy-making process.

The 11th National Development Plan emphasizes that special importance will be attached to the participation of CSOs and all other relevant stakeholders while building a social contract and ensuring effective CSO participation in decision-making processes. However, the steps envisaged for achieving this goal remain limited to strengthening the institutional, human resources and financial capacity of CSOs. There are no steps foreseen when it comes to the development of necessary mechanisms or legal frameworks by the public sector.

The 2021 Annual Presidential Program was prepared by the Presidency of Strategy and Budget and published on October 27, 2020 in the Official Gazette. The Program set several objectives related to the civil society sector and CSOs. The 2021 Program highlights the increasing number and diversity of CSOs, and the importance of ensuring their effective participation in decision-making processes. In addition to that, the necessity of developing cooperation between CSOs, public institutions, and the private sector was emphasized CSOs are mentioned as important actors for mitigating the severe negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic by meeting the social and economic needs on the ground.

In sum, as of 2021, the legal-political environment is not conducive for civil society in Turkey. Restrictions limiting freedom of association, assembly, and speech/advocacy remain. A concrete definition of civil society is still lacking in legislation, policy documents, as is 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. CSOs can be inspected on grounds of their political affiliations, advocacy on rights-based issues, proximity to government or opposition, and personal complaints. Therefore, they remain prone to arbitrary implementation and interpretations of the law.

Organizational Forms Associations Foundations
Registration Body Ministry of Interior, General Directorate for Relations with Civil Society The courts, with possible review made by the General Directorate of Foundations
Barriers to Entry At least seven founders required to establish an association.

Executive board of at least five people required. Majority of the board must reside in Turkey. Foreigners can be members of board provided they reside in Turkey.

The minimum endowment amount for foundations is 80,000 TL (approx. $9,238).
Barriers to Activities Despite the improvements in the Regulation on Associations, standard annual reporting forms and numerous mandatory books are still 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 protect speech, regardless of its content, when expressed by a natural person or a legal entity or expressed individually or collectively.

However, the constitutional protection providing for freedom of expression is diminished at a legal level. Many articles in the laws are sustained despite their apparent conflict with the Constitution.

The new internet regulation No. 5651 may potentially increase censorship and pave the way for removing content without a court order.

Different provisions set forth in the Constitution protect speech, regardless of its content, when expressed by a natural person or a legal entity or expressed individually or collectively.

However, the constitutional protection providing for freedom of expression is diminished at a legal level. Many articles in the laws are sustained despite their apparent conflict with the Constitution.

The new internet regulation No. 5651 may potentially increase censorship and pave the way for removing content without a court order.

 

Barriers to International Contact Requirement to notify the government when receiving grants from international organizations and giving grants to organizations working abroad. Requirement to notify the government when receiving grants from international organizations and giving grants to organizations working abroad.
Barriers to Resources Requirement to notify the government before using foreign funding.

A foreign association is required to notify the authorities about foreign funds even if the funds are received from the headquarters of the foreign association.

Requirement to notify the government within one month of receiving foreign funding.

A foreign foundation is required to notify the authorities about foreign funds even if the funds are received from the headquarters of the foreign foundation.

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.
Population 83,614,362 (July 2021 est.)
Capital Ankara
Type of Government Presidential Government System
Life Expectancy at Birth male: 80.7 years; female: 81.3 years (2021 est.)
Literacy Rate male: 99.29%; female: 95.24% (2021 est.)
Religious Groups Muslim (mostly Sunni): 99.8%; other (mostly Christians and Jews): 0.2%
Ethnic Groups Turkish: 70-75%; Kurdish: 19%; other minorities: 7-12% (2016 est.)
GDP per capita $8,538.20

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency and Turkish Statistical Institute.

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 54 (2020) 1 – 178
World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 107 (2020) 1 – 128
Transparency International 86 (2020) 1 – 180
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 59 (2020) 178 – 1
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Political Rights: 16
Civil Liberties: 16
Total: 32 (2020)
1 – 100
1 – 100

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)** No
European Convention on Human Rights
Yes 1954
The Convention for The Protection of Individuals with Regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data Yes 2016

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
** On March 20, 2021, a Presidential Decision was published to announce Turkey’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, which is widely known as Istanbul Convention. Turkey subsequently reported the decision to the Council of Europe. On July 1, the decision came into effect and Turkey officially withdrew from the Istanbul Convention.

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 56: Everyone has the right to live in a healthy and balanced environment

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 law proposal 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.

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. 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. Since the presidential system is in place, the president is authorized to declare the state of emergency. Once the state of emergency is declared, it is required to publish the state of emergency in the Official Gazette. Parliament gathers after the publishing and is authorized to extend, shorten, or abolish the state of emergency.

On January 25, 2017, the president and cabinet set up a Commission of Inquiry for State of Emergency Practices to review sanctions under the state of emergency and provided new judicial avenues for appeals. However, the means of selecting the members of this Commission raised concerns about its independence. 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 October 2, 2020, the Commission delivered 110,250 decisions (12,680 accepted and 97,570 rejected). 60 of the acceptance decisions have been related to the re-opening of the organizations that had been shut down (associations, foundations, television channels). 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.

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.

In 2019, Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), a department under the Ministry of Treasury and Finance, published a guide named “Avoiding the Abuse of the Nonprofit Organizations by the Plots of Terrorist Financing.” The guide details suspicious financial transaction types that may link CSOs to terror financing. The guide supposedly aims to distinguish between civil society activities and terrorist financing, however it is criticized as another move to discredit the CSOs.

In March 2020, the Ministry of Health started to implement precautions to avoid spreading of Pandemic, Covid-19. The Ministry of Interior published a decree postponing the general assemblies, activities, trainings and other meetings of CSOs to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction was adopted and entered into force on December 31, 2020. The law was adopted in a speedy process without consultation with civil society and other stakeholders. The main reasoning of the law is “to catch up with international standards in the fight against the financing of terrorism and laundering offenses in light of the 2019 report of the FATF and the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.” However, it goes beyond the FATF and severely restricts the operation of CSOs.

Articles 7-10 amend the Law on Collection of Aid No. 2860, and provide for the following:.

  • Article 7 of the law provides that online aid campaigns are included within the scope of Law No. 2860. This means that receiving permission to launch online aid campaigns have become obligatory. According to this new amendment, when an unauthorized online aid campaign is detected, the relevant governorship and Ministry of Interior will be authorized to request removal of the content within 24 hours or to apply to the magistrate of peace for a blocking order if the campaign provider cannot be reached or notification cannot be delivered due to technical reasons.
  • Article 10 provides for an administrative fine on violations of the Law on Collection of Aid from 5,000 TL to 100,000 TL. In case of an unauthorized collection of aid on the internet, the prescribed lower and upper limits of fines are doubled. Those who aid and abet in any unauthorized aid collection will be also sanctioned with an administrative fine of 5,000 TL if they do not end this activity despite a notice.
  • Article 8 provides that procedures and principles regarding the aidprovided domestically and abroad shall be regulated with a by-law.
  • Article 9 provides that those assigned to conduct the audit for the collection of aid activities are authorized to request relevant information and documents from natural persons and legal entities, including banks as well as public institutions and organizations. According to this article, those who are requested cannot avoid giving information and documents by relying the provisions in relevant laws.

Seven articles, from Articles 11 to 17, amend the Law on Associations No. 5253.

  • Article 11 provides that associations and foundations which have headquarters abroad become subject to the provisions of Law No. 5253 on Associations.
  • Article 12 provides that those convicted of crimes within the scope of the Law on the Prevention of Financing of Terrorism No. 6415 or of crimes of drug trafficking and money laundering are prohibited from sitting on anybody of associations other than the general assembly, even if the sentences of those persons were pardoned. In the event that a prosecution is initiated against the board members or staff of associations with regards to the aforementioned crimes, Article 15 allows the Minister of Interior to suspend the individuals or the bodies that the relevant individuals hold as a temporary measure. According to this amendment, the Minister of Interior can immediately apply to the civil courts of first instance to request a temporary suspension of activities of the association when the aforementioned ‘temporary measure’ is deemed as inefficient.
  • Article 13 provides that the scope of the audit for associations is expanded, and the audits of associations are to be carried out by public servants annually, according to the risk assessments to be performed.
  • Article 14 provides for notification of the relevant administrative authority prior to receiving aid remitted abroad to Turkey becomes
  • Article 16 provides for penalties to be imposed for failure to show various kinds of information, documents, and records and allow a visit to the administrative places, establishments, and their annexes upon the request of the supervisory board members of the association (internal audit) or relevant government officials (external audit);
  • Article32(k) provides penalties if mandatory documents kept by the associations are unreadable or lost for any reason, and this is not notified to the competent court of a place where a headquarters of the association is operating, and for breaching the obligation to notify about aid sent abroad and aid received from abroad.
  • Article 17 provides for the law to become applicable to branches of associations, governing organizations of associations and foundations, and branches of associations and foundations which have headquarters abroad and permission to operate and develop cooperation in Turkey.

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

  • Law 5253: Associations Law on Associations
  • Law 5737: Law on Foundations
  • Law 4721: Civil Code
    • Associations: Articles 56-100
    • Foundations: Article 101-117
  • Law 8965: Penal Code
  • Law 5326: Law on Misdemeanor
  • Law 2860: Law on Collection of Aid
  • Law 2911: Law on Meetings and Demonstrations
  • Law 4982: Law on Right to Information
  • Law 4962: Law on the Amendment to Certain Laws and Tax Exemption for Law on Foundations
  • Law 6102: Commercial Law
  • Law 193: Income Tax Law
  • Law 5520: Corporate Tax Law
  • Law 213: Tax Procedure 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
  • Law 6698: Law on Protection of Personal Data
  • Law 7262: Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

New legislation, or specifically a by-law, will enter into force regarding aid provided domestically and abroad, as stipulated in the Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which entered into force on December 31, 2020. Another upcoming by-law, which is referenced in the same Law, will regulate the procedures and principles regarding audits of the associations.

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

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 Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society 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 Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society 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 2020, the minimum value is set at approximately 80,000 TL (approx $9,328). 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 workload 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 did not bring substantial changes in 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 public benefit status. According to data compiled in July 2021, there are 294 tax-exempt foundations out of 5,352 foundations in Turkey. The ratio of the number of tax-exempt foundations to the total number remained similar (5.4%) to previous years. As of July 2021, 360 associations with public benefit status constituted only 0.3% of the total number of 122,162 active associations

Public Participation

The LGBTI+ community has been most restricted from public participation. For example, on March 25, 2021, 24 Boğaziçi University students were detained and released one day later for carrying rainbow flags during protests in support of a student who was under a disciplinary investigation for displaying a rainbow flag on top of the school’s gates on February 2, 2021. On April 3, 2021, a university investigation and a judicial case were opened against 17 people who were detained while making a statement to support Boğaziçi University in Kocaeli.

Prior to the second hearing for 12 students who were prosecuted for “opposing the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations” by unfurling a rainbow flag in front of Boğaziçi University, Kağıthane District Governor’s Office declared a ban on protests and activities around Çağlayan Courthouse. In a lawsuit filed agains the 12 students, the acquittal request of the students was rejected. The next hearing will be held on October 13, 2021. Meanwhile, another trial will continue on November 17, 2021 for seven students on allegations of “inciting the public to hatred and enmity” because they held LGBTI+ flags over a Kaaba image in an exhibition as part of the protests against Melih Bulu.

Upon Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on March 19, 2021, large demonstrations, rallies and meetings were organized in a large number of cities. Police responses against women and LGBTI+ rights defenders were severe during this period. On April 6, 2021, a deportation order was issued for four refugees for “acting against public order” as they joined a protest in Denizli against Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. The press statement of the Women’s Platform for Equality, which came together in front of the Council of State to submit an additional petition for the annulment of the Presidential Decree that led to Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, was also prevented by the police forces.

The first hearing of the case brought against 33 women who were detained during a demonstration on August 12, 2020 against the withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention was held at the Ankara 28th Criminal Court of First Instance. The trial of women, who are facing up to three years in prison for “opposing the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations No. 2911,” will continue on November 26, 2021.

The 2021 Istanbul Pride march held in Taksim was also prevented by the police forces, and demonstrators were attacked by the security forces, with at least 25 people detained. Agence France Press reporter Bülent Kılıç was also taken into custody by excessive force, and many other members of the press were prevented from taking pictures. The application made to the Governorship of Istanbul to hold the 19th Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride march, which was planned to be held on Saturday, June 26, 2021 at the Maltepe Rally Ground, was rejected.

An indictment was further issued against the President of the Ankara Bar Association and the members of the board of directors after a press statement in which they criticized the President of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbaş, who used hate speech against LGBTI+s. If the indictment on the charge of “insulting a public official due to his duty” that was sent to the Ankara West Courthouse 3rd High Criminal Court is accepted, sometime in 2021, the lawyers will be tried and may receive a prison sentence of up to two years.

Lastly, in March 2021, law enforcement prohibited a press statement organized by Taşova Environment Platform to protest gold mining in Tokat. Judicial proceedings were initiated on charges such as “resisting public officials”, “publicly insulting law enforcement officers”, “behaving against the measures regarding pandemic”, and “opposition to law on meetings and demonstrations” for 34 local people who protested the quarry in Rize İkizdere. Rize Governorate also banned all meetings, demonstration, and marches in İkizdere district for 15 days on grounds of the COVID-19 pandemic. This case demonstrated that those protesting resource extraction, like the LGBTI+ community, could also be restricted from exercising their rights to civic participation.

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 Law on Foundations, “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 2019, the minimum endowment amount for foundations was increased to 80,000 TRY (approx $9,328). 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 Law on Associations 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 or representative offices require permission, provided by the Ministry of Interior 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 Directorate General for Relations with Civil Society, 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 are subject to a different authorization process than that of 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, the establishment of branches and representative offices by foreign foundations in Turkey is subject to the reciprocity condition and is restricted to situations deemed beneficial for cooperation on international level. As of June 2021, 131 foreign CSOs were listed as permitted to work in Turkey. The number of foreign CSOs with permits to operate in Turkey was 142 in December, 143 in September 2020, 147 in May 2020, 150 in February 2020, 132 in July 2019, and 131 in January 2019.

There has been a sharp decline in the number of association members from 11,239,693 in 2017 to 8,146,674 in June 2020. This decline can be partially attributed to the CSO closures during the period following the 2016 coup attempt, the passing away or leaving by the existing members of CSOs, and deletion of double-recordings by the headquarters and branches of CSOs. The statistics of association members is not available currently in the official website of General Directorate of Relations with Civil Society. Moreover, the new regulations requiring the disclosure of personal data upon joining associations discourage potential new members.

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. Additionally, associations are not allowed to utilize shared offices with another legal entity or a natural person. The restriction on shared offices does not have a statutory basis, but it has arisen from an opinion of law department of Ministry of Interior.

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.

Law No. 7145 on the Amendment of Certain Laws and Emergency Decrees, which was adopted on 25 July, 2018, contains regulations restricting assemblies, demonstrations, and marches. The broad and vague definition of “terrorism” in Article 1 may undermine the objectivity of the state regarding freedom of expression and freedom of association. The legislation also permits the state’s intervention 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 bylaws. Legislation also over-regulates the formation of CSOs’ management bodies.

The legal framework does not protect against the state’s interference with internal matters of associations, foundations, and other types of nonprofit entities. While the 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 allow authorities to inspect CSOs’ activities and assess if they are in line with the organizations’ statute. Associations and foundations are not prohibited from directly engaging in political activities, but the 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 are also subject to similar inspections, and they can be further inspected over their political affiliations, right-based issues, proximity to government and opposition, and personal complaints. Therefore, they are more prone to facing the 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.

The minimum number of mandatory books kept by associations is four. Associations are mostly sanctioned for failing to “duly” keep these books and to fulfill notification requirements on time. Excessive bureaucratic regulations with regards to the books and records of associations is still present both in the applicable legislation and in practice. Additionally, CSOs must complete standard forms before receiving or utilizing foreign funding and opening new branches or offices. An Amendment to the Regulation on Associations entered into force on July 9, 2020. Additional reporting and notification requirements were added to the regulation for foreign foundations and associations. For example, if a foreign foundation or association receives donations in cash or in kind from abroad, even if the donation comes from its headquarters, the association or foundation is required to notify the authorities. Previously, the funds originating from the headquarters were not subject to a prior notification.

With Article 16 on Law No. 7262, there is an increased penalty of a three month prison sentence or one year judicial fine if mandatory documents kept by associations are unreadable or lost for any reason, and this is not notified to the competent court of a place where a headquarters of the association is operating within 15 days or during the auditing process. In addition, increased penalties foreseen in the Law bring more barriers to the operations of CSOs.

As the government took precautions against the spread of COVID-19, restrictions on civic freedoms were observed across the country. Law No. 7526 on the Restructuring of Certain Receivables and Amendments to Certain Laws published on the Official Gazette on November 17, 2020 amended the Law on Mitigation of The Impacts of Covid-19 Outbreak on Economic and Social Life. It authorized the Minister of Interior to postpone general assemblies and annual declarations of associations for three times, with each time valid for three months. Following an extension, the general assemblies and annual declarations of associations were postponed until February 28, 2021. The postponement of general assemblies was later applied to foundations by the notification from the General Directorate of Foundations. There is no regulation that allows associations and foundations to conduct virtual/online general assemblies.

The Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction No. 7262 entered into force on December 31, 2020. As stated in the draft law, the main reasoning of the law is to catch up with international standards in the fight against financing of terrorism and laundering offenses in light of the 2019 report of the FATF and the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. The Law mandates changes in various laws, including Law on Collection of Aid and Law on Associations and brings several new applications, which will significantly damage freedom of association and operation of CSOs. In the event that a prosecution is initiated against the board members or staff of associations with regards to terrorism financing, money laundering, and drug trafficking crimes, the Law allows the Minister of Interior to suspend the individuals or the organs that the relevant individuals hold as a temporary measure. The Minister of Interior also can immediately apply to the civil courts of first instance to ask for a temporary suspension of activities of the association when the aforementioned ‘temporary measure’ is deemed as inefficient. There has been protests from CSOs, some of which published their own statements against the Law. Moreover, a joint statement named #siviltoplumsusturulamaz (#civilsocietycannotbesilenced) was announced to explain CSOs’ objections and concerns and the possible impact on civil society. It was signed by over 600 CSOs. A large number of associations working in the field of human rights and receiving funds from abroad have been subjected to inspection. Effects of the Law on CSOs will be monitored over time.

Latly, the Green Party, which is known for its opposition to government’s approach regarding Kanal Istanbul (Istanbul Canal), the Paris Agreement, and the Istanbul Convention, has not received a response to its application to officially establish the party since September 21, 2020. Moreover, the requests of lawyers and founding members of the party to meet with the Minister of Interior were also rejected. On March 22, 2021, the party started a legal process to bring the matter before the judiciary and also launched a petition on June 21, 2021, which was supported by 334 people, including writers, academics, politicians, activists, artists, and journalists.

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 to 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.”

However, 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. Based on the Turkey Human Rights Report for 2020 published by Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), at least 24 people were detained and two people were arrested in 2020 on allegations of insulting the President.

In April 2021, 22 summaries of proceedings against 20 MPs from CHP and HDP were held in Parliament on charges of “insulting the President”, “inciting the people to hatred and hostility”, and “slander.”.

From 2016-2021, 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 online 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 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have highlighted the concerning de facto restrictions and limitations that were instituted during state of emergency.

According to the ECHR, Turkey has been a top violator, with 387 rulings out of 925 total Court decisions related to Article 10, freedom of speech, of the European Convention of Human Rights. Repression and intimidation against human rights defenders has significantly increased and the space for freedom of speech and advocacy has significantly deteriorated in Turkey. Human rights defenders, journalists, academics, and LGBTI+ rights advocates undergo various forms of reprisals, discrimination, and attacks, including threats, stigmatization, judicial harassment, prolonged arbitrary detention, and travel bans. All these restrictions have led to self-censorship by activists and discourage others from participating and actively playing a role in CSOs and advocacy for guaranteeing human rights. Recent and on-going legal cases against human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians create fear and hostility in the civic space.

Further, according to an HRFT report, at least 404 people were victims of torture and other ill-treatment in at least 140 separate incidents in 2020. During protests and demonstrations, 2,014 people were detained using physical violence and nine people, including one child, were arrested. At least 616 people were also detained and 11 people were arrested, and investigations were launched against at least 147 people in 2020 for their social media posts. In addition, at least 72 journalists and one writer were also detained, while 41 journalists were sentenced to a total of more than 173 years in prison and fines of 34,160 TL. Access to at least 1,079 news, 97 websites, 635 internet addresses, 10 social media accounts, and 301 webpages were blocked by court decisions.

Businessman and human rights advocate Osman Kavala was arrested on October 18, 2017 for alleged links to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and anti-government Gezi Park protests. Kavala was alleged to be the “head executive” of the anti-government Gezi Park protests and was 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. Kavala was acquitted in the Gezi Park case in which which a total of 16 defendants were accused of organizing and spreading the protests. On September 28, 2020, a second bill of indictment was prepared, apart from the previous indictment, regarding Kavala’s alleged involvement in the attempted coup of July 2016. The court approved the second indictment on October 8, 2020 and demanded his trial on charges of “obtaining government information which is confidential,” “abolishing the constitutional order,” and “attempting to overthrow the government.”

On December 3, 2020, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted an interim resolution regarding Kavala’s case, which urged the authorities to take all steps at their disposal to ensure that the Constitutional Court complete its examination of the applicant’s complaint without further delay, and assure the applicant’s immediate release. Yet, on December 15, 2020, the Constitutional Court forwarded the application to the General Assembly, which concluded that Kavala’s right to personal liberty and security had not been violated.

Despite the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in favor of Kavala’s release, Istanbul’s 36th High Criminal Court decided to merge the 2016 coup attempt trial with the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “political and military espionage” from the Gezi Park case charges. The court also decided to continue the detention of Kavala.In the meeting held between June 7-9, 2021, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers for the first time announced that they would initiate the procedure for a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights against Turkey since the government did not implement the ECHR’s decisions regarding Kavala.

Besides Kavala, there have been other prominent citizens, politicians, and activists whose freedom of speech and expression were violated or who were prosecuted for exercising their fundamental democratic rights.

  1. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gave its ruling on December 22, 2020 related to former Peoples’ Democratic Party co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, an opposition politician who had been arrested for over four years for terrorism charges. The Grand Chamber indicated that Demirtas should be released and identified violations under five categories, including freedom of expression and liberty. Following the decision, Ministry of Interior announced that “the ECHR ruling, whatever the reason, is meaningless.” On April 9, 2021, the case proceeded related Demirtaş being accused of “insulting” former Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor, Yüksel Kocaman, and “threatening public officials in charge of fight against terrorism” for his words in his defense during his trial in Ankara 19th High Criminal Court.The court sentenced Demirtaş to twoyears and six months in prison in the final hearing held on May 28, 2021.
  2. In June 2021, the Constitutional Court announced that it concluded the application of İdil Eser, former Director of Amnesty International, who is on trial in the Büyükada Case. This case involved a lawsuit which was filed against eleven human rights defenders on charges of “aiding armed terrorist organizations” and “being members of an armed terrorist organization” due to their meeting “digital security and protection of human rights defenders”. The Constitutional Court ruled that Eser’s pre-trial detention was a violation of her rights and ordered 40,000 TL (approx. $4,640) to be paid for non-pecuniary damage. Eser had been detained on July 5, 2017, and arrested on July 18, 2017. She was released at a hearing on October 25, 2017 along with seven human rights defenders. The application of Özlem Dalkıran, who was on trial in the Büyükada Case, was concluded in the same way.
  3. Tahir Elçi, the former chair of Diyarbakır Bar Association and a human rights lawyer, was shot to death after a press statement on November 28, 2015 in the name of Diyarbakır Bar Association in which he was calling for an end to the persistent violence in the region. After nearly six years since his killing, criminal charges were brought against the three suspect police officers and the indictment was submitted to the Diyarbakır 10th High Penal Court in March 2020. Netherlands Helsinki Committee and 42 human rights organizations published a joint statement and explained their concerns on the prosecution and the right to a fair trial by stating that the case should be heard by an independent, impartial, and competent court that is capable of establishing the facts and truth surrounding the killing. During the first hearing, all requests of the Elçi family were rejected by the Court regarding The attorneys of the familythen requested a recusal. The second hearing of the case in which four defendants, three of whom were police officers, were tried on March 3, 2021, took place at Diyarbakır’s 10th High Criminal Court and resulted in a request for the arrest of the defendants being rejected. At the third hearing, the court examined the deleted camera records examined by Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) and requested the list of names of all police officers on duty at the time of the incident. The trial was postponed to January 1, 2022.
  4. In February 2021, upon the complaint of the Deputy Commander of the Gendarmerie General Command, Lieutenant General Musa Çitil, an investigation was launched against the human rights defenderand lawyer Eren Keskinand journalists Yağmur Kaya and Ahmet Kanbal, alleging they had “targeted those who took part in the fight against terrorism.” The investigation was initiated due to a statement made by Keskin about Specialist Sergeant Musa Orhan raping and killing İpek Er.
  5. In March 2021, the verdict wasdeliveredin the trial of 76 defendants regarding the murder of Hrant Dink, Editor-in-Chief of Agos Newspaper, on January 19, Ali Fuat Yılmazer, who is the former Istanbul Intelligence Branch Manager, and Ramazan Akyürek, who is former Head of the Intelligence Department of the General Directorate of Security, were given aggravated life sentences. The files of 13 fugitive defendants, including Fethullah Gülen, Zekeriya Öz, Ekrem Dumanlı and Adem Yavuz Arslan, were separated.

Overall, the detention and prosecution of human rights activists, journalists and even members of parliament had severe consequences upon silencing the advocacy and monitoring work of rights-based CSOs in Turkey. The 2020 Survey of Freedom of Expression revealed striking results about censorship, shifting media consumption habits, and weakening trust in media—69% of the 2,000 participants were concerned about the effects of censorship in Turkey. Similarly, 64% of all respondents were concerned about their online activities being monitored by the government. Turkey was downgraded in its internet freedom status as well.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) launched the 2021 World Press Freedom Index with an assessment titled “Journalism, the Vaccine Against Disinformation”. According to Freedom House’s 2021 ratings, internet freedom in Turkey is “not free.” Turkey is ranked 153rd in the index, which covers 180 countries and documents severe problems regarding judicial independence, arbitrary arrests of journalists, heavy interventions in online journalism, administrative sanctions targeting critical journalism, and an increase in violence against journalists.

In addition, in the wake of the failed coup attempt in 2016, 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. Authorities continued to detain and prosecute large numbers of people from 2018-2021 over social media posts on charges of propagandizing terrorism.

On August 1, 2019, the “Regulation on Radio, Television and On-Demand Broadcasts on the Internet” was published in the Official Gazette, requiring all online content providers, including online streaming services to obtain a license from the government-controlled state television and radio regulator, Radio and Television Supreme Council. This regulation makes Radio and Television Higher Council, which is a governmental institution responsible for monitoring their online content. The Constitution guarantees freedom and privacy of communication for all. However, the Law on the Internet and legal framework grant public institutions the authority to block access to the content available online without a court order and based on wide discretionary grounds.

The Law amending Internet Law No. 5651 entered into force on July 31, 2020. It requires foreign social media sites that have daily traffic of more than 1,000,000 visitors to appoint Turkey-based representatives for addressing authorities’ concerns over content and includes deadlines for the removal of inconvenient content. Previously, administrative fines were between 10,000 – 100,000 TL (approx. $1,160 –$11,600), but the amount would now be between 1 million – 10 million TL (approx. $116,000– $1,160,000). In cases where foreign social media sites do not appoint a representative after 30 days beginning from the notification of the first administrative fine, a 30 million TL (approx. $3,478,906) money fine shall be applied. In addition to the administrative fine, an advertising ban can be applied. This amendment may potentially increase censorship and paves the way for removing content without court order. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok were imposed a fine of 10 million TL (approx. $1,16 million) each on November 3, 2020 for failing to appoint a local representative required by the law. After the first administrative fine the social media sites did not appoint a representative and a 30 million TL (approx. $3,478,906) fine was imposed on each company on December 3, 2020. Following the imposed fines, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Dailymotion, Linkedin, VKontakte (VK), and TikTok announced that they will set up a legal entity in Turkey to serve as a local representative to comply with the requirements of the Law No. 5651. The Constitutional Court concluded its ruling, which was promulgated in the Official Gazette on November 4, 2020, on the access ban against sendika.org (union.org), and stated that freedom of expression and press freedom had been violated. The website had been censored 61 times since 2015.

Other recent cases resulting in barriers to speech, including terrorism and other allegations against pro-Kurdish, left wing or dissident parties, politicians or journalists include the following:

On September 25, 2020, 82 people were detained including members of the pro-Kurdish left wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) over violent protests in 2014 against an attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane. The co-mayors of the northeastern city Kars were taken into custody. 17 of the detained including a former parliamentarian who was an academic and an ecology activist were arrested. Attorneys objected to the detentions, but the detentions continue in the investigation. On March 2, 2021, the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation launched an inquiry into the HDP in relation to the indictment against nine HDP deputies over the ‘Kobane protests’ that took place in October 2014. In the case where 108 politicians, including HDP former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, are on trial, the court ruled that former Kars Metropolitan Mayor Ayhan Bilgen, Berfin Özgü Köse, Can Memiş, Cihan Erdal, İbrahim Binici, Emine Beyza Üstün, Zeki Çelik and Emine Ayna would be released on a judicial control condition and the detention of the other defendants would continue. The next hearing will be held on September 20, 2021.

Since August 19, 2019, trustees have been appointed to 48 HDP-run municipalities, including three metropolitan cities, five provinces and 33 districts. 72 co-mayors were also detained. As of today, 14 co-mayors elected in March 2019 and several mayors elected in 2014 remain behind bars. 37 co-mayors, 19 of them women, were arrested on various dates. There are currently 15 co-mayors in prisons, seven of whom are women. Six co-mayors have been under house arrest. No indictment has yet been prepared against co-mayors under house arrest.

On March 17, 2021, HDP deputy, Mr Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, was stripped of his MP status due to a court ruling that sentenced him to two and a half years in prison for retweeting a news story in 2016 and making the argument that there should be a renewed peace process with Kurdish militants. Gergerlioğlu started a “justice watch” together with other HDP MPs and refused to leave the parliament. However, on March 21, just before his morning prayer, police seized him at his party’s headquarter in parliament. By midday, he was released, but in the evening of April 2, 2021, police raided Gergerlioğlu’s residence again, and he was forcefully detained. He has been transferred to prison, despite his complaints of chest pain and high blood pressure. However, as his complaints continued, he had to be hospitalized and put in intensive care. Within a few hours he was sent back to the prison. In July, 2021, the Constitutional Court ruled that Gergerlioğlu’s right to be elected and to engage in political activity and his right to freedom of expression were violated and Gergerlioğlu was released from prison. In its unanimous decision, the court cited CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu’s case as an example.

After the Constitutional Court found violation of rights during his trial and ordered Gergerlioğlu’s release, the police disrupted a statement that was to be made in front of HDP headquarters in favor of Gergerlioğlu. Four people, including Gergerlioğlu son Salih, Artı TV cameraman Nazım Fayık, and journalists Büşra Taşkıran and Berna Kişin were beaten and detained during the police intervention.

On March 17, 2021, a Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation filed a case with the Constitutional Court (AYM) demanding the closure of the HDP)over its alleged links to Kurdish militants. However, the officials of the party deny these allegations, stating that the attempt to shutter the party is a “political coup.” Until now, the Constitutional Court has banned five pro-Kurdish political parties, beginning with the closure of the People’s Labor Party (HEP) in 1990. After this lawsuit was filed, political parties and alliances from all around the world and groups in European Parliament and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe released solidarity statements to condemn violations of rule of law and democracy and urging Turkish authorities to cease its acts of intimidation against HDP. On March 31, 2021, AYM unanimously returned the indictment prepared for the closure of the HDP. It was stated in the decision that there are deficiencies in the indictment in terms of determining the actions of persons alleged to have committed acts contrary to the indivisible entity of the Turkish State, with its territory and nation. The General Assembly of the Constitutional Court conducted the first examination on the second indictment seeking the closure of the HDP in its session on June 21, 2021 and unanimously accepted it. The Court ruled that the requests for imposing a political ban on certain HDP politicians and implementing a cautionary judgement for the bank account of the party holding the treasury grants will be examined at a later time. Accordingly, as a result of the criminal case, the Constitutional Court may decide to close the party due to the circumstances listed in Article 69 of the Constitution or to deprive the party of state aid partially or completely.

The Constitutional Court announced its decision on the application regarding the closure of Özgür Gündem newspaper in June 2021, ruling that the newspaper’s freedom of expression and press freedoms were violated, which was shut down with a decree law. The Istanbul 8th Criminal Court of Peace had closed the newspaper on August 16, 2016, and it was not stated when the decision, which was to be “temporary”, would be lifted. Before the newspaper was to be reopened, it was closed again with an Emergency Decree on October 29, 2016.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no restrictions for Turkish CSOs to operate in other countries. However, when receiving/sending a grant from/to 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

An amendment to the Regulation on Associations entered into force on July 9, 2020. There were six mandatory accounting books to be kept based on the Regulation of Associations. Two of these books were removed from the list of mandatory records by the amendment. Some books can now be kept in electronic format. Furthermore, additional reporting and notification requirements were added to the regulation for foreign foundations and associations. For example, if a foreign foundation or association receives donation in cash or in kind from abroad, even if the donation comes from its headquarters, the association or foundation is required to notify the authorities. Previously, funds originating from the headquarters were not subject to a prior notification.

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 and before sending the funds.

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 and via internet (e.g. activities on the street, public campaigning, internet fundraising, etc.).

Law No. 7262 on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, adopted on December 31, 2020, amends several articles of the Law on Collection of Aid, No. 2860 (see the “National Laws” section above in this report for more details). 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. Few 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. As of December 2020, only 29 CSOs had 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. In case setting up an economic entity, the CSO is obliged to register to trade registry. 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

The Turkish Constitution is the primary legislation that regulates freedom of assembly. There is also Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations, which was 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 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.

There were instances of excessive force by the police, including beating, during peaceful demonstrations between 2017-2021. 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. 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. A corpse of a woman was found on July 21, 2020 in Mugla, a southern province of Turkey, after which hundreds of women protested against male violence all across Turkey to the call of the “Women are Strong Together” platform. The police attacked a women’s march in İzmir, detaining 12 women, who were released later on.

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. The Women’s Day march on March 8, 2019 and 2020, 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 Monitoring Association for Equal Rights announced that at least 320 peaceful meetings and demonstrations were interfered with and at least 2,123 people were detained in Turkey in the first five months of 2021. According to the data shared by the association, the right to peaceful assembly was restricted by a total of 132 civil administration decisions, 107 of which were general and 25 of which were specific. The pandemic was cited as the reason for restrictions in 99 of the civil administration decisions.

Similarly, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) announced in April 2021 that between 2015 and 2019, 3,102 students were subjected to violations regarding freedom of expression, assembly, demonstration and association. According to the data compiled by the HRFT, while 2,077 students were detained in four years, 203 of them were arrested. 152 of the students who faced trials on charges, such as opposing the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations, resisting or hindering a police officer in the execution of his/her duty, propaganda for a terrorist organization and membership of a terrorist organization, and insulting the President were sentenced to a total of 506 years prison.

COVID-19 Restrictions

In early 2021, a large number of protests and demonstrations were broken up by the police on the pretext of measures for curbing the COVID-19 pandemic. In some provinces (Çanakkale, Antalya, Uşak, Tunceli, Mardin, Van, Antalya, Denizli, Adana, Eskişehir, Hakkari, Urfa, Batman, Hatay and in some districts of İstanbul such as Beşiktaş, Sarıyer, Kadıköy, Kartal etc.) protests and demonstrations were completely banned by the Governorships for usually at least a period of 15 days on the grounds of “the prevention of provocative actions that harm our national unity and solidarity” and “the spread of the pandemic.”

Aydın Governorship declared a ban on protests and activities across the province between July 7-12, 2021 on grounds of public order and general security. Van Governorate similarly banned demonstrations and activities across the city for 15 days between July 3-17, 2021, which extended bans that had been regularly applied in Van for 1,685 days. Hakkari Governor’s Office has also repeatedly banned all kinds of actions and events, such as press releases, sit-ins, and demonstration marches throughout the city for 15-day intervals. Demonstrations and activities in Muş and Ağrı were also repeatedly banned by the governorships for 15 days each. Further, in the final week of May 2021, İzmir Governorship banned all kinds of actions, events, demonstrations, and marches for seven days resluting from measures against the COVID-19 outbreak.

One of the prominent events in early 2021 was the appointment of Melih Bulu, who stood as Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary candidate in 2015, as the rector of Boğaziçi University, one of the leading universities in the country. The appointment triggered protests, which were initiated by students and academics on the university campus, who claimed that this decision violated academic freedom, scientific autonomy, and democratic values. Protests also spread to several cities in Turkey and abroad. Yet, measures taken to control the spread of COVID-19 were cited as one of the reasons for prohibiting the protests. During the protests, students encountered police violence with the use of tear gas and rubber bullets and some were detained and sentenced to house arrest.

Press statements and demonstrations organized to support Boğaziçi Univeristy students in a vast number of other provinces were also broken up by police and a vast number of citizens were detained. On March 17, 2021, law enforcement intervened against a press conference in the name of enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions, which was organized in front of the Istanbul Courthouse before the hearings of seven students who were facing charges over an image displayed in an exhibition curated by Boğaziçi University students. The court board ruled that students who are imprisoned or in house arrest would be released on the same day.

Lastly, protests organized on May 1, Labor and Solidarity Day, in 2021 were broken up by police on grounds of the COVID-19 measures. The police announced that 394 citizens were detained in 29 demonstrations that is claimed to have been organized illegally across the country. Journalists who covered the police violence were blocked on grounds of the circular issued by the General Directorate of Security. A judicial control decision was made for eight of the 256 people who were detained and released in Istanbul. All citizens were fined in total 888,064 TL because they did not comply with the COVID-19 measures.

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.

Key Events

1. Law No. 7526 on Restructuring of Certain Receivables and Amendments to Certain Laws was published on the Official Gazette on November 17, 2020. It amended the Law on Mitigation of The Impacts of Covid-19 Outbreak on Economic and Social Life. Based on this amendment, the authorization of the Minister of Interior to postpone general assemblies and annual declarations of associations was extended for three times, with each time valid for three months. Following the extension, the general assemblies and annual declarations of associations were postponed until February 28, 2021. The postponement of general assemblies was later applied to foundations by the notification from the General Directorate of Foundations. Since online general assemblies are not allowed by law, some foundations could not convene their general assembly physically in 2020.In addition, on March 1,2021, the Government announced the COVID-19 related normalization plan and associations became obliged to hold general assemblies, even though it is difficult for associations with limited resources to organize general assemblies in accordance with the pandemic measures by fulfilling the feasibility needs. A vast number of associations held their general assemblies despite the financial difficulties they face in the pandemic. Pursuant to the Ministry of Interior’s circular dated May 16, 2021, general assemblies were postponed once again until June 1, 2021. With the decision of June 1, this ban was extended until June 15. As of June 15, 2021, general assemblies are allowed, provided that the physical distance and mask/distance/cleaning rules were followed and a minimum of 4 m2 per person was allocated in open areas and a minimum of 6 m2 per person in closed areas. The restriction on the number of people was also lifted.

2. According to the 2020 Report on Turkey published by the European Commission in October 2020, Turkey maintains an early stage of applying European standards for the rule of law and fundamental rights. In the introduction of the report, the European Commission indicated that despite the lifting of the state of emergency in July 2018, the adverse impacts of the two-year long emergency continued to significantly impact democracy and fundamental rights. Many of the measures introduced during the state of emergency remain in force and continue to have a profound and devastating impact on people in Turkey. The report also emphasized the deterioration of human rights and systemic lack of independence of the judiciary. It stated that the Judicial Reform Strategy for 2019-2023 was subject to a weak consultation process because it did not take into account all stakeholders. The legal framework includes general guarantees of respect for human and fundamental rights, but the legislation and practice still are not in line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case-law. The detentions and arrests of civil society representatives, journalists, lawyers, academics and others have led to a further shrinking of space for civil society. Administrative difficulties for national and international CSOs continued to hamper civil society activities, and CSOs remained excluded from legislative consultation processes

3. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)indicated that Selahattin Demirtaşshould be released and his rights were violated under five categories, including freedom of expression and liberty. Following the decision, the Ministry of Interior stated that “the ECHR ruling, whatever the reason, is meaningless”.

This is the second time an ECHR ruling has not been implemented. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe had urged Turkey to ensure the immediate release of Osman Kavala and decided to prepare a draft interim resolution for consideration in case Kavala had still not been released by December 1, 2020. Yet, Istanbul’s 36th High Criminal Court ruled for the continuation of Osman Kavala’s detention on November 6, 2020. Kavala’s attorneys applied to the Constitutional Court claiming that the right to personal liberty and security was violated as the imprisonment was not lawful. On December 3, 2020, the Committee of Ministers adopted the interim resolution regarding Kavala’s case, which urged the authorities to take all steps at their disposal to ensure that the Constitutional Court completes its examination of the applicant’s complaint without further delay, and strongly urged again the authorities, in the meantime, to assure the applicant’s immediate release. Yet, on December 15, 2020, the Constitutional Court forwarded the application to the General Assembly. The General Assembly of the Constitutional Court concluded that Kavala’s right to personal liberty and security had not been violated.

Turkey’s decision to not implement ECHR rulings regarding Demirtas and Kavala’s case contradicts ECHR and other international conventions, as well as the Turkish Constitution. Since Turkey is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which means that it accepts the authority of the Council of Europe and the Human Rights Court and promises to comply with their decisions, ECtHR decisions are binding and not open for discussion. According to paragraph 4 of Article 46 of the ECHR, if a state insists on not fulfilling final and binding decisions given by the ECHR, the Committee of Ministers starts the procedure of complaint with a two-thirds majority vote. At the end of the procedure, Turkey might face some serious sanctions, including blocking licenses to not being able to be a candidate in Council of Europe elections and being removed from the Council of Europe.

4. Before the EU summit held in Brusselson June24-25, 2021, 16 human rights and freedom of expression organizations, including the International Press Institute (IPI) and IFEX, called on the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, through a joint letter. It was noted that since the Council’s March meeting and the subsequent visits to Turkey, the human rights outlook on the ground has deteriorated further. Human rights organizations requested leaders to ensure that improvement in fundamental rights and the rule of law are at the heart of EU-Turkey relations, ahead of the European Council meeting June 24 -25, 2021. An additional 3 million Euro support decision has been issued for Turkey to continue to prevent migrants from crossing into Europe in the Council’s meeting.

5. In June 2021, Mary Lawlo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, made a written statement on the oppression and detentions of human rights defenders in Turkey. Lawlo urged Turkey to release imprisoned human rights defenders and stop the widespread use of the Anti-Terror Law to incriminate human rights defenders.

6. The 2019-2020 Turkey Report of the European Parliament was accepted by the votes of 480 members against 64 at the General Assembly. In the advisory report, the European Union was requested to suspend negotiations with Turkey. The banning of nationalist organizations organized in Europe and the concern over the loss of power in the independence of the judiciary in Turkey were among the other prominent topics in the report.

7. The Venice Commission issued an opinion paper on July 6, 2021 and warned Turkeythat the “Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction” does not comply with international human rights law. The Commission stated that,the provisions of the law could have negative consequences for basic human rights, especially freedom of association and expression and a fair trial. It is also added that the law in its current form puts pressure on associations and suggested that the government review the law. The commission noted that law 7262 aims contains provisions that exceed conformity with the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The commission stated that government control and punishment for attempts to collect aid on the internet without clear and objective criteria would also have a negative impact on the legitimate fundraising activities of NGOs, which would violate the rights of freedom of association.

General News

Turkey to further ease coronavirus restrictions from July (June 2021)
Turkey further relaxed restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 from July 1 on. Lockdowns that had been imposed on Sundays and curfews from 19.00 GMT on weekdays would be lifted from July 1, Erdogan said after a government cabinet meeting. “Public transportation restrictions will also be lifted and public institutions will return to normal working hours,” Erdogan said.

Committee of Ministers of CoE gives warning to Turkey (June 2021)
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe gave a warning to Turkey at its meeting on June 7-9 that it will initiate the procedure for the violation of the European Convention on Human Rights against Turkey, since the the government did not implement the decision of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding the violation of Osman Kavala.

Büyükada trial: Constitutional Court rules that rights advocate Eser’s arrest was unlawful (June 2021)
The Constitutional court has ruled that the arrest of İdil Eser, the former director of Amnesty Turkey, during the Büyükada trial caused a rights violation. The court has concluded that the state violated personal liberty and security, which is guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution, because Eser’s arrest was not lawful, and ordered it to pay 40,000 lira (4,663 USD) for immaterial damages. The court gave the judgment unanimously.

Exiled Turkish journalist attacked in Germany (July 2021)
A Turkish journalist who is critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and has been living in exile in Germany said he was attacked and injured outside his home in suburban Berlin by three men who reportedly warned him to stop writing. Erk Acarer, a columnist for Turkey’s independent Birgun newspaper, said in a video posted on Twitter that the attack occurred late Wednesday in the courtyard of his home. The 48-year-old sustained some swelling on his head and was kept at a hospital for several hours for observation.

İstanbul Pride March: Several people detained (June 2021)
The Sub-Governor’s Office of Beyoğlu has banned the LGBTI+ Pride March to be held in Taksim. The police attacked the group that gathered in Taksim. Using plastic bullets, they took at least 20 people into custody.

Erdoğan reveals stricter COVID-19 measures during Ramadan (April 2021)
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan revealed a series of measures for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, saying that the country would be switching to partial lockdown in the first two weeks of Ramadan to decrease the coronavirus caseload.

Diyarbakır police detain dozens of women in early morning raid (April 2021)
Police detained dozens of women in early morning raids in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır on April 5, including a reporter from Kurdish online news outlet Jinnews, representatives of political parties and the Rosa Women’s Association.

Hrant Dink murder: people sentenced to life in prison (March 2021)
After 14 years of drawn-out legal proceedings, a Turkish court has sentenced several people to prison for their role in the murder of journalist Hrant Dink.

Boğaziçi protests: police detain 12 students for carrying rainbow flags (March 2021)
A Boğaziçi student is under a disciplinary investigation for displaying a rainbow flag during protests. Today, students held a protest against this investigation and 12 of them, including the student in question, were detained for carrying rainbow flags.

Turkey sentences journalist to 27 years in jail (December 2020)
Turkish journalist Can Dundar has been sentenced to more than 27 years in prison for allegedly supporting terrorism and “military or political espionage.” Currently in exile in Germany, the former editor-in-chief of the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet was tried in absentia.

Constitutional Court forwards Kavala’s application to General Assembly (December 2020)
Ahead of his first hearing on December 18, the First Section of the Constitutional Court has reviewed the individual application of arrested businessperson and rights defender Kavala and ruled that it shall be forwarded to the General Assembly.

Torture in Turkish prisons under scrutiny again following inmate’s death (October 2020)
The death of Serkan Tumay in a prison raised concerns on the prison conditions in Turkey once again. While Tumay’s family says that he was tortured by prison guards repeatedly and died as a result in Kırıkkale F-Type Prison, opposition deputies Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu and Gülizar Biçer Karaca asked Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül to explain how he died.

New Turkish indictment prolongs ‘torture’ for philanthropist Kavala (October 2020)
Ayse Bugra, the wife of jailed Turkish civil society leader Osman Kavala, said a new indictment accusing him of involvement in a failed military coup has shaken her belief that he can receive a fair trial and his years-long incarceration has been “torture” for their family. Kavala, who worked on cultural heritage projects and efforts to reconcile Turks with Kurds and Armenians, has spent almost three years in prison without a conviction.

PACE Rapporteurs Call for Release of Kavala (June 2020)
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) rapporteurs have called for the immediate release of Osman Kavala following a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on May 12, 2020. Kavala, a businessperson and a rights defender, has been behind bars since October 18, 2017.

Six HDP co-mayors removed from duty (May 2020)
Six co-mayors from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) were removed from their posts by the Interior Ministry. While all six were replaced by trustees of the Interior Ministry, three of the southeastern co-mayors were later detained. Meanwhile, the mayor of an eastern province was detained on charges related to an ongoing investigation.

Turkey Amends Criminal Procedure And Execution Provisions (May 2020)
The Law Amending the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures and Certain Laws No. 7242, which was published on the Official Gazette on April 15, 2020, amends a total of 11 laws, including the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures, the Turkish Criminal Law No. 5237 and the Criminal Procedure Law No. 5271. As per the Law, which was issued in scope of the various governmental measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Turkey, prisoners are granted leaves of absence until May 20, 2020.

Coronavirus stokes tensions between Erdogan and mayor (April 2020)
The coronavirus pandemic has rekindled rivalry in Turkey between President Tayyip Erdogan and Istanbul’s opposition mayor, with disputes over fundraising and a potential lockdown possibly endangering a coordinated effort to combat the outbreak. The central government in Ankara has said a money-raising campaign launched by the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, is illegal and it has threatened to prosecute those involved.

Turkish activist re-arrested hours after his Gezi Park acquittal (April 2020)
Turkish businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala was re-arrested, just hours after a court acquitted him and eight other defendants over the 2013 protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The high-profile trial was closely watched by rights groups, who had accused the Turkish government of using the judicial system to crack down on dissenting voices. Kavala’s re-arrest was criticized by activists. Kavala had spent more than two years in pre-trial detention over the Gezi Park protests, which began over a plan to turn a small park in central Istanbul into a shopping mall.

Turkish Law on Social Media Delayed by Pandemic (April 2020)
The draft law on social media was dropped from the parliamentary schedule to make way for more urgent bills on the economy and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But civil society groups and opposition parties fear it will be back before long. The draft law obliges foreign social media companies with high internet traffic to appoint an official representative in Turkey to answer authorities’ demands concerning the content on their platforms.

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.

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.

News Archive

EU cuts Turkey funding after ‘democratic deterioration (November 2017)

‘Massive anxiety’ as Turkey cracks down on international NGOs (October 2017)

Arrest of rights activists ‘chills’ Turkey’s civil society (July 2017)

Turkey arrests two opposition journalists over alleged coup links (May 2017)

Turkey Blocks Wikipedia (May 2017)

As Turkey’s Democracy Takes a Hit, Civil Society Must Take Center Stage (April 2017)

State of emergency review body paves way for justice (January 2017)

Turkish PM cools down demands to reinstate death penalty (August 2016)

Turkey arrests novelist Aslı Erdoğan over ‘terror’ charges (August 2016)

Tayyip Erdogan hints at return of death penalty in Turkey (August 2016)

Turkey shuts down telecommunication body amid post-coup attempt measures (August 2016)

Europe and US urge Turkey to respect rule of law after failed coup (July 2016)

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 42 journalists after failed coup (July 2016)

In latest escalation, 102 media outlets closed by decree (July 2016)

Turkey’s Erdogan shuts schools, charities in first state of emergency decree (July 2016)

Turkey dismisses military, shuts media outlets in crackdown (July 2016)

President Erdogan texts 68 million people in fresh call for protests (July 2016)

Turkey coup attempt: State of emergency announced (July 2016)

Turkey to temporarily suspend European Convention on Human Rights after coup attempt (July 2016)

Turkey: Istanbul gay pride march banned over ‘security’ concern (June 2016)

Turkey jails Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul (May 2016)

Turkish LGBT group releases annual monitoring report on hate crimes (May 2016)

Erdoğan’s latest target is CSOs (April 2016) (Turkish)

How Turkey uses terrorism to justify its crackdown on the press (March 2016)

Turkey Seizes Newspaper, Zaman, as Press Crackdown Continuing (March 2016)

Ruling AKP creating its own NGOs (March 2016)

Two journalists arrested for story on trucks bound for Syria (November 2015)

Pro-Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci shot dead in Turkey (November 2015)

Turkey Dominates Global Twitter Censorship (October 2015)

Political parties suspend election rallies over Ankara bombing (October 2015)

Journalists, legal experts decry Turkey’s media blackout (October 2015)

Water cannon used to disperse Istanbul gay pride parade (June 2015)

Turkey Lifts Ban on Access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (March 2015)

Turkey Passes Tough New Security Law (March 2015)

Security Bill Undermines Rights (October 2014)

Turkish Parliament to Consider New Protest Laws (October 2014)

Withdrawal of the Bill on the Right to Collect Aid by the Cabinet (September 2014) (Turkish)

Circular Issued after the Mining Incident (July 2014) (Turkish)

Action Plan of Right to Peaceful Freedom of Assembly (June 2014)

Turkish Parliament Approves Internet Crackdown (February 2014)

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)

The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner in Turkey, TUSEV.