Turkey

Last updated 20 November 2021

Coronavirus Response

Turkey has lifted most COVID-19 restrictions in line with the country’s increasing vaccination rates. Starting from September 6, 2021, proof of vaccination or a negative PRC test within the past 48 hours has been required to travel and enter venues, such as theaters and cinemas. This requirement applies to individuals 18 years and older, including foreign nationals with Turkish residency. For more details, see the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker’s entry for Turkey.

Update

Turkey was on the agenda of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) October 19-22, 2021 plenary meeting. Referring to Law No. 7262 on the Prevention of the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, FATF Chair Marcus Pleyer indicated that Turkey needs to implement a true risk-based approach to non-profit organizations and ensure authorities don’t disrupt or discourage legitimate activities. FATF decided to grey-list Turkey over its failure to make sufficient efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. This decision was, however, criticized by Turkey’s Ministry of Treasury and Finance.

Introduction

Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a significant role in providing services in Turkey. As of October 2021, there are 121,920 registered CSOs and 5,906 foundations 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.

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. 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 significant reforms have been made since 2008.

The operating environment for civil society 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. The political instability triggered by the coup and post-coup measures paved the way for government measures curbing 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 set targets to improve the civil society environment. As of October 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.

Published on October 27, 2020, the 2021 Annual Presidential Program highlights the increasing number and diversity of CSOs; recognizes the importance of ensuring their effective participation in decision-making processes; and stresses the necessity of developing cooperation between CSOs, public institutions, and the private sector. 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, the legal-political environment is not conducive for civil society in Turkey. Restrictions limiting freedom of association, assembly, and speech/advocacy remain. An overarching legal and policy framework to govern the relationship between CSOs and public institutions is lacking. 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. $8,261).
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 protections are diminished at a legal level. Many articles in the laws are sustained despite their apparent conflict with the Constitution.

The internet regulation No. 5651 may 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 protections are diminished at a legal level. Many articles in the laws are sustained despite their apparent conflict with the Constitution.

The internet regulation No. 5651 may 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 117 (2021) 1 – 139
Transparency International 86 (2020) 1 – 180
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 57 (2021) 178 – 1
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Political Rights: 16
Civil Liberties: 16
Total: 32 (2021)
1 – 100
1 – 100
Freedom House: Freedom on the Net 34 (2021) 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 changed the structure of regulatory institutions and define terms, duties, and appointment procedures for high-level bureaucrats and presidents. The president is now 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, are now 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.

On October 1, 2018, the Regulation on Associations was amended, making it mandatory for associations to notify public institutions about their membership. Before this amendment, only the name and surname of the chairperson of the Board of the association and statistical information, such as the number of the members as real person and legal entities and their gender, was requested. In addition, on March 26, 2020, the Law on Associations was amended, and the regulation became law. With the regulation, associations were obliged to notify the local authority of the status of individuals who were accepted as members of the association or who quit or were removed from the membership, as well as their personal data, such as name, surname, identity number, profession, within 30 days.

Following the entry into force of the new regulation, İnsan Hakları Derneği (Human Rights Association) and Mülkiyeliler Birliği Derneği (Association of Ankara University Political Science Graduates Alliance) applied to the Council of State for the annulment of the relevant articles, claiming that mandatory notification of members interferes with the freedom of association; that it is not clear for what purpose this information will be used; that the right to protect personal data will be violated; and that fundamental rights and freedoms can only be limited based on a law. In October 2021, the 10th Chamber of the Council of State ruled in favor of the plaintiff CSOs and canceled the relevant articles of the Regulation on Associations. Although the relevant articles of the Regulation have been canceled by a judicial decision, the obligation to notify the members of the association continues because it was added to the Associations Law on March 26, 2020.

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

In March 2020, the Ministry of Health started to implement precautions to avoid the spreading of COVID-19. The Ministry of Interior also published a decree regarding the obligation for 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.

Turkey was on the agenda of Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) October 19-22, 2021 plenary meeting. FATF has grey-listed Turkey for its failure to make sufficient efforts to fight money laundering and terror financing. This decision was criticized by the Ministry of Treasury and Finance in a written statement. Referring to the Law No. 7262 on the Prevention of the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, FATF Chair Marcus Pleyer indicated that Turkey must implement a true risk-based approach to non-profit organizations and ensure that Turkish authorities do not disrupt or discourage legitimate activity.

Amnesty Turkey published a briefing paper, “Turkey: Terrorism financing law has immediate ‘chilling effect’ on civil society,” which reflects the views of representatives of CSOs regarding the early impact of Law. No. 7262. Amnesty Turkey emphasized that the measures introduced by Law No. 7262 and the prevailing political climate in Turkey, which is marked by increasing repression of civil society, have created a “chilling effect” on CSOs that inhibits them from carrying out their legitimate work due to fears of falling afoul of these measures. It also notes that the lack of consultation with CSOs ahead of the law’s passage and an accompanying lack of legal clarity and foreseeability about its implementation, which have caused deep concern among CSOs and their members. This has caused many CSOs to take pre-emptive actions that have adversely affected their fundraising activities and their willingness to cooperate and collaborate with other organizations, particularly international institutions and donors. CSOs also have difficulty in finding Board members due to fear of potential repercussions and the risk of criminal prosecution. Burdensome audits also distract CSOs from their work.

The Regulation Amending the Regulation on Associations was published in the Official Gazette numbered 31635 and dated 21.10.2021. According to the Amendment:

Associations can now hold online general assemblies and board meetings with electronic systems approved by the Ministry’s General Directorate of Information Technologies. The personal data to be processed in the systems has to be processed and stored according to the relevant provisions of the Turkish Data Protection Law.

Aid provided abroad is subject to notification to authorities prior to the money transfer. In case the cash aid to be made abroad exceeds 100,000 TL or 10,000 Euros or equivalent foreign currency, the transfer must be conducted through banks, other financial institutions, or a post and Telegraph Company. After the transaction, notification must be made to authorities within 90 days.

The notification period for general assemblies of associations and branches and changes in associations has been extended from 30 days to 45 days.

The monetary limit, which is an annual gross income of more than 500,000 TL, has been increased to 1,500.000 TL for associations obliged to keep books on a balance sheet basis.

Public officials who will be provided certificates at the end of a training program will be able to audit, as well as those who work in the units of public officials under the supervision of the association. In emergency cases, no certificate will be required.

Audits of associations will be carried out according to a risk assessment. A risk assessment will be made within the scope of combating laundering of assets arising from crime against associations and financing of terrorism by the General Directorate of Associations. Principles regarding risk assessments and audits will be determined by the General Directorate of Associations. Risk groups will be determined as high, medium and low. Low risk associations will only be audited if a need arises; otherwise no audit is required.

This regulation has been criticized by CSOs due to lack of information regarding the recordings of online meetings, whether or not these recordings will be accessed by the authorities. Moreover, there is still insufficient information about the risk assessment process and criteria for risk categorization. Lastly, there is no reference in the Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction to any regulation regarding the risk assessment.

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

The government began preparing a new regulation less than one year after the The Law on the Amendment of the Law on the Regulation of Broadcasts on the Internet and Combating Crimes Committed Through These Broadcasts (known as “Social Media Law) came into effect in October 2020. With the new regulation, crimes such as “disinformation and misinformation” are expected to be included in the Penal Code. There are also plans to establish the “Social Media Presidency,” which would carry out the task of supervising social media within the Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK).

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.

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 October 2021, there are 300 tax-exempt foundations out of 5,906 foundations in Turkey. The ratio of the number of tax-exempt foundations to the total number remained similar (5.079%) to previous years. As of October 2021, 363 associations with public benefit status constituted only 0.297% of the total number of 121,920 active associations

Public Participation

While the National Development Plan and the Annual Presidential Program emphasize the importance of participation in decision-making processes, there is no policy or strategy that defines and encourages cooperation and participation modalities. The Regulation on the Procedures and Principles of Drafting Legislation includes provisions on CSO participation in decision-making processes, but these provisions do not make consultation mandatory.

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 registration process for associations and foundations is 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 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. 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.

The registration of foundations is 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 an annual basis. As of 2021, the minimum value is set at approximately 80,000 TL (approximately $8,261). 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.

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.”

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.

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. Permission must be granted 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. 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 an international level. As of October 2021, 132 foreign CSOs were listed as permitted to work in Turkey.

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 may partially be due to the member notification requirement, which came into effect in 2018. Authorities explain the decline with the death or resignation of existing members of CSOs, and the deletion of double-recordings by the headquarters and branches of CSOs. The statistics of association members are not available anymore on 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.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Permissible purposes. Legislation does not explicitly limit the purposes of associations and foundations. However, Law No. 4721 of the Civil Code states associations and foundations “cannot adopt a purpose or aim that is contradictory with law or morality.” Associations and foundations are not prohibited from directly engaging in political activities, but rights-based CSOs reportedly face more government interference in practice than others.

Internal Affairs. Law No. 7526 on the Restructuring of Certain Receivables and Amendments to Certain Laws (published on November 17, 2020) amended the Law on Mitigation of the Impacts of Covid-19 Outbreak on Economic and Social Life and authorized the Minister of Interior to postpone general assemblies and annual declarations of associations. Following an extension, the general assemblies and annual declarations of associations were postponed until February 28, 2021. There is no law or regulation that allows associations to conduct virtual/online general assemblies.

Associations are required to maintain four ‘books’ and are subject to sanctions for failing to “duly” keep these books and to fulfill notification requirements on time. Additionally, CSOs must complete standard forms before receiving or utilizing foreign funding and opening new branches or offices. (See “Barriers to Resources” for more details.)

Counter-terrorism measures. The Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction No. 7262 entered into force on December 31, 2020. The main justification for the law is to conform Turkish law with international standards in the fight against terrorist financing and money laundering, in light of the 2019 report of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. The Law mandates changes in various laws, including the Law on Collection of Aid and the Law on Associations, and will significantly undermine the 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 terrorist 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 civil courts to ask for a temporary suspension of activities of the association. Many CSOs opposed the new law, including through a joint statement named #siviltoplumsusturulamaz (#civilsocietycannotbesilenced) to explain CSOs’ concerns about the law. Thus far, 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.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

Article 25 of the Constitution 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.”

Since 2013, however, the freedom of expression has been under increasing threat 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. 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 on allegations of insulting the President.

According to the European Court on Human Rights, Turkey has been a top violator of expression rights, with 387 rulings out of 925 total Court decisions related to Article 10 (freedom of expression) 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.

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 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 outlets, 97 websites, 635 internet addresses, 10 social media accounts, and 301 webpages were blocked by court decisions.

The Media Research Association published a report in September 2021 on how the Social Media Law, which came into force in October 2020, affected the freedom of the press. The report examined 658 censored news items and found that 336 were censored for covering allegations of “corruption and irregularity” and 308 were censored for covering allegations of “abuse of office” by government officials. Those who demand censorship are mostly business people, ministers, and high-level bureaucrats.

Overall, the detention and prosecution of human rights activists, journalists and even members of parliament have 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.

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 issued, 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. The Law amending Internet Law No. 5651 also 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 content. Administrative fines range from 1 million to 10 million TL (approx. $103,266 – 1,032,665). 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. $3,097,997) fine shall be applied. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok each received a fine of 10 million TL (approx. $1,032,666 million) on November 3, 2020 for failing to appoint a local representative required by the law., and a 30 million TL (approx. $3,097,997) fine on December 3, 2020.

The Media and Law Studies Association published its observation report in October 2021 on 98 cases against journalists, activists and politicians between January 1 and July 15, 2021. In cases where a total of 562 defendants were on trial, 58% of the charges were terrorism-related and many other defendants were charged with “insulting the President”.

Cases involving restrictions on speech and advocacy in 2021 include the following:

– 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. 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 intended to be “temporary”, would be lifted. Before the newspaper was expected to be reopened, it was closed again with an Emergency Decree on October 29, 2016.

– A lawsuit was filed against Gökhan Yavuzel, a member of the International Writers Union (PEN), on the charge of “openly inciting the public to hatred and enmity,” citing an article with cultural and artistic content.

– The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against journalist Hasan Cemal for “insulting the President,” citing his social media posts.

– A lawsuit was filed against Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editor and journalists, alleging “insult” and citing the news story entitled “Lucky friend of Erdogan.”

– A lawsuit was filed against the President of the People’s Liberation Party (HKP), Nurullah Ankut, who was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison on grounds that he insulted President Erdoğan in two separate books.

– Ileri News Editor-in-Chief, Doğan Ergün, was sentenced to 11 months and 20 days in prison for reporting news that allegedly contained audio recordings between then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and Milliyet newspaper owner, Erdoğan Demirören, in 2014.

– An investigation was launched against the mother and father of 16-year-old Berkin Elvan, who died from a gas canister fired by the police during the Gezi Park protests, on the charge of “insulting the President” due to a press statement they made in front of the Courthouse after the hearing regarding the death of their child.

– A lawsuit was filed against the Ankara Bar Association’s management, which criticized the President of Religious Affairs, who targeted LGBTIs and attributed pandemics to homosexuality in his Friday sermon on April 24, 2020.

Access to a vast number of websites and news have also been blocked by court decisions.

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

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.

The Regulation on Associations was amended on July 9, 2020 to require foreign foundations and associations to notify the government upon the receipt of donations in cash or in kind from abroad, even if the donation comes from its headquarters. Previously, funds originating from the headquarters were not subject to a prior notification.

Domestic Funding

CSOs face serious problems in their fundraising activities due to the highly restrictive and overly bureaucratic Law on Collection of Aid (No 1983, 23/6/1983). The Law requires permission for each fundraising activity by a CSO though an application procedure in which the CSO is requested to provide detailed 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 grant 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.).

While the Law on Collection of Aid does not apply to voluntary donations, and while CSOs do not have to secure an official permit to publish their bank account number on their website, most other online forms of soliciting 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. This results in a repressive environment for donation collection and income generating activities of CSOs. Public benefit CSOs may receive an exemption from the Law on Collection of Aid, but as of December 2020, only 29 CSOs had this status, which is strikingly few.

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 on the total amount of annual public funding; the total budgets, modality, and forms of funding for CSOs are determined at the discretion of ministries. 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 are conducted by a separate corporate subsidiary. In this case, the CSO is obliged to register the subsidiary in the trade registry. Thus, the commercial enterprises of associations and foundations are treated as business corporations, and the corporate tax is levied on profits. This places burdens on CSOs that would undertake economic activities to create social benefit.

Barriers to Assembly

The legal framework for the exercise of assembly in Turkey includes the Constitution; Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations, which was adopted on October 6, 1983; 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. In accordance with Article 34 of the Constitution, rights to assembly and demonstrations may be restricted on the grounds of “preservation of national security,” “public order,” “prevention of crime,” and protection of “public morality” and “public health.” Although these restrictive measures are arguably in compliance with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, 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 government considers the assembly illegal and is authorized to take all measures to disperse it, which may include police intervention. The Law Amending the Law on Powers and Duties of the Police, Other Laws and Decrees, which Parliament passed in March 2015 and is widely referred to as the “Internal Security Reform Package,” strengthened police powers during demonstrations by extending police authority to detain anyone without consulting the prosecutor’s office.

In its judgment of September 28, 2017, the Constitutional Court held unconstitutional certain provisions of Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations – namely, provisions 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 subsequently adopted on July 25, 2018, contains regulations on assemblies, demonstrations, and marches and replaced the phrase “meeting and walking must be dispersed before the sunset” with “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 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, 2,077 students were detained over four years and 203 of them were arrested. 152 of the students who were convicted for 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, or insulting the President were sentenced to a total of 506 years prison.

The LGBTI+ community has struggled to exercise its right to assembly. For example, on March 25, 2021, 24 Boğaziçi University students were detained for carrying rainbow flags during protests. Several of these students are being prosecuted for “violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations” by unfurling the rainbow flag in front of Boğaziçi University. As another example, the 2021 Istanbul Pride march held in Taksim was dispersed by the police, and demonstrators were attacked by the security forces, with at least 25 people detained. The application made to the Governor of Istanbul to hold the 19th Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride march, which was planned for June 26, 2021 at the Maltepe Rally Ground, was rejected. An investigation has been launched against those who participated in the Eskişehir Pride Parade held on June 30, 2021.

In August 2021, 17 women who participated in the Feminist Night March held in Istanbul on March 8, 2021 were charged with “insulting the President” and “participating in unlawful meetings and marches.”

COVID-19 Restrictions

In 2021, a large number of protests and demonstrations were impeded by the police on the pretext of combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

On September 25, 2021, the “Peace and Solidarity Concert” organized by the Hatay Branch of the Human Rights Association was banned by the district governor due to pandemic measures.

On October 10, 2021, people gathered to commemorate the 103 victims of the Ankara Station Massacre, but the Ankara Governor’s Office restricted the commemoration under the pretext of the pandemic. The police intervened with tear gas and detained at least 22 people.

On October 13, 2021, Avesta Publications announced that the literary event they organized in Mardin with the participation of Kurdish writer Mirza Metin was banned by the police on the grounds of pandemic prevention.

In Istanbul and Izmir, the police intervened against student protestors drawing attention to rising housing prices and insufficient public housing opportunities. According to the statement made by the Istanbul Governor’s Office, 28 people were detained during the protests in Istanbul and 30 students were detained in Izmir. The Eskişehir Governor’s Office banned the actions, citing the Covid-19 outbreak in September 2021.

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. According to the 2021 Report on Turkey published by the European Commission in October 2021, 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 there are serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions and democratic backsliding continued during the reporting period. The report also emphasized that the structural deficiencies of the presidential system remained in place. It stated that key recommendations of the Council of Europe and its bodies remain to be addressed. The Parliament continued to lack the necessary means to hold the government accountable. The constitutional architecture continued to centralize powers at the level of the Presidency without ensuring a sound and effective separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary.

The Report suggested that in the absence of an effective checks and balances mechanism, the democratic accountability of the executive branch remains limited to elections. Targeting of the opposition parties continued, including by the Constitutional Court’s acceptance of an indictment by the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation seeking to close down the second largest opposition party, which contributed to weakening political pluralism in Turkey. The Report emphasized that on civil society issues, the serious backsliding also continued. Civil society faced continuous pressure and their space to operate freely has continued to diminish limiting their freedom of expression and freedom of association. The European Commission also stated that the new law on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction raises concerns with regard to possible restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders and civil society.

2. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)indicated that Selahattin Demirtaş should 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.

The Committee of Ministers reiterated its demand for the release of Osman Kavala in a September meeting. The Committee did not decide to initiate a violation procedure against Turkey regarding the Kavala case and had announced that if the decisions regarding the release of Kavala, who had previously been detained for 1413 days, are not implemented, a violation procedure could be initiated for the first time against Turkey. However, Kavala appeared before the judge once again on October 8, 2021, but was not released again. The next Committee of Ministers meeting will be held on November 30-December 3, 2021. In the same meeting, the Committee gave Turkey time until September 30 to prepare an action plan regarding the Selahattin Demirtaş case. The deadline given by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to Turkey to implement the ECHR decision and release Selahattin Demirtaş has also expired. International observers and human rights groups have repeatedly called for the release of Kavala and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, who has been jailed since 2016.

In October 2021, ten ambassadors called for the release of Osman Kavala. The President ordered the ambassadors to be declared persona non grata. The designation is a diplomatic term that signifies the first step before expulsion. However, following a Cabinet meeting, the President backtracked, used a more conciliatory tone, and emphasized that the ambassadors need to be more careful in their statements regarding Turkey’s sovereign rights in the future.

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.

3. 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.

4. The Venice Commission issued an opinion paper on July 6, 2021 and warned Turkey that 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.

5. The law proposal regarding the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement, which Turkey signed in 2015, was accepted at the General Assembly of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey six years later in October 2021. Since the agreement entered into force in 2016, Turkey was among the six countries that did not complete the ratification process, along with Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. In addition, Turkey was the only G20 country that did not ratify the agreement.

6. Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), which was known as related with AKP’s cadres including the President’s son, came to the fore with documents allegedly leaked from TÜGVA, that shows the foundation had a role in the placing people to state institutions. A journalist Metin Cihan shared on his Twitter account the lists of names prepared for appointments to institutions such as district governorships, police, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), The General Directorate of Security, the Ministry of Justice and judicial institutions. According to the documents, people who hold different positions in TÜGVA provided a reference for the listed people to be appointed. The lists also include dates of exams and interviews at relevant institutions.

General News

Boğaziçi University students protesting: 14 detained (October 2021)
After two students of Boğaziçi University were arrested over their protests against appointed rector Naci İnci, several students gathered to protest. The police intervened before the students entered the university, detaining at least 14 students.

Turkish government increases pressure on social media (September 2021)
In the almost 20 years that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in power, he has succeeded in bringing newspapers and television stations largely under his government’s control. In reaction, opposition politicians, activists and critics have used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other such platforms to draw attention to problems. But Erdogan and his government are now tightening their grip on the internet.

Istanbul police attack peace rally, detain several (September 2021)
Turkish police attacked several people who wanted to attend a rally organized by the Istanbul Labor Peace and Democracy Forces to mark World Peace Day. The police encircled the journalists and HDP MP Musa Piroğlu with their shields and did not let them leave the Tünel Square.

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.