Collapse of rule of law in Erdoğan’s Turkey

The collapse of the rule of law affects all Turkish citizens, especially those of Kurdish origin. Repression intensified after a ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) collapsed in mid-2015, and accelerated after the failed coup a year later and the subsequent two-year state of emergency. Anti-terrorism legislation, criminal defamation regulations, and the law against insulting Turkishness are used to silence political opposition.

Political Participation

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime restricts the political participation of Kurds through harassment and the arbitrary detention of parliamentarians from pro-Kurdish parties.

  • In 2017, 13 deputies with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were held in prolonged pre-trial detention on terrorism charges. Party co-leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and former co-leader Figen Yüksekdağ, have been in detention since November 2016. Demirtaş was not permitted to appear in court, which is a denial of his due process rights.

  • Ten current and former HDP parliamentarians and 46 HDP co-mayors remain imprisoned on bogus terrorism charges and alleged threats to national security (as of December 2018). HDP members were targeted in a significant number of insult-related cases.

  • At least 6,000 HDP members and elected officials were jailed for a variety of charges related to terrorism and political speech (as of January 2019).

  • Ninety-nine mayors from municipalities were removed, including 95 pro-Kurdish mayors. This violates the right to political association and freedom of expression, and denies the right to political representation for those who elected them. According to the Interior Ministry, out of 102 HDP or DBP-controlled municipalities, the government installed administrators in all but four (as of January 2019). Installing administrators eliminates critical voices and weakens opposition to the ruling party.

  • Marring the legitimacy of local elections on March 31, anti-terror police detained 53 people in Istanbul on election eve. Erdoğan called the HDP “terror lovers”. Erdoğan calls anyone opposed to his regime a terrorist.


The state targets Kurdish-language media by closing outlets and arresting journalists.

  • The Free Journalist Society, a now-banned, pro-Kurdish news media monitor, reported that 173 journalists are held in Turkish prisons. Of those, 50 worked for Kurdish or pro-Kurdish news outlets. Jailed journalists were imprisoned on anti-state charges.

  • According to the UN Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Erdoğan’s crackdown “decimated” Kurdish language media in Turkey.

  • In 2017, Kurdish journalists were prosecuted and charged with ties to the PKK. Dozens of journalists with the shuttered Kurdish newspaper, Özgür Gündem, were accused of terrorist propaganda.

  • Turkey’s only Kurdish-language newspaper, Azadiya Welat, and 10 television channels that broadcast in Kurdish were closed.

  • The Kurdish cartoon channel, Zarok TV, was banned for several months.

  • Media coverage is slanted. It overwhelmingly favoured the president and ruling party prior to the election on June 24, 2018. Erdoğan received 67 hours of coverage on state-run TRT, while Demirtaş received zero minutes of coverage.

  • More than 600 people were arrested in January and February 2018 for posting statements against Turkey’s military operations in the southeast. Persons who posted critical comments about the AKP after the 2018 parliamentary elections were jailed.

  • Turkey made more content removal requests to Twitter than any other country.

  • Seventeen press freedom groups released a joint statement condemning the seizure of a pro-Kurdish newspaper and the detention of its staff.

  • Turkish authorities took control of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi following a police raid on the paper’s offices in Istanbul. According to Reporters Without Borders, the paper was seized because of its critical coverage of Turkey’s military operation in the Syrian district of Afrin.

Arts and Culture

A systematic campaign denies Kurdish cultural identity.

  • Government-appointed administrators changed the names of streets bearing Kurdish names. Multilingual street signage in Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian were removed and replaced with Turkish-only signs.

  • Statues have been removed of Kurdish heroes (i.e. politicians, writers, and intellectuals).  

  • Administrators closed the departments of women’s affairs in 43 municipalities. They fired women bus drivers and terminated telephone hot lines used by women to report domestic violence.

  • The state-appointed trustee in Van renamed a park previously named for Tahir Elçi, a popular Kurdish lawyer killed in 2015.

  • Police surveillance was widespread at the Newroz celebration (March 2019). Police confiscated Kurdish-language banners and cultural symbols. Participants in the rally were arrested.

  • A Kurdish artist, Zehra Doğan, was jailed for doing a painting of the ruins Nusaybin, one of several Kurdish cities attacked by the Turkish army in 2015.

  • Film director, Kazim Oz, was detained until November 2018 and charged with “terror propaganda”, for his film ZER, which recounts the story of a young Kurd whose grandmother survived the Dersim massacre (1937-38).

  • Hozan Cane was accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation and arrested in June 2018 for her songs, as well as her participation in a film about the Yezidi genocide by Turkish-backed jihadists.

Academic Freedom

Academics are targeted, creating a climate of fear and self-censorship.

  • “Academics for Peace” face terrorism-related charges for publishing a manifesto calling for peace in the southeast of Turkey.

  • In Diyarbakır, plans for intensive, year-long, state-funded Kurdish courses were cancelled.

Erdoğan is seeking to destroy the Kurdish political movement and marginalise Kurdish culture. The European Parliament voted to suspend Turkey’s EU accession talks reflecting concern about trends in Turkey and restrictions on freedom of expression. Erdoğan cemented Turkey’s outlier status by failing to uphold the principles of equality/non-discrimination towards minorities, and the protection and promotion of minority rights.  

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.