Arbitrary killing listed in U.S. State Dept. Turkish human rights report

Arbitrary killings and suspicious deaths of people in custody were among a long list of issues recorded in the U.S. State Department’s 2018 human rights country report on Turkey.

“There were credible allegations that the government contributed to civilian deaths in connection with its fight against the terrorist PKK organization in the southeast, although at a markedly reduced level compared with previous years,” the 63-page report said.

The conflict between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group Turkey and the United States list as a terrorist organisation, in 2015, after peace talks with Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government broke down.

The PKK has fought for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey for decades, since launching an armed uprising in the country’s predominantly Kurdish south-east in 1984.

Fourteen civilians were killed by Turkish security officers in the first 11 months of 2018, the report cited Human Rights Association figures as saying, “including seven killed due to armored vehicle crashes and injured in arbitrary killings throughout the country during the same period, including at government checkpoints and in government-PKK violence.”

No government data on the number of casualties was available.

The report also said several human rights organisations had reported suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody, though figures varied. The Ankara-based Human Rights Foundation of Turkey reported 11 suspicious deaths of people in custody.

These were two of the most serious examples on a long list of human rights issues listed by the State Department, many of which sprang up or were exacerbated by the two-year state of emergency implemented shortly after the AKP government survived a coup attempt in July 2016.

“Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary killing, suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons, including opposition members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, foreign citizens, and three Turkish-national employees of the U.S. Mission to Turkey for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; political prisoners, including numerous elected officials and academics; closure of media outlets and criminal prosecution of individuals for criticizing government policies or officials; blocking websites and content; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement; and violence against women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and members of other minorities.”

The state of emergency ended last July, but the report notes that “(new) laws and decrees codified some provisions from the state of emergency; subsequent antiterror legislation continued its restrictions on fundamental freedoms and compromised judicial independence and rule of law.”

Among the tens of thousands of people the report said were subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention were three Turkish-national employees of U.S. diplomatic missions in the country.

Hamza Uluçay, an envoy for the U.S. consulate in the southern Turkish city of Adana, was charged initially with “inciting public support for the PKK”. After being released, he was re-arrested on heavier charges including “membership of a terrorist organisation.”

Metin Topuz, U.S. Istanbul consulate's liaison for drug enforcement, was arrested in September 2017 and charged with membership of the Gülen religious movement, which the Turkish government says organised the 2016 coup attempt.

A third detained U.S. consulate liaison, Mete Canturk, is also accused of membership of the Gülen movement.

The report also refers to Serkan Gölge, a U.S. national of Turkish origin, who was arrested during a family visit to Turkey on July 23, 2016 and handed an initial seven-and-a-half year prison sentence in February 2018 for membership of the Gülen movement. His sentence was later reduced to five years.

“Authorities arrested Golge in 2016 based on specious evidence including witness testimony that was later recanted,” the State Department report said.