Living in limbo: judicial controls in Turkey

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey are subject to judicial controls and travel bans imposed during the purge triggered by a failed coup two years ago.

As the number of prisoners and detainees in Turkey has soared, reaching its highest level in history, the government has placed hundreds of thousands of people under probationary controls.

According to the annual data released by the Department of Probation Directorate, the number of people placed under probation has increased thirty-fold in the last decade, reaching 614,951 at the end of 2017, up from just from 21,072 in 2007.

The most frequently used probation method is supervised release, formerly used as a criminal procedure for suspected criminal offenders. And the most commonly used process for supervised release involves having those subject to controls report to a nearby police station on specified days. Another method is the travel ban.

PhD student G.B., who was arrested in Istanbul in January 2018 and released after five days, is one of those under supervised release. G.B. fears he will be expelled from the PhD program because of the probation conditions. 

"I was arrested due to an investigation opened in 2014 and covering the 2012 period," G.B. said, "I was detained four years after the start of the investigation. This, by itself, is against the law. I feel victimised, I think this decision violates my right to education and travel. I was a PhD student in Germany and was taken into custody when I was on my Christmas break. Since then I have been unable to go back to Germany."

"Financially I lost a lot because of this decision - I lost my grants and aids. Most importantly, I could not continue my doctorate studies in person at my own university last semester. At the moment, the department and my thesis advisor, cognisant of the political situation in Turkey, are giving me a break. They allowed me to use unconventional methods to join classes. For example, they allowed me to join courses via Skype."

After his release, G.B. says he appealed the decision in order to be able to continue his education in Germany.

"I frequently travelled before this," he said, "We petitioned in detail, asking that if, at least, they remove the travel ban I can continue my studies. But just like many other cases, the petition is still waiting on the prosecutor's desk, unanswered."

"I don't think they even taken my petition into consideration. I feel that both the travel ban and the supervised release decisions are arbitrary, de facto. I believe the goal is nothing more than to intimidate people."

G.B. says that it is increasingly difficult for him to continue his studies. "The program I am enrolled to is not an online program. I have to attend the lectures and workshops in person. Currently, my thesis advisor is helping me, but this cannot go on forever."

"They are trying to include me in the workshops and lectures. But in August, for example, I need to make a presentation at a conference at my university. Similarly, I will not be able to attend my German language courses in August and September. I don't think I will be able to continue my studies under these conditions."

G.B. says that during the seven months he has been subject to judicial control the prosecution has failed to prepare an indictment against him.

Another 28-year-old who did not want to disclose their name said that they were placed under the supervised release program 16 months ago, following a 12-day detention, and are required to report to the police station twice weekly. They said supervised release feels like a punishment.

This young person said the prosecution still does not have an indictment against him. They said: "Reporting to the police station twice weekly by itself is very restricting. I cannot leave the city. Even if there is a situation that requires me to go out of town, I can't. It is almost impossible because I need the permission of the prosecutor. I have only been allowed once, despite my many appeals. The only time I was allowed to leave was to appear in court in another city."

The 28-year-old, who works as a waiter at a restaurant, said they have appealed to have administrative controls lifted several times over the last 16 months, but to no avail. They said that they could not visit their family, and had to reject job offers in other cities.

"I expect this process to continue until the hearings. It has almost been two years since I was placed under supervised custody. I feel punished: even if I am acquitted from the lawsuit, this two years will be my punishment. There are three folders full of names required to report to my small neighbourhood police station."

"Even this shows how many people are under probation. If I fail to report, I will be arrested the next day. So I have to plan everything accordingly. They won't let you sign and detain you even when you're five minutes late - people tell me this happened before. There are also people who are required to report to the police station every day. It is daunting. You cannot even go to a family funeral. Your fate is tied to the prosecutor."