Turkish government targets dissidents with broad counterterrorism laws - U.S. State Department

Turkey has a broad definition of terrorism, used by the Turkish government to regularly target opposition and those critical of the government, the U.S. State Department said in its 2019 country report on terrorism published on Wednesday. 

"The government continued to restrict some freedoms and elements of the country's rule of law system under broad counterterrorism legislation. Prosecutors used a broad definition of terrorism and threats to national security to file criminal charges against and prosecute a broad range of individuals, including journalists, opposition politicians, activists, and others critical of the government," the U.S. State Department said.

The Turkish government regularly invoked the law to criminalise the exercising of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and other human rights, the report said.

Turkish authorities referred more than 10,000 social media accounts to judicial authorities for alleged terrorist-related propaganda in the first quarter of 2019 alone, with more than 3,600 users facing legal action for their social media activities, the report said, citing the country’s Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department maintained its position on a long-standing issue of conflict with Turkey. The report labels the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decades-long insurgency in Turkey, as a terrorist organisation, but not the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish group that led the U.S.-backed ground war against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria which Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK, nor the Gülen movement, a religious group Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016.

“In the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, the Turkish government labelled the movement of self-exiled Fethullah Gülen as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization”. “FETÖ” is not a designated terrorist organisation in the United States,” the U.S. State Department said.

"The government continued to detain and arrest Turkish citizens, as well as foreign citizens resident in Turkey – including U.S. citizens and locally employed staff at the U.S. Mission to Turkey – for alleged “FETÖ” or terrorism related links, often on the basis of scant evidence and minimal due process," the U.S. State Department said.

In 2017, the Turkish government's arrested several local staffers of the U.S. Consulate, as diplomatic tensions between the two countries ramped up following the bilateral suspension of all non-immigrant visa services.

An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who spent over two years behind bars over alleged links to Gülen movement, was released in late 2018 after a long diplomatic row between Turkey and the United States.

Turkey last year accused the United States of having a "double-standard approach to terrorist organisations" in response to its 2018 report on terrorism.


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