Turkey is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliamentary system and a president with limited powers. In the June 12 parliamentary elections, considered generally free and fair, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) formed a parliamentary majority under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The most significant human rights problems in the country during the year were:
1. Deficiencies in effective access to justice: Broad laws against terrorism and threats to the state, political pressure, and inadequacies in the judicial system limited access to justice, as did lengthy pretrial detention and lack of transparency in the prosecution of cases related to state security. The time lag between arrests and presentation of indictments; leaks of information, evidence, or statements; restricted defense access to evidence put forward by the prosecution; and the secrecy of the investigation orders also fueled concerns about the effectiveness of judicial protections for suspects. The close connection between prosecutors and judges gave the appearance of impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases, while the broad authority granted to prosecutors and judges contributed to inconsistent and uncertain application of criminal laws. During the year the government adopted judicial reforms to speed up and improve judicial processes.
2. Government interference with freedom of speech and press: The penal code and antiterror law retain multiple articles that restrict press freedom and public speech on politically and culturally sensitive topics. The arrest and prosecution of journalists, writers, and Kurdish intellectuals and political activists, coupled with condemnatory speeches by political leaders, had a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Politicians, including the prime minister, sued their critics for defamation at all levels. More than 100 journalists remained imprisoned at year’s end, with most charged under antiterrorism laws or for connections to an illegal organization. Intellectuals, writers, journalists, and media outlets increasingly report practicing self-censorship to avoid prosecution, although the media continued to criticize government leaders and policies daily and in many cases adopted an adversarial role with respect to the government. The government and the courts limited access to a broad range of Web sites based on their content.
3. Inadequate protection of vulnerable populations: The government did not effectively protect vulnerable populations, including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, from societal abuse, discrimination, and violence. Violence against women, including so-called honor killings and rape, remained a particularly significant problem. Child marriage persisted.
Other significant human rights problems reported during the year included: Security forces committed unlawful killings. Demonstrations in the country’s southeast and elsewhere related to the Kurdish issue, student’s rights, and activities of the Higher Education Board (YOK) were marred by violence, and members of the security forces allegedly used excessive force. Prisons were overcrowded. Law enforcement officials did not always provide detainees immediate access to an attorney.
The government investigated reports of abuse by security forces and other government officials, but the number of arrests and prosecutions was low, and convictions remained rare. Impunity was a problem.