Turkish gov't continuing to repress civil society under pretext of COVID-19

The Solidarity Network for Human Rights Defenders, a network of 22 human rights organizations in Turkey, has highlighted that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are under continuous government pressure and their space to operate freely has continued to diminish during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police officers patrol Istanbul's İstiklal Avenue amid COVID-19 pandemic.

Duvar English

The Turkish government continued to narrow the space for the activities of civil society in 2020, this time under the pretext of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released by the Solidarity Network for Human Rights Defenders, a network of 22 human rights organizations which was formed last year.

The government's ban on several activities of NGOs as well as demonstrations reached an unprecedented level during the pandemic, said the network's report released on Dec. 17.

The report titled “2020: Another Difficult Year for Civil Society and Rights Defenders” recalled that the Interior Ministry extended the duration of the ban on holding general assemblies for the NGOs first until Dec. 1, and then again until Feb. 28, 2021.

“Bans on protests and activities continued in 2020 in many provinces, especially in Kurdish provinces. Since November 2016, uninterrupted bans on meetings and demonstrations and all kinds of outdoor activism have been continuing in Van for 1474 days,” read the report.

The report highlighted that due to a law that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) brought to the agenda of parliament in March, NGOs are now obliged to notify the names of their members to the government. This law has been deterring people from wanting to become NGO members due to the fear that the government might create problems for them.

The report also recalled that the police and gendarmerie, under the instructions of the local governor's offices, intervened against several demonstrations of labor unions under the pretense of the pandemic.

“In November 2020, the gendarmerie intervened when the Soma Uyar Mining workers walked to Ankara for their indemnities and for worker’s health and work safety. After the intervention, the experts of the Independent Organization for Mine Work, Kamil Kartal and Başaran Aksu were arrested,” the report said.

“Karaman Ermenekli miners have also been carrying out their demonstrations since August 2020. Like the Soma miners, their Ankara march on 12 October 2020 was prevented by law enforcement intervention in front of the mine.”

Doctors targeted after making comments critical of government

The report said that several doctors, most of whom were members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), were arrested and probed after making statements that criticized the government's policy on the COVID-19 pandemic. The report listed the investigations launched against the heads of the Van-Hakkari Medical Chamber and the Mardin Medical Chamber, chairman of the Urfa Medical Chamber Dr. Ömer Melik and his General Secretary Dr. Osman Yüksekyayla, Prof. Dr. Kayıhan Pala, Şırnak Chamber President Dr. Serdar Küni and Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp.

The report also recalled several ongoing lawsuits against rights defenders, such as renowned philanthropist Osman Kavala. It said that despite the calls of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for Kavala's release, the philanthropist continues to be held in detention unfairly.

The full report can be accessed here: