Exiled Turkish Opposition Releases Scathing Report on Human Rights Under Erdoğan

The Turkish government has perpetrated "systematic human rights violations" that "justify legal action at international level", a report commissioned by one of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's opponents and written by several senior British lawyers, has found. The report adds that Erdoğan's government has reversed steps taken towards European integration, damaging democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law.

The report, written by Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, and Sir Edward Garnier QC, the Conservative MP and former Solicitor General, Prof Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, the director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, and Sarah Palin, a barrister specialising in media law, accuses the Turkish government of violating the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as well as other human rights treaties to which Turkey is party. The report alleges the government has removed tens of thousands of employees from public positions, overseen a swathe of arrests and issuing "draconian bans" against social media and other internet-based media.

Their inquiry, published today, was funded by the U.S.-based Journalist and Writers Foundation, whose honorary chairman is the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen—a former ally of Erdoğan who is now a staunch opponent, according to The Guardian newspaper. Last year, a Turkish court issued an arrest warrant for Gülen—who now lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S.—after Erdoğan accused him of leading a criminal organisation and plotting a coup against the government. The ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) government has asked for the extradition of Gülen from the U.S. several times since 2013, although the U.S. government has not acted on the request. Erdoğan accuses Gülen and his supporters of setting up a "parallel state," a charge which he denies.

The lawyers' report focuses on the Gülen's Hizmet movement—a civil society movement consisting of a network of loosely connected individuals and religious, humanitarian and educational institutions, inspired by the teachings of Gülen, with millions of followers all over the world—and concludes that the movement's followers have been principal targets of the Turkish government's abuses. Several high-profile followers of Gülen control newspapers critical of the Turkish government.

The report estimates that approximately 40,000 police officers, civil servants, judges and public prosecutors have been removed by the government from their posts since the December 2013 corruption scandal that implicated four cabinet ministers, three sons of cabinet ministers, the head of the biggest public bank and high-profile businessmen. The scandal was the result of a year-long investigation into allegations of rigging state tenders and bribery, and it was widely reported that Erdoğan was furious that the investigation against his ministers had taken place without his knowledge.

The report also claims that the government is suppressing freedom of expression, particularly in the media by filing criminal prosecutions against journalists and publications and "by purging from public office, directing hate speech against, and interfering with the property rights of individuals and companies associated with the Gülen movement."

The report highlights the case of Hidayet Karaca, the chief executive of Samanyolu Media Group who was arrested last December "on highly dubious grounds," according to the report, as part of a series of raids on the offices of several media outlets. 27 individuals were detained including prominent media figures, all of whom the report says are associated with the Hizmet movement. Karaca remains in detention without indictment.

Commenting on the findings of the report, the authors said, "We have analysed the actions taken by the Turkish government and its agents since December 2013 and have unanimously concluded that there has been a distinct reversal in the reform process that had been taking place since Turkey began accession talks with the European Union in 2005. We regard this as a serious setback for Turkish democracy and its respect for human rights, in particular for the freedom of speech and the rule of law."

Earlier this year, Erdoğan filed a criminal complaint calling for a life sentence against a prominent newspaper editor, who he had previously said would pay the "highest price" after publishing evidence of Turkish intelligence facilitating the transfer of weapons to Syria. In the 2014 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, Turkey placed 154 out of 180 countries for freedom of information.

The Turkish government is yet to comment on the report and the Turkish embassy did not respond to requests for comment.