Press Release — Turkey: HRF Condemns Shutdown of 370 Independent Civil Society Groups


NEW YORK — Human Rights Foundation (HRF) strongly condemns the suspension of 370 civil society organizations in Turkey. On November 11, 2016, Recep Erdoğan’s government ordered the “temporary” shutdown of hundreds of civil society groups, including bar associations and children’s rights organizations, based on allegations that the groups have “ties to terrorist organizations.” Although the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, affirmed that the 370 civil society organizations are not being shutdown but suspended for three months, the extent of the “suspension” remains uncertain.

“Recep Erdoğan’s government has gone far beyond persecuting members of the Gülen movement. It has brutally crushed all dissenting voices in a nation that, until recently, was a beacon of hope for moderates and liberals in the Middle East,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “Erdoğan has transformed Turkey from a democratic country to an authoritarian regime and he has done this by abusing the state of emergency powers he claimed after an attempted coup that, by the hour, looks more like a very convenient justification for the total dictatorial takeover of Turkey by his nationalist political party,” said Halvorssen.

Among the civil society organizations ordered to close are the Progressive Lawyers Association (CHD), and the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (OHD). These groups had spent the last few months representing those charged under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws.

“Not content with going after individuals, Erdoğan is now persecuting the associations devoted to defending people he perceives as political adversaries,” added Halvorssen. “If this trend continues, the government will next seek to persecute the attorneys representing the associations who represent the persecuted individuals, and then it will persecute the attorneys of those attorneys. When does it end?” concluded Halvorssen.

The Ministry of the Interior has defended these actions under Article 11 of the State of Emergency Law No. 2935, which allows the state to take necessary measures to prevent the spread of acts of violence. In light of the work carried out by the suspended civil society organizations and lack of reasonable suspicion to justify terrorism charges against them, however, such measures would be in violation of the Article 34 of the 1982 Turkish Constitution (providing for freedom of association), and Article 52 of the Associations Law No. 5253 (mandating that association may only be closed pursuant to a court decision).

“Since 2003, Turkey has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines the right of peaceful assembly. Turkey’s authoritarian regime must acknowledge that, under international law, a state of emergency declaration does not entitle a government to behave lawlessly and to engage in gross human rights violations,” said Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer of HRF. “Judges and parliament members have been purged due to their refusal to follow the government’s abusive agenda, while Erdoğan’s regime continues to bulldoze any vestiges of dissent in Turkey,” he added.

Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

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Middle East