Turkish FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Turkey

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 8 January 2018

Update: On October 19, 2017, the government extended the State of Emergency for another three months for the fifth time since the July 2016 failed coup attempt. The ongoing State of Emergency is creating increased pressure on the opposition and imposing ever more restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms. As of October 18, 2017, the government had issued 28 emergency degrees of which five have a direct effect on CSOs. The State of Emergency risks undermining democratic standards due to bypassing the parliament and other consultative mechanisms in the law-making process.

On October 25, 2017, an Istanbul court ordered the release of eight human rights activists who were detained in a police raid while attending a digital security training workshop in July 2017. This case had severe consequences on silencing the advocacy and monitoring work of rights-based CSOs in Turkey. In addition, another Istanbul court ruled for the arrest of a Turkish businessman and human rights advocate, Osman Kavala, on October 18, 2017 over allegedly being among the “managers and organizers” of the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests.

On November 18, 2017, the governor’s office in Ankara banned the public showing of all films, exhibitions and events related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, citing “public sensitivities.”

Introduction

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are at the heart of Turkey’s democratization process. Today, as of December 2017, there are around 112,000 associations and 5,054 new foundations (established after the Republic) operating along with many informal organizations such as platforms, initiatives, and groups. Their areas of work are mostly concentrated in social solidarity, social services, education, health and various rights-based issues. Over the past years, the not-for-profit sector in Turkey has grown both in size and level of participation, and played a significant role in contributing to the democratization of the country.

Since officially becoming an EU candidate country in 2003, Turkey has implemented a series of reforms that promote democratization, including reforms to its basic framework laws affecting civil society. Turkey still operates, however, under the 1982 Constitution, which was written immediately following a military coup. Until 2004, when a new Associations Law was enacted in Turkey, the autonomy of Turkish CSOs was restricted. The new Associations Law was viewed positively by both civil society and the EU. It lifted some of the limitations on civil society. Subsequently, in 2008, Turkey adopted a Foundations Law, which further improved the legal environment. Nonetheless, today, Turkish CSOs are more aware of the deficiencies in the laws that restrict their activities. Although Constitutional regulations comply with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the legal framework still contains numerous incompatibilities with international standards.

Even before the coup attempt and the later consequences of the State of Emergency in 2016, “shrinking civic space” has been a concern. Despite improved legislation concerning associations and foundations in 2004 and 2008, which took place during the accession process to the European Union, challenges and constraints continue, especially regarding secondary legislation and its implementation. In fact, no extensive reforms have been made since the major reform packages accepted in 2004 and 2008 that in those years improved the enabling environment of civil society.

The planned reforms regarding the legal framework regulating freedom of association, Turkey’s National Action Plan for the EU Accession (Phase- I November 2014 - June 2015) did not come into force. The reshuffling of the Cabinet of Ministers, triggered by the resignation of Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in May 2016 and the appointment of Binali Yildirim as the country's new prime minister, left the 64th government’s 2016 Action Plan void. It included the adoption of a comprehensive Civil Society Law to regulate legal statutes, institutional structures, activities, and financial resources of CSOs as well as civil society-public sector relations.

Under these circumstances, Turkey was made inactive in the Open Government Partnership in September 2016 because the government failed to deliver on its National Action Plan that included commitments to publicize all draft legislations on a web platform to enable wide-scale consultation through regulation.gov.tr; enhance transparency and accountability by setting up different web platforms including spending.gov.tr; and create an electronic public procurement platform. Even worse, a controversial security bill, “The Law Amending the Law on Powers and Duties of the Police, Other Laws and Decrees” that is widely referred as the “Internal Security Reform Package” and is fiercely opposed by opposition parties, was passed in Parliament on March 27, 2015. It broadened the power of police to conduct searches, use weapons, wiretap, detain individuals without a warrant, and remove demonstrators from sites of protest.

As of 2017, the legal-political environment is not conducive for civil society development in Turkey. Restrictions remain limiting freedom of association, assembly and speech/advocacy. There is still no concrete definition of civil society and CSOs in the related legislation and policy documents and a singular, overarching and binding legislative framework to govern the relationship between CSOs and public institutions is missing. On top of this, freedom of expression has been steadily eroding in Turkey through arbitrary and restrictive interpretation of legislation, pressure, dismissals and frequent court cases against activists, journalists, academics and social media users since 2013. Not-for-profit entities can be inspected on the grounds of their political affiliations, rights-based issues, proximity to government or opposition and personal complaints. Therefore, they remain to be more prone to face arbitrary implementations/ interpretations of the law and legislations.

Civil society has also been affected by many destabilizing pressures, including renewed tensions over the Kurdish conflict, instability spilling over from neighboring Syria, a series of terrorist attacks by ISIL, an increasing flow of refugees, political deadlocks, and an economic decline and a failed coup attempt. The most negative development for civil society was the outcome of the coup attempt by a faction of Turkey's military allegedly loyal to the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which deployed tanks and fighter jets to overthrow the government on July 15, 2016. Gun battles broke out in Ankara and Istanbul that left 312 dead, including 145 civilians, 60 police, three soldiers and 104 plotters. More than 2,000 citizens were also injured. The coup attempt in Turkey was an unforeseen incident and caused a severe interruption in policy making and hampered any ongoing initiatives to restore democratic decision-making process in general. The context of political instability has paved way for a state of constant readiness to curb basic freedoms, including the freedoms of association, assembly and expression, for the sake of the preserving “national security” or “public order”.

The State of Emergency was approved by the National Parliament on July 21, 2016 for three months following the failed army coup to enable authorities to react in efficient ways to investigate and punish those responsible. Following the coup attempt the Turkish authorities informed the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that Turkey would provide notice of derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights under Article 15 of the Convention. On October 19, 2017, the government extended the State of Emergency for another three months for the fifth time since the July 2016 failed coup attempt. During this period, the government carried out mass arrests and firings of civil servants, academics, journalists, opposition figures relating to the coup attempt.

The state of relations between civil society and the government deteriorated throughout 2016-2017. The statutory decrees passed under the State of Emergency included restricting measures affecting the civil society sector in general. As of October 18, 2017, the Government has issued 28 emergency degrees of which five have a direct effect on CSOs.

Against this background, in April 2017, through a referendum, the people of Turkey narrowly voted in favor of constitutional amendments and more than 2,000 laws that remove many of the checks on executive power. In 2019, there will be three elections (local, parliament and presidential). The presidential election will be the highlight of 2019, since the president will be elected and the presidential government system will be enacted.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Associations Foundations
Registration Body Ministry of Interior, Department of Associations The courts, with possible review made by the General Directorate of Foundations
Barriers to Entry At least 7 founders required to establish an association.

Executive board of at least 5 people required. Board must have Turkish majority. Foreigners can be members of board provided they reside in Turkey.
The minimum endowment amount for foundations is 60,000 TRY (approx. $16,000).
Barriers to Activities Standard annual reporting forms and numerous mandatory books considered cumbersome and time consuming.

All associations are obliged to obtain permission from the governorship of the city in which they will be conducting the fundraising activity and indicate the exact amount of money they aim to collect.

Requirement to complete standard forms before receiving or using foreign funding or opening new branch offices.
Standard annual reporting forms considered cumbersome and time consuming.

All foundations are obliged to obtain permission from the governorship of the city in which they will be conducting the fundraising activity and indicate the exact amount of money they aim to collect.

Requirement to complete standard forms before receiving or using foreign funding or opening new branch offices.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Different provisions set forth in the Constitution provide protection to speeches regardless of the content of the speech, expressed by a natural person or a legal entity, or expressed individually or collectively.

However, the Constitutional protection provided for Freedom of Expression is diminished at level of laws. Many articles in the laws are sustained despite of their controversy with Constitution.
Different provisions set forth in the Constitution provide protection to speeches regardless of the content of the speech, expressed by a natural person or a legal entity, or expressed individually or collectively.

However, the Constitutional protection provided for Freedom of Expression is diminished at level of laws. Many articles in the laws are sustained despite of their controversy with Constitution.
Barriers to International Contact Required to notify Government when receiving grant from international organization. Required to notify Government when receiving grant from international organization.
Barriers to Resources Required to notify Government before using foreign funding. Required to notify Government within one month of receiving foreign funding.
Barriers to Assembly Vague grounds to justify restrictions, excessive force on protesters, and advance notification requirement. Vague grounds to justify restrictions, excessive force on protesters, and advance notification requirement.

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Key Indicators

Population 80,845,215 (July 2017 est.)
Capital Ankara
Type of Government Parliamentary Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 72.7 years
Female: 77.5 years (2017 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 98.6%
Female: 92.6% (2015 est.)
Religious Groups Muslim (mostly Sunni): 99.8%; other (mostly Christians and Jews): 0.2%
Ethnic Groups Turkish: 70-75%; Kurdish: 18%; other minorities: 7-12% (2008 est.)
GDP per capita $10,787 (2016, The World Bank data)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2017.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 71 (2017) 1 – 178
World Bank Rule of Law Index 49 (2017) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 30 (2017) 100 – 0
Transparency International 41 (2017) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 5 (2017)

1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
Rank: 64 (2017)
178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 2003
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 2006
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 2003
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 2002
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1985
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Yes 2002
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1995
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 2004
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2009
Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) Yes 2012
European Convention on Human Rights
Yes 1954

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution was adopted in 1982, immediately following a military coup. Although the Constitution is sometimes criticized for its lack of democratic principles, it still guarantees basic rights and freedoms. Relevant articles include:

  • Article 22: Everyone has the right to freedom of communication.
  • Article 25: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and opinion.
  • Article 26: Everyone has the right to express and disseminate his thoughts and opinions by speech, in writing or in pictures or through other media, individually and collectively.
  • Article 33: Everyone has the right to form associations, or become a member of an association, or withdraw from membership without prior permission. 
    No one shall be compelled to become or remain a member of an association.
    Freedom of association may only be restricted by law on the grounds of protecting national security and public order, or prevention of crime, or protecting public morals, public health.
    The formalities, conditions, and procedures governing the exercise of freedom of association shall be prescribed by law.
    Associations may be dissolved or suspended from activity by the decision of a judge in cases prescribed by law. In cases where delay endangers national security or public order and in cases where it is necessary to prevent the perpetration or the continuation of a crime or to effect apprehension, an authority designated by law may be vested with power to suspend the association from activity. The decision of this authority shall be submitted for the approval of the judge in charge within twenty-four hours. Unless the judge declares a decision within forty-eight hours, this administrative decision shall be annulled automatically. 
    Provisions of the first paragraph shall not prevent imposition of restrictions on the rights of armed forces and security forces officials and civil servants to the extent that the duties of civil servants so require.
    The provisions of this article are also applicable to foundations.
  • Article 34: Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.
  • Article 35: Everyone has the right to property and inheritance.
  • Article 90: International agreements duly put into effect have the force of law. No appeal to the Constitutional Court shall be made with regard to these agreements, on the grounds that they are unconstitutional. In the case of a conflict between international agreements, duly put into effect, concerning fundamental rights and freedoms and the laws due to differences in provisions on the same matter, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail.

In April 2017, through a referendum, the people of Turkey narrowly voted in favor of constitutional amendments and more than 2,000 laws in a way that removes many of the checks on executive power. Among such amendments are the following:

  • The office of prime minister is eliminated. The new post of vice president (with possibly two or three of them) is created.
  • The president becomes the head of the executive, as well as the head of state, and retains ties to a political party (prior to this, presidents renounced political parties on taking office).
  • The president is given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.
  • The president alone can announce a State of Emergency and dismiss parliament.
  • The parliament loses its right to scrutinize ministers or propose an enquiry. However, it is able to launch impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs. Putting the president on trial requires a two-thirds majority.
  • Presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held on the same day every five years. The president is limited to two terms.

In 2019, There will be three elections (local, parliament and presidential). The presidential election will be the highlight of 2019, since president will be elected, and the presidential government system will be enacted.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

The State of Emergency was approved by the National Parliament on July 21, 2016 for three months following the failed army coup to enable authorities to react in efficient ways to investigate and punish those responsible. On October 19, 2017, the government extended the State of Emergency for another three months for the fifth time since the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

The State of Emergency is regulated under Article 119, 120 and 121 of the Constitution and State of Emergency Law no. 2935 and allows the Council of Ministers, chaired by the President, to issue statutory decrees that carry the force of law. Furthermore, according to Law no. 2935, the Council of Ministers can issue regulations suspending or restricting use of fundamental rights and freedoms including freedom of association and assembly. The State of Emergency carries a risk of undermining democratic standards due to the bypassing of parliament and further consultative mechanisms in the law-making process. The mechanisms of checks and balances were not put in place to ensure safeguards against measures and to preserve separation of powers and the rule of law. Under the State of Emergency, statutory decrees cannot be appealed.

On January 25, 2017, the Judiciary of Turkey set up a “State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission” to review sanctions under the State of Emergency and provide new judicial avenues for appeals. However, the means of selecting the members of this Commission raises concerns about the independence of its decision-making. The Commission began receiving objections to State of Emergency rulings starting on July 17, 2017 and has received over 100,000 complaints filed by October 8, 2017. The rulings of the Commission have not been announced.

The most relevant national laws affecting the civil society sector include the following:

  • Law 5253: Associations Law
  • Law 5737: Foundations Law
  • Law 4721: Civil Code
  • Associations: Articles 56-100
  • Foundations: Article 101-117
  • Law 8965: Penal Code
  • Law 2860: Law on Collection of Aid
  • Law 2911: Law on Demonstrations
  • Law 4982: Law on Right to Information
  • Law 4962: Law on the Amendment to Certain Laws and Tax Exemption for Foundations Law
  • Law 193: Income Tax Law
  • Law 5520: Corporate Tax Law
  • Law 1319: Property Tax law
  • Law 488: Stamp Tax Law
  • Law 3065:VAT Law
  • Law 1606: Law on the Exemption of Certain Associations and Institutions from Certain Taxes, All Fees and Dues
  • Law 5072: Law on the Relations of Public Institutions with Associations and Foundations
  • Law 4641: Law on the Establishment and Functioning of the Economic and Social Council
  • Law 3335: Law on Establishment of International Organizations
  • Law 5018: Public Financial Administration and Control
  • Law 3713: Prevention of Terrorism Law

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

There are no pending initiatives to amend the legal framework for civil society in the foreseeable future.

In the last four years, there have been several unsuccessful reform initiatives, as summarized below.

Turkey's National Action Plan for the EU Accession (Phase- I November 2014 - June 2015), published in November 2014, included plans to amend the Law on Associations, Civil Code (related articles), Law on Collection of Aid, and Law on Foundations. In December 2012, the Department of Associations (within the MoI) published the first version of the draft Law on Collection of Aid (Fundraising) and invited input from civil society organizations and experts. The draft published in July 2013 included proposals for improving the framework for fundraising/collection of aid for associations and foundations. In addition, the draft law included several amendments to the Civil Code regarding associations and foundations, such as decreasing the obligatory number of founding members and number of minimum members in the administrative bodies. The draft also contained new articles regarding the establishment of a Civil Society General Directorate, which would replace the Department of Associations and have higher authority and legal status. Several consultation meetings with CSOs were held during the drafting period. The consultation process was concluded in July 2013. The draft law was withdrawn without any explanation through notice of the decision by the Cabinet on September 22, 2014.

In December 2015, the Government of Turkey published the 2016 Action Plan for the planned reform steps to be taken during 2016. A comprehensive civil society law is among the commitments included in the plan. Further details on the content of this law are available. The new government, which was announced in May 2016, has not yet affirmed its commitment to the 2016 Action Plan. Moreover, the failed coup attempt coup in July 2016 has made any real commitment to reform in this field less likely.

There were several undertakings in the 2016 Action Plan that could nonetheless enhance participation of civil society in public policy making:

  • Establishment of a unit to coordinate and monitor reform processes;
  • Promotion of implementation of regulatory impact assessments in every level of public policy making;
  • Adoption of public sector reforms for provision of just, efficient, effective, high quality public services;
  • Reformation of the Law on the Establishment and Functioning of the Economic and Social Council;
  • Further revision of basic rights and freedoms in line with international standards;
  • Adoption of regulation on ethics;
  • Adoption of regulation on protection of personal data;
  • Preparation of an e-government strategy and Action Plan;
  • Adoption of a comprehensive Income Tax Law; and
  • Adoption of an Official Secrets Act.

Turkey’s Development Plans:
The Ministry of Development (MoDEV) published the "Primary Transformation Program and Action Plans" for the implementation of the 10th Development Plan of Turkey (2014-2018) in 2015.  This document included several undertakings to improve the civil society environment. Relevant sections from the 2014-2018 Primary Transformation Program and Action Plans are summarized below:

Justification / Rationalization of Public SpendingCSOs are listed as stakeholders for impact assessment of social service (aid) provision. Page 11 envisions a policy to strengthen cooperation among the public administration, private sector and CSOs, listing an action to increase CSO involvement for delivery of social aid.
Program on Local Level Capacity Development: There are several references related to the civil society legal environment:

  • Policy 2.3 refers to the capacity development of CSOs along with other stakeholders, and Articles 26 and 27 refer to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) as the responsible agency for developing capacities of CSOs and providing CSO funding.
  • Policy 2.4 refers to improving participation of CSOs along with other stakeholders in local-level development processes, and Articles 30 and 31 identify MoDEV as the responsible agency to include CSOs in local development boards and other decision-making processes, while Article 33 refers to MoI as the responsible institution to strengthen participation of CSOs in city councils.
  • Policy 2.5 refers to "Increasing Civil Associations (Citizens’ using their right to association", with Article 33 referring to the development of a policy framework for public administration and a civil society code of conduct. Article 34 refers to easing the procedures to establish associations and CSOs. Article 34 refers to “increasing accountability, transparency and good governance of CSOs” and gives the mandate to the MoI. Article 35 envisions support to CSOs working in the area of development via development agencies. Article 36 foresees regular data collection on CSOs in Turkey by related public administration bodies.

Program for Improving Development Cooperation:  This program refers to CSOs with regards to development cooperation with TIKA being the responsible agency. Article 4 refers to the development of an accreditation system for CSOs. Article 52 refers to AFAD as the main agency and outlines establishment of an accreditation system for CSOs working in the field of humanitarian aid. 
The Ministry of Development is in the preparation of the 11th Development Plan (2019-2023) and formed a “Civil Society Specialized Committee” and will kick off consultation process by December 2018.

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

There are two legal forms of CSOs in Turkey: associations and foundations. Article 33 of the Constitution grants the right to form these entities. These organizations must be not-for-profit establishments. Article 56 of the Civil Code states: “An association is defined as a society formed by unity of at least seven real persons or legal entities for realization of a common object other than sharing of profit by collecting information and performing studies for such purpose.” Article 101 of the Civil Code defines foundations as “charity groups in the status of a legal entity formed by real persons or legal entities dedicating their private property and rights for public use.

The registration process and the timeline for registration of associations and foundations are regulated differently by Law on Associations and Law on Foundations. For the registration of associations, seven citizens and/or foreigners holding residential permits should apply to the provincial office of the Department of Associations with the necessary list of documents. No registration fee is required. As soon as the association starts official procedures, it is assumed that the association is already founded and thereby it can start its activities. The Department has up to 60 days to review the application. If the administration decides there are missing documents, or the application of association violates the existing rules and regulations, the association is given 30 days to rectify the problem. According to Articles 84 and 86 of the Civil Code, at least 16 members are required to form the mandatory board of directors and the auditors’ board. In addition to Article 62 that requires the general assembly to be held within the first six months, newly founded associations are expected to have 16 members and form their mandatory organs (executive board, internal auditing committee and general assembly) within six months.

Registration of foundations is much more complicated than associations. To establish a foundation, there should be assets (all types of immovable and movable property, including cash, securities and bonds, and rights that have an economic value) allocated for the specified purpose of the foundation. The Council of Foundations, highest decision-making body of the General Directorate of Foundations, determines the minimum asset value applicable on the establishment of a foundation on annual basis (approximately $ 16,000 in 2016 – TRY 60,000). Foundations are founded by a charter which is verified by a court. This charter contains information on the title, purpose, assets and rights to attain its goals with organs and applicable administrative procedures. The foundation is granted legal personality when there is approval of the court and registered by The General Directorate of Foundations. The timeline for founding a foundation varies depending on the work load of the courts.

Public Benefit Status

‘Public benefit’ (for associations) and ‘tax exemption’ (for foundations) statuses are vaguely defined and the decision-making process is highly political, and the privileges provided with the statuses are very limited. Based on Article 27 of the Associations Law, the Council of Ministers has the authority to grant this status to eligible CSOs. However, the selection process is highly bureaucratic and political at times. This process is not guided by an autonomous, transparent and easily accessible institution. Furthermore, the procedures for these statuses are not clearly defined with a selection criteria list. The conditions for gaining ‘public benefit’ and ‘tax exemption’ statuses differ.

Notably, while the law in Turkey provides for public benefit status for CSOs, only a very limited number of organizations have been granted public benefit status. According to data compiled in December 2017, there are 266 tax-exempt foundations out of 5,054 foundations in Turkey. The ratio of the number of tax-exempt foundations to the total number remained similar (5%) to previous years. As of December 2017, the 322 associations with public benefit status constituted only 0.35% of the total number of 111,845 active associations. The number of associations with public benefit status was slightly higher (395) in 2015.

Barriers to Entry

The Constitution provides protections for freedom of association with Article 33 regarding associations and foundations. The article statesthat everyone is free to establish associations without permission; become a member of associations or leave membership and no one can be forced to become or stay as a member of any association. Individuals and legal persons with legal capacity have the right to establish CSOs. There are certain restrictions in special laws applicable to the members of the Turkish Armed Forces, the Police force and civil servants.

The number of minimum founding members sought by the state for registration of associations is quite high (seven) compared with international and European standards (2-3 people). Associations should have at least 16 members to continue operating within six months following their registration. The Executive board must have at least 5 people on it and must have a Turkish majority. Foreigners can be members of the board if they reside in Turkey. According to Article 5 of the Foundations Law, “Foreigners shall be able to establish new foundations in Turkey in accordance with the principle of de jure and de facto reciprocity."

The foundation is granted legal personality when there is approval from the court and it is registered by The General Directorate of Foundations. The timeline for founding a foundation varies depending on the workload of the courts. In 2016, the minimum endowment amount for foundations was increased to 60,000 TRY (approx. $16,000). There are vague limitations (e.g. general morality, public order) in the law that can lead to subjective registration processes allowing broad scope of discretions for public officials.

In order to form a federation or a confederation, the Associations Law requires a minimum of five and three organizations, respectively, to come together. Problematically, however, the law requires that member organizations must have the “same purpose”, which is unnecessarily limiting. Foreign organizations are subjected to serious bureaucratic hurdles when opening a branch office in Turkey.

Foreign organizations/representative offices require permission, (provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs upon the opinion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to operate or open a branch office in Turkey. The legislation does not state how long the applications will be processed by the authorities. At the time of reporting (07.12.2017), 130 foreign CSOs are listed as permitted to work in Turkey. The number was 138 in January 2015. 

There are vague limitations (e.g. general morality, public order) in the Law on Associations that invite the exercise of excessive governmental discretion into the activities of CSOs, particularly at the time of registration. According to Article 56 of the Turkish Civil Code, “No association may be formed for an object contrary to the laws and morality.” Article 101 of the Civil Code states that the “formation of a foundation contrary to the characteristics of the Republic defined by the Constitution, Constitutional rules, laws, ethics, national integrity and national interest, or with the aim of supporting a distinctive race or community, is restricted.” CSOs are required to declare the type of work/activities they intend to carry out in writing in official documents, such as the governing statutes of associations or the articles of foundations.

According to implementing regulations for the Associations Law, associations seeking office space within residential buildings must secure the permission of all residents living in the building – a requirement that is burdensome at best, and in some cases practically impossible. The failure to secure office space may be a barrier to the process of registration for associations.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Legislation does not openly bring limitations for the purposes of CSOs (associations and foundations). However it states “they cannot adopt a purpose or aim that is contradictory with law or morality” and provides room for interference from authorities based on interpretation.

The same situation applies to activities of CSOs. The legal framework explicitly defines the ways in which the decision-making system (i.e. governance) should work: for example, the decisions that can only be made by the general assembly and the decision-making authority of the executive and internal auditing committee are all clearly framed. Therefore, it is not possible for CSOs to choose how they want their decision-making system to work. Even if CSOs are not obliged to seek permission in the decision-making process, they can face fines for not following the decision-making process set forth in secondary legislation (bylaw and others); thus, it is possible to say legislation creates room for state interference to internal affairs of CSOs. This aspect is also apparent in terms of the precise formation of management bodies brought by over-regulation in the legislation.

The legal framework does not provide guarantees against state interference in internal matters of associations, foundations and other types of non-profit entities. Legislation does not openly bring limitations for purpose of CSOs (associations and foundation) however it states, “they cannot adopt a purpose or aim that is contradictory with law or morality” and provides room for interference from authorities based on interpretation. Same situation applies to activities of CSOs. Law on Foundations and Associations allows authorities to inspect their activities and assess if they are in line with the organization’s statute. Associations and foundations are not prohibited from directly engaging in political activities, but oppositional and/or rights-based CSOs are reportedly facing more government interference in practice than others.

The Law on Foundations and Associations allows authorities to inspect their activities and assess if they are in line with the organization’s statute. Associations and foundations are not prohibited from directly engaging in political activities, but oppositional and/or rights-based CSOs are reportedly facing more government interference in practice than others.

Inspections of businesses / for-profit entities are applied on the grounds of more established procedures such as with tax related and social security contributions cases. Not-for-profit entities have such responsibilities and can be inspected on the grounds of their political affiliations, right-based issues, proximity to government and opposition and personal complaints. Therefore, they are more prone to face arbitrary implementation and interpretations of the law and legislations. Furthermore, penalties constitute an important barrier for fully exercising the freedom of association. Penalties and fines are burdensome for breaching the comprehensive bureaucratic requirements laid down in the laws. Reductions in administrative fines, or guidance or warning mechanisms are not effective if not totally absent.

There are some standard forms that CSOs must complete each year which can be cumbersome and time consuming for some organizations. Specifically, associations and foundations must complete annual statements which are submitted either to the Interior Ministry, Department of Associations or to the General Directorate of Foundations. Additionally, CSOs must complete standard forms before receiving and/or utilizing foreign funding and opening new branches or offices.

In addition, CSOs frequently are fined for “improper” record keeping. More disturbingly, Article 33 of the Associations Law holds the chair of the executive board of the association responsible – i.e., personally liable – for any sanctions and/or fines assessed against the association. If a CSO becomes involved in an illegal activity, the organization can be terminated by only a court order.

The Turkish government’s decision to shut down and seize the assets of organizations that are allegedly linked to Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and terrorist organizations has come into force since the July 15, 2016 failed coup. Under the State of Emergency, with executive decrees, 1412 associations, 104 foundations and 19 Federation or confederations were closed permanently. 370 associations’ activities were suspended for a period of three to nine months and some of them ended up being closed permanently.  The individualized reasoning for suspension and closures are not yet known.  As an example, Article 3 of the Executive Decree no. 677 that closed 375 registered associations on November 22, 2016 states that: “Associations listed linked to terrorist organizations or that the National Security Council has established they belong to, cohere with or are linked to structures, formations or groups that are acting against national security, are closed.” This decree permanently closed CSOs including but not limited to human rights organizations, women’s right organizations, local cultural associations, student and business associations, service provider associations and sports clubs. All assets of the associations are considered to have been transferred to the Treasury free of charge, including the deeds for any premises, without any restrictions. There is no possibility to appeal or for a judicial remedy. There have been cases when Turkey’s Interior Ministry has ended the activities of foreign CSOs operating in Turkey on the grounds of “national security”.

There is no timeframe prescribed in the legislation regarding the conclusion of applications made by foreign CSOs to the Ministry of Interior for authorization to operate in Turkey. It has been reported that such review processes have slowed down. As of July 2017, 130 foreign CSOs are listed to be permitted to work in Turkey. The number was 138 in January 2015. 

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are numerous provisions on freedom of expression in the Constitution. These include provisions regarding both the means employed for exercising freedom of expression and the form of exercising freedom of expression. Constitution Article 25, under the heading “freedom of thought and opinion”, states that “Everyone has the freedom of thought and opinion. No one shall be compelled to reveal his/her thoughts and opinions for any reason or purpose; nor shall anyone be blamed or accused because of his/ her thoughts and opinions.” According to the grounds for restriction in Article 26 of the Constitution, freedom of expression may be restricted for the purposes of “national security, public order, public safety, safeguarding the basic characteristics of the Republic and the indivisible integrity of the State with its territory and nation, preventing crime, punishing offenders, withholding information duly classified as a state secret, protecting the reputation or rights and private and family life of others, or protecting professional secrets as prescribed by law, or ensuring the proper functioning of the judiciary”

Freedom of expression has been steadily eroding in Turkey through arbitrary and restrictive interpretation of the legislation, pressure, dismissals and frequent court cases against journalists, writers and social media users since 2013.

CSOs, human rights defenders, journalists and citizens that publicly oppose government policies and are critical of the President have often faced legal and financial obstacles in exercising their freedom of expression and activities during 2016-2017. The situation on freedom of expression online or otherwise is widely restricted, and court cases launched about expression on social media and website bans continue to be held with administrative and civil court orders. The de facto restrictions and limitations that were brought during State of Emergency have become highly concerning and widely highlighted in monitoring reports and statements of international CSOs, international institutions, such as the CoE, EU, UN, OSCE and others.

In 2016, there were cases where CSOs were faced with investigations that might lead to court cases for their work on monitoring and reporting rights violations in security operations and curfews in Southeastern Turkey based on the Turkish Penal Code, Article 301 that regulates “insulting state, public or nation”. Police raided a workshop on digital security and well-being of human rights defenders and detained human rights defenders from major CSOs, including Amnesty International Turkey’s director, on the island of Büyükada on July 5, 2017, based on an anonymous complaint. In the indictment, the prosecutor charged the suspects from 7.5 to 15 years in prison on the charge of "being a member of the armed FETÖ", and other rights advocates have face from five to 10 years in prison on charges of "aiding an armed terrorist organization". An Istanbul court released all of these human rights defenders on November 22, 2017, however. The detention of human rights activists and the prosecution had severe consequences upon silencing the advocacy and monitoring work of rights-based CSOs operating in Turkey, in general. An Istanbul court ruled for the arrest of a Turkish businessman and human rights advocate Osman Kavala on October 18, 2017 over alleged links to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and December 2013 corruption probes targeting government officials, as part of a secret investigation. There has been no official statement from the authorities, and details have yet to be revealed.

Freedom of Press 2016-2017 reports indicated “media is not free” in Turkey and remained among the countries that suffered the largest declines during this period. Internet censorship and blocking or slowing access to social media networks by the authorities has increased in the last couple of years, posing challenges to exercise of freedom of expression. Turkey was downgraded in its internet freedom status as well. According to Freedom House ratings in 2017, internet freedom in Turkey is ranked as “not free”. The government intensified its crackdown on the media throughout 2016 and especially in the post-failed coup period authorities detained critical journalists, closed down media outlets, censored online outlets, detained and deported foreign correspondents on the grounds on terrorism-related laws and alleged their connection with the Kurdish conflict and the ongoing conflict in Syria and the FETÖ movement. In the wake of the failed coup attempt, executive decrees brought the closure of 162 media organizations (news agencies, TV stations, newspapers, radio stations, magazines, publishing organizations); and the detainment of more than 100 journalists and media workers in the space of a month. As of December 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed that at least 81 journalists were behind bars in Turkey.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no restrictions for Turkish CSOs to operate in other countries. But when receiving a grant from an international organization, CSOs must notify the appropriate government office. International CSOs operating in Turkey must receive permission from the government prior to starting their activities. 

Barriers to Resources

Foreign Funding

There are no limitations on foreign funding, but there is a notification requirement relating to foreign funding. Foundations must notify public authorities within one month after receiving the funding, while associations must notify the Government before using the funding.

Domestic Funding

CSOs face serious problems in their fundraising activities mainly due to the highly restrictive, bureaucratic and limiting Law on Collection of Aid (No 1983, 23/6/1983). The Law requires receipt of permission for each fundraising activity by a CSO though an application procedure in which the CSO is requested to provide a set of comprehensive information (e.g. amount of money to be raised, how it will be used, the timeframe of the activity, and where it will be conducted). The decision to evaluate the application and approval or disapproval lies with the local state authority.

There is a general lack of strategy and coordination among ministries, which also applies to public funding. There is no regular and continuous public funding mechanism that supports the institutional infrastructure and activities of CSOs. There is also a lack of data of the total amount of annual public funding: the total budgets, modality and forms of funding for CSOs are determined at the discretion of Ministries and they are not predictable since the total budget may vary from year to year. A standardized approach, Code of Conduct or legislation with respect to public funding mechanisms to support the capacities and activities of CSOs is still missing.

Economic activities of CSOs are permitted, only if they set up a separate economic entity under their legal entity. The commercial enterprises of associations and foundations are treated as business corporations and the Corporate Tax is levied upon profits of CSOs. This brings a heavy burden on CSOs that undertake economic activities to create social benefit.

Barriers to Assembly

In addition to the 1982 Turkish Constitution, the primary legislation that regulates the freedom of assembly is Law No. 2911 Law on Meetings and Demonstrations, which was adopted on October 6, 1983. Secondary legislation that regulates the implementation of Law No. 2911 includes The Regulation on the Implementation of Law on Meetings and Demonstrations,which was adopted on August, 8, 1985; Law No. 2559 on the Duties and Discretion of the Police; Law No. 3713 on The Prevention of Terrorism Acts; and Law No. 5326 on Misdemeanors.

Article 34 of the Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to organize an assembly and demonstration without having to obtain any prior authorization. However, the Law on Demonstrations and Meetings no. 2911 brings significant limitations to right to peaceful assembly and vague grounds for limitations and is not in coherence with international standards. In accordance with Article 34 of the Constitution, rights to assembly and demonstrations may be restricted with a wide range of reasons such as “preservation of national security”, “public order” and “prevention of crime”, protection of “public moral” and “public health”. Although these restrictive measures are in line with the 11th Clause of the European Convention on Human Rights, since the legal framework does not define these concepts, at times, they continue to be interpreted narrowly, restrictively and in an arbitrary fashion. Furthermore, the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations no. 2911 further restricts the freedom of assembly. According to Article 10 of Law, all members of the organizing committee must sign a declaration 48 hour prior to the assembly and submit it to the district Governor’s office during working hours. If not, the administration conceives it as an “illegal” assembly and has the right to take all measures to disperse/dissolve it by means which might also include police intervention

The Law Amending the Law on Powers and Duties of the Police, Other Laws and Decrees", which was passed in Parliament in March 2015 and is widely referred to as the "Internal Security Reform Package", strengthened the powers of the police during demonstrations by extending the police's authority to detain anyone without consulting the prosecutor's office. In addition, protestors who cover their faces fully or partially during demonstrations can face a five-year prison sentence.

After the failed coup attempt, under the State of Emergency, the freedom of peaceful assembly has become severely restricted in Turkey, particularly when exercised by anti-government groups. During the state of emergency, the administration has rights to restrict use of rights to assembly. According to Articles 9 and 11 of State of Emergency Law no. 2935, measures can be taken during the State of Emergency “to prohibit, postpone or impose permission obligation for assemblies and demonstrations in closed and open areas, as well as to determine, publicize, supervise and disperse areas of assemblies and demonstrations”.

There were instances of excessive use of force by the police, including beating, during peaceful demonstrations in 2016- 2017. There were also instances when authorities outlawed any kind of assemblies or gatherings due to possible risk of terrorist attacks. Various cases of restrictions and limitations are reported under the State of Emergency both country-wide and in specific provinces based on decisions taken by governor's offices. Sases such as LGBT Pride Parade, Feminist March, press statements by CSOs are examples. Such restrictions are not limited to marches and demonstrations, but rather are affecting activities of rights-based CSOs. As a recent example, starting from November 18, 2017, the governor’s office of Ankara has banned the public showing of all films, exhibitions and events related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, citing “public sensitivities.”

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Not available
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Turkey
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Not available
U.S. State Department 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Turkey
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, 2009: Turkey
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports Turkey and the IMF
Human Rights Watch World Report 2015 (Turkey)
Amnesty International Report 2015/2016
TUSEV Civil Society Monitoring Report 2012

Active Participation in Civil Society: International Standards, Obstacles in National Legislation and Proposals
Monitoring Matrix on Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development: Turkey

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Turkey
State of Emergency The Expert Council on NGO Law: “Opinion on The Impact of The State of Emergency on Freedom of Association in Turkey”

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Ban on access to website violates freedom of expression: Constitutional Court (December 2017)
Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled to reverse a local court’s decision to ban access to a news website, which had posted a story criticizing the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK), on the grounds that “the ban is a violation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

Turkey worst in world for jailed journalists for second year (December 2017)
Turkey was ranked as the country where the most journalists are imprisoned in the world for a second consecutive year, followed by China and Egypt, according to the latest annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Court arrests Turkish activist Osman Kavala over failed coup attempt (November 2017)
An Istanbul court has ruled for the arrest of a Turkish businessman and activist over alleged links to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and the December 2013 corruption probes targeting senior government figures.

Turkish LGBTI activists condemn 'illegal' ban on events in Ankara (November 2017)
The Ankara governor’s office said on Sunday night (19 November 2017) it was imposing a ban on all LGBTI cultural events until further notice, citing threats to “public order” and the fear of “provoking reactions within certain segments of society,” days after it banned a festival on German-language gay films in the capital city. 

EU cuts Turkey funding after 'democratic deterioration (November 2017)
The European Union will cut funds allocated to Turkey due to the "deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights" there, according to a European Parliament (EP) statement. 

'Massive anxiety' as Turkey cracks down on international NGOs (October 2017)
A series of detentions and the expulsion of Mercy Corps earlier this year have rattled the aid community in Turkey. At the same time, mounting bureaucratic obstacles are threatening NGOs' ability to operate: the Turkish government has allowed permits to lapse, leaving organizations in legal limbo and employees at risk of deportation. With little official indication as to what's behind the crackdown, aid organizations are unsure how to adapt. Many have taken to lobbying the Turkish government while drawing up contingency plans. Several NGOs with expired permits have taken a wait-and-see approach, hoping the issue is one of an overwhelmed bureaucracy. A handful have made the risky decision to continue their work without legal permission.

Arrest of rights activists 'chills' Turkey’s civil society (July 2017)
On July 5, police raided a hotel on an island off the Istanbul coast where leading rights groups had gathered for a training seminar. Ten people, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, were detained in a terrorism probe.

Turkey arrests two opposition journalists over alleged coup links (May 2017)
Turkish authorities have formally arrested two journalists from the opposition Sozcu newspaper, accusing them of supporting Fethullah Gulen. Officials recently arrested a Cumhuriyet editor on terrorism charges. After the initial detention, the pro-government daily Sabah reported that the two journalists had been wanted in connection with an online article published on the same day as the attempted coup, saying it could have facilitated "a real attack on the president." The arrests are part of Erdogan's clampdown on Turkey's independent media and civil society. Since last year's coup attempt, authorities have detained thousands of journalists, rights activists, lawyers, teachers and writers, accusing them of being involved in anti-state activities.

Turkey Blocks Wikipedia (May 2017)
Following last year's failed coup, Turkey's strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has expanded his crackdown on civil liberties, consolidating his power by restricting speech, jailing accused dissidents, and creating a culture of fear in a country that once hoped to join the European Union. This weekend, Erdoğan deepened his assault on civil society by blocking access to Wikipedia, purging almost 4,000 civil servants, and closing down 45 civil society groups and health clinics, The New York Times reported, bringing the total number of people who have been purged to about 140,000 and the number of groups that have been banned to 1,500.

As Turkey's Democracy Takes a Hit, Civil Society Must Take Center Stage (April 2017)
President Erdoğan of Turkey has spent his career building up to the powerful position he now holds, and this week's vote has concentrated his power even more than was previously possible. Turks voted to reform their constitution in favor of "stability," removing many of the checks on executive power.

State of emergency review body paves way for justice (January 2017)
A new Turkish commission to review sanctions under the state of emergency will give new judicial avenues for appeals, said the nation’s prime minister. Speaking at the opening of a new judicial database in the capital Ankara, Binali Yildirim spoke on the State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission set up by decree, which will consider all appeals of dismissals, suspensions, and closures under the decree laws in the period since the July 2016 failed coup.

Turkish PM cools down demands to reinstate death penalty (August 2016)
“The death penalty is a one-time death, but there are deaths worse than death for the coup plotters. That is an objective and fair judgement,” Yıldırım said in a parliamentary group meeting of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on August 16, adding that they would not act with the feeling of revenge.

Turkey arrests novelist Aslı Erdoğan over ‘terror’ charges (August 2016)
A Turkish court arrested prize-winning novelist Aslı Erdoğan on Aug. 19 over alleged links to the outlawed PKK, three days after she and two dozen more staff from the Özgür Gündem newspaper were detained. 

Tayyip Erdogan hints at return of death penalty in Turkey (August 2016)
If the Turkish public want the death penalty following last month's failed coup then political parties will follow their will, President Erdogan said at a rally in Istanbul.

Turkey shuts down telecommunication body amid post-coup attempt measures (August 2016)
Turkey has shut down its Department of Telecommunications and Communication (TİB) as a part of new state of emergency decrees published in the Official Gazette on Aug. 17.
The decree hands all authority held by the TİB to the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK).

Europe and US urge Turkey to respect rule of law after failed coup (July 2016)
European politicians and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, have called onTurkey to respect the rule of law amid a purge of state institutions in the aftermath of this weekend’s botched coup.

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 42 journalists after failed coup (July 2016)
Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists, state-run news agency Anadolu reported Monday, as a purge on the country's democratic institutions following a failed military coup intensifies.

In latest escalation, 102 media outlets closed by decree (July 2016)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is dismayed to learn that the Turkish authorities closed 102 media outlets yesterday. The closure and expropriation of 45 newspapers, 16 TV channels, 23 radio stations, three news agencies and 15 magazines were ordered yesterday evening in the second decree-law issued under the state of emergency. Twenty-nine publishing houses were also closed.

Turkey's Erdogan shuts schools, charities in first state of emergency decree (July 2016)
The first decree signed by Erdogan authorizes the closure of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions over suspected links to the Gulen movement, the Anadolu agency said.

Turkey dismisses military, shuts media outlets in crackdown (July 2016)
Turkey ordered another 47 journalists detained on Wednesday, singling out columnists and other staff of the now defunct Zaman newspaper, the government official said. Authorities in March shut down Zaman, widely seen as the Gulen movement's flagship media organization.

President Erdogan texts 68 million people in fresh call for protests(July 2016)
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged all Turks to stay on the streets as he continues to purge state institutions following last week’s attempted coup. Mr Erdogan issued an appeal via text message to 68 million people urging them to not “give up on the resistance for your country, land and flag.

Turkey coup attempt: State of emergency announced(July 2016)
Turkey's president has declared a state of emergency for three months following Friday night's failed army coup. The emergency allows the president and cabinet to bypass parliament when drafting new laws and to restrict or suspend rights and freedoms.

Turkey to temporarily suspend European Convention on Human Rights after coup attempt(July 2016)
Turkey will temporarily suspend the implementation of its obligations emanating from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), in line with the declaration of a state of emergency, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has said, while vowing that fundamental rights and freedoms will not be affected during this period. 

Turkey: Istanbul gay pride march banned over 'security' concern (June 2016)
An annual gay pride march in Istanbul planned for later this month will not be allowed to take place, the Turkish city's authorities have said.A statement cited "safeguarding security and public order" as the reason for calling off the event.

Turkey jails Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul (May 2016)
Erdem Gul received five years and Can Dundar five years and 10 months. Mr Dundar and Mr Gul, editor and Ankara bureau chief of opposition daily Cumhuriyet, had reported that Turkey had tried to ship arms to rebels fighting the Syrian government. Shortly before the verdict, a gunman attempted to kill Mr Dundar.

Turkish LGBT group releases annual monitoring report on hate crimes (May 2016
The Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (Kaos GL) has published an annual report monitoring human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, calling on the Turkish state to adopt anti-discriminatory measures to prevent hate crimes against LGBT individuals that remain largely unreported by media and security authorities. Noting that the findings of the report were based on crimes that were only reported in local media, Kaos GL announced that five hate murders, 32 hate attacks, two cyber-attacks and three suicide cases were reflected in the press in 2015. 

Erdoğan’s latest target is CSOs (April 2016) (Turkish)
President Erdoğan targetted CSOs that monitor and publish annual reports on on human rights violations during counter-terrorism operations in the country’s southeast since July 2015. In his speech adressing polices in the anniversary of foundation of the Police Institution, her urged that further precautions shoud be taken towards activities of CSOs in Turkey.

How Turkey uses terrorism to justify its crackdown on the press (March 2016)
The American media warned of Erdogan's growing authoritarianism, citing his attacks on critical journalists, academics and parliamentarians. Turkish media claimed that these domestic critics were terrorists engaged in a American-backed coup plot against Erdogan. The accusations are not unrelated. In recent years, the Turkish government has used widespread fears over coups and terrorism to justify ever more brazen efforts to silence legitimate opposition. To do so, it has widened the definition of both terms, to the point where government rhetoric increasingly depends on the threat of coups without soldiers and terrorists without guns.

Turkey Seizes Newspaper, Zaman, as Press Crackdown Continuing (March 2016)
Backed by a court order, the Turkish authorities moved on Friday to seize Zaman, the country’s most widely circulated newspaper, in the latest crackdown by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoganon freedom of the press.

Ruling AKP creating its own NGOs (March 2016)
In contrast to more liberal policies pursued by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in its initial years in power, the space for civil society in Turkey today is deteriorating rapidly, Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TÜSEV) head Tevfik Başak Ersen has told the Hürriyet Daily News.  AKP rule increasingly relies on “GONGOs,” or government-oriented NGOs, with groups close to the government supported but the rest excluded and seen increasingly as a threat, according to Ersen, whose TÜSEV issues regular reports on the state of civil society in Turkey.

Two journalists arrested for story on trucks bound for Syria (November 2015)
Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül were arrested on November 26, 2015 as part of an investigation into the newpaper's coverage of a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) truck scandal. They have been charged of being members of a terrorist organization, espionage and revealing confidential documents related to trucks of  MİT that were allegedly transferring arms to Syria. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) launched an international appeal for the release of Cumhuriyet journalist and all other journalists unjustly detained in Turkey.

Pro-Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci shot dead in Turkey (November 2015)
Diyarbakır Bar Association president and prominent human rights lawyer/ activist Tahir Elçi, who was shot dead in the crossfire of a gun battle between security forces and terrorists while giving press statement in Diyabakır on November 28. A criminal investigation had been opened against Elçi for saying in October on a TV show that the PKK was not a terrorist organisation.  It is not known whether that was a planned assassination or unfortunate coincidence. Later, in Istanbul, thousands of people marched at Taksim Square but they were driven back by riot police using water cannon and tear gas.

Turkey Dominates Global Twitter Censorship (October 2015)
In the first half of 2015, there were 1,003 requests from courts and government agencies to remove content from Twitter. Out of this, 72 percent came from the Turkish authorities. Twitter removal requests leads to tweets no longer being displayed in individual countries rather than being deleted altogether. In the United States, there only 25 requests in the first six months of the year. The number of content removal requests is soaring. In the second half of 2014, 13 percent of these requests were successful; between January and June, it was higher - 42 percent of requests were granted. (See also blocking of Kurdish websites).

Political parties suspend election rallies over Ankara bombing (October 2015)
There terrorist attacks not just traumatized people but also before snap elections political parties could not organize gatherings for their campaigning. As an example, pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) was forced to cancel election rallies following two deadly attacks on pro-Kurdish gatherings since July.

Journalists, legal experts decry Turkey's media blackout (October 2015)
Media blackouts on the information considered as sensitive, including reporting on the terrorist attacks in Ankara and Suruç, are new approaches towards blocking access to information.

Water cannon used to disperse Istanbul gay pride parade (June 2015)
In June 2015, the gay parade was interrupted by the police and police fired pepper sprey and used water cannons against marchers.  Organizers of the parade released a statement reporting that “The 13th Istanbul LGBTI Pride Parade has suddenly been banned by the governorate using the month of Ramadan as the reasoning without any announcement”. The government has not released an official statement addressing whether the parade had been banned.

Turkey Lifts Ban on Access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (March 2015)
Turkey unblocked access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after social media websites followed an Istanbul court's order to remove images of a slain prosecutor that were deemed to abet terrorism. Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. said they would appeal the court ruling even though they complied with it. The court's decision requires Google to follow suit or face suspension of its services in Turkey.

Turkey Passes Tough New Security Law (March 2015)
Turkey's parliament overwhelmingly passed a security law to broaden police powers and allow the use of firearms against demonstrators, deepening fears of crackdowns on dissent ahead of parliamentary elections. The legislation comes at a sensitive time, given difficult talks to end three decades of Kurdish insurgency. The Kurds say the security law could be used to target them.

Security Bill Undermines Rights (October 2014)
The Turkish government’s proposed expansion of police powers to search and detain and for the use of firearms would undermine human rights protections. A number of the proposals in a draft security bill would circumvent the role of prosecutors and judiciary in ways that directly undercut safeguards against the arbitrary abuse of powers. On December 2, 2014, Turkey's Parliament passed a separate law that also widened police and court powers. The new security bill, published on the parliamentary website on November 25, would stiffen penalties for people involved in some protests and allow provincial governors to instruct police to focus on particular crimes and perpetrators, seemingly usurping the role of prosecutors and judges. Its introduction followed violent protests in southeastern Turkey on October 6 and 7 that left up to 50 people dead.

Turkish Parliament to Consider New Protest Laws (October 2014)
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that the Turkish government will introduce a bill in parliament which would give law enforcement greater powers over protests. The introduction of the bill follows violent clashes between pro-Kurdish protesters and police that killed more than 35 people across Turkey. Prime Minister Davutoglu said one goal of the bill is to enable law enforcement to respond to "massive acts of violence" more rapidly and efficiently. Gunal Kursun, a professor of penal law at Cukurova University, expressed concern over Turkey's increasing security restrictions. Unlike in established democracies, where rule of law and transparency are well grounded, "the rule of law has lost much of its meaning in Turkey; [Turkey] is turning more and more into a police state."

Withdrawal of the Bill on the Right to Collect Aid by the Cabinet (September 2014 (Turkish)
The draft law on the right of the cabinet to collect aid without permission that was granted to the Istanbul based association named “Kimse Yok mu?” has been withdrawn without any justification and notice by a decision of the cabinet on September 22, 2014.

Circular Issued after the Mining Incident (July 2014) (Turkish)
A mining accident which caused the death of 301 workers occurred in Soma, which is a small district on the western cost of Turkey. Right after the accident, the Prime Minister’s Office published a circular claiming that all aid collected by individuals or CSOs must be sent to a singular state body named AFAD (Directorate for Disaster and Emergency Management), which is accredited as the only institution to collect aid for the recovery efforts related to the accident. Such an arbitrary limitation on collection and utilization of aid by civil society can be articulated as an example that demonstrates the problematic nature of the Law on Collection of Aid in Turkey.

Action Plan of Right to Peaceful Freedom of Assembly (June 2014)
On June 3, 2014, Turkey submitted an Action Plan on Communication from the Government of the Republic of Turkey concerning the Oya Ataman Group of Cases to the Council of Europe. The plan incorporates important information, statistics and foreseen actions of Turkey’s government on the right to peaceful freedom of assembly and ill-treatment on account of excessive use of force to disperse the demonstrations, including the ombudsman institution’s decision and advices on the 23 applications concerning Gezi Park events.

Turkish Parliament Approves Internet Crackdown (February 2014)
The Turkish parliament has easily passed a measure that will tighten government controls on the Internet. If it gets final approval, the proposal would require service providers to make users' browsing histories available to the government for up to two years at a time. The measure was passed by the legislature, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK party holds 319 of the 550 seats.

News Archive

Listen to, Don't Attack Protestors (June 2013)

Turkey spared from FATF Blacklist (February 2013)

Article on Turkey's Expanding Role in Development Aid (February 2013)

Reconsider appointment to key rights body (December 2012)

Police fire tear gas at Republic Day protesters (October 2012)

Journalists targeted by smear campaign (September 2012)

Government cracks down on trade union activists (July 2012)

Confirmed pre-trial detention of defender Osman Isci and 27 trade union members: Joint press release (July 2012)

NGO report slams Turkish government (May 2012)

Turkish civil society "far behind" Europe and weak in the country's eastern region (March 2012)

European Union critical of human rights in Turkey (October 2011) 

Clinton urges Turkey to uphold rights, press freedom (July 2011)

Turkey’s civil society organizations increase by 44 percent in 10 years (June 2011)

Activists prosecuted for criticising the judges (February 2011)

Human Rights Watch slams journalists' arrests in Turkey (March 2010) 

EU raises concern about press freedom, politics in Turkey (November 2010)

FIDH supports joint declaration of its member organizations in Turkey and Armenia (April 2010)

Turkey: Summary of Amnesty International’s Concerns in Turkey, July to December 2009 (March 2010) 

Amnesty International criticizes judicial harassment of LGBT association (January 2010)

Turkey Critized for Closing Pro-Kurdish Political Party (December 2009)

NGOs unite to demand say in human rights bill (November 2009)

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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner in Turkey, TUSEV.