A deputy chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has called on the Turkish government to recognise the right to conscientious objection, or the refusal to perform military service by reason of one’s opinions or beliefs.
Releasing a statement on the occasion of 15 May International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, Ümit Dede said that the Turkish administration has always been insistent on denying the right to conscientious objection, choosing instead to intimidate people with threats of legal action to keep them in line.
“We call for an end to all pressures on conscientious objectors, for the right to conscientious objection to be recognised, and for the compensation of conscientious objectors who have previously been subjected to violations of their human rights for having exercised this right,” he said.
“While the right to conscientious objection, seeking a non-violent life without a command and order hierarchy in which people are not killed, has been recognised in almost all European countries, it has been consistently denied in Turkey. This meaningless insistence is better understood when one looks at the policies of war acted out by the Turkish administration both at home and abroad, and the lawless practices of the police. The right of conscientious objection is of great significance particularly in these days when the government blows the trumpets of war in a last resort to retain power.”
Dede added that the HDP would continue to act in solidarity with conscientious objectors in their political and legal struggle against the violence and pressures placed upon them.
Turkey and Azerbaijan are the only countries in the Council of Europe that refuse to recognise the right to conscientious objection.
Court cases in Turkey involving conscientious objectors include the following:
In 2005 the conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan was sentenced to four years in prison. Journalist and author Perihan Mağden was tried for supporting Tarhan and for advocating for the right to conscientious objection. She was acquitted.
In 2006 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey had violated article 3 (on the prohibition of degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke.
In 2009 İnan Süver, who deserted after he had served 13 months in the army, declared himself a conscientious objector in a letter to the military. He was arrested in August 2010. The same year Amnesty International and War Resisters International made calls for Süver’s release, and Bono of the Irish rock band U2 called on the then Prime Minister Erdoğan to look into Süver’s treatment. Süver was granted conditional release in December 2011.
According to a 2021 report, 409 individuals declared themselves to be conscientious objectors in Turkey between 1989 and 2021.