President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian government regularly targeted critics and opponents, exerting strong control over the media and judiciary ahead of the 2023 elections, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual report.
The US-based human rights watchdog published its annual World Report on Thursday, focusing on the economic crisis, pressure on media and dissidents, armed conflicts, and mistreatment of prisoners in its section on Turkey.
HRW also pointed to the imprisonment of Turkish Medical Association (TTB) chair Şebnem Korur Fincancı, who was released on Wednesday, human rights defender Osman Kavala, who remains behind bars after five years, and Taner Kılıç, the former chair of Amnesty International Turkey who was arrested a few months before Kavala.
“The case centered on the baseless charge that Kavala organized the lawful and overwhelmingly peaceful 2013 Istanbul Gezi Park protests that spread across Turkey,” HRW said on the trial of 16 leading civil society figures.
The report also widely covered the Kurdish conflict, citing the closure case of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and military operations against Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey and its local Syrian proxies continue to abuse civilians’ rights and restrict their freedoms with impunity, the HRW said.
Meanwhile Turkey’s media remains under control of companies with close ties with the government, which is “reflected in their news content”, it said. Turkey recently passed a law criminalising disinformation, without strictly defining what constitutes such content. The new law “tightens control over social media companies … and gives authorities further powers to censor independent journalism and restrict the right to information”.
“Independent media in Turkey operate mainly via online platforms, with authorities regularly ordering removal of critical content and prosecuting journalists, most severely under Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law,” HRW said, adding that there were at least 65 journalists and media workers in prisons. A significant portion of these journalists work in Kurdish media.