UN slams post-coup rights abuses in Turkey against 'hundreds of thousands' detainees

UN slams post-coup rights abuses in Turkey against 'hundreds of thousands' detainees
Nearly 160,000 people have been arrested during an 18-month state of emergency in Turkey, following an attempted military coup in 2016.
3 min read
20 March, 2018
Nearly 160,000 people have been arrested in Turkey following an attempted 2016 coup. [Getty]

The protracted state of emergency imposed in Turkey since a July 2016 coup attempt has caused serious human rights abuses against "hundreds of thousands of people", the UN warned Tuesday.

A state of emergency was implemented following the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has been repeatedly extended since then.

But this has led to dramatic consequences, the UN rights office said in a report published on Tuesday, including killings, torture and arbitrary detention.

"Routine extensions of the state of emergency in Turkey have led to profound human rights violations against hundreds of thousands of people," it said.

The UN warned that the use of emergency powers appeared to be meant "to stifle any form of criticism or dissent vis-a-vis the government".

The report, which covers all of 2017, cautioned that the extraordinary powers handed to the authorities following the failed coup attempt had caused "a continued erosion of the rule of law and deterioration of the human rights situation".

UN rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein added to the criticism and described the findings as "alarming" and "outrageous".

"The numbers are just staggering: nearly 160,000 people arrested during an 18-month state of emergency," he said in a statement.

Al-Hussein also pointed to the "152,000 civil servants dismissed, many totally arbitrarily, teachers, judges and lawyers dismissed or prosecuted, journalists arrested, media outlets shut down and websites blocked.

"Clearly the successive states of emergency declared in Turkey have been used to severely and arbitrarily curtail the human rights of a very large number of people," he said.

Turkey slammed the UN report as "biased" and "unacceptable".

"(The report) - which contains distorted, biased and false information - is unacceptable for Turkey," the Turkish foreign ministry said in response to the report.


Among those arrested, some 300 journalists have been detained on the grounds that their publications contained "apologist sentiments regarding terrorism" or similar offences.

Over 100,000 websites were reportedly blocked in Turkey last year, including pro-Kurdish websites and satellite television channels.

The UN report also documented the widespread use of torture and mistreatment in custody, including beatings, sexual assault, electric shocks and waterboarding.

"One of the most alarming findings of the report is how Turkish authorities reportedly detained some 100 women who were pregnant or had just given birth, mostly on the grounds that they were 'associates' of their husbands, who are suspected of being connected to terrorist organisations," al-Hussein added.

"Some were detained with their children and others violently separated from them. This is simply outrageous, utterly cruel and surely cannot have anything whatsoever to do with making the country safer," he said.

The report cited the April 2017 referendum that extended Erdogan's executive powers as "seriously problematic", pointing out that this had led to an interference with the work of the judiciary and curtailment of parliamentary oversight over the executive branch.

The rights office also pointed out that 22 emergency decrees were promulgated by the end of 2017, with two more since then, often "regulating matters unrelated to the state of emergency and used to limit various legitimate activities by civil society actors".

This, the report cautioned, fosters "impunity", by handing immunity to authorities acting within the framework of the decrees. 

The report urged Turkey to "promptly end the state of emergency and restore the normal functioning of institutions and the rule of law".