Human Rights Violations in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia Regions in 2020


Dear Members of the Press,

We are here to release the report on “Human Rights Violations in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia Regions in 2020”

Turkey spent 2020 struggling with COVID-19 pandemic as did all other parts of the world. Just as a great many violations arose from pandemic, there was a systematic increase in severe human rights violations arising from authoritarian and centralist policies implemented by the government. In our region, the government's authoritarian and security-based approach to the Kurdish issue manifested itself as a determining factor in the increase in violations. As a result of the insistence on policies and solution methods based on violence and conflict that had been tried for a long time but have not yielded results, today we are faced with a violation figure that deeply affects the social life in our region. Due to military operations carried out in private security zones and rural settlements under curfews, citizens cannot lead their routine life or perform basic economic activities such as livestock and agriculture, and also they suffer from unjust treatment. Citizens are subjected to torture, ill-treatment and unjust detention in raids conducted by security forces. Furthermore, financial losses occurred due to wildfires caused by the operations in rural areas, forest areas, and agricultural lands. Difficulties and violations continue to exist in the process of receiving the corpses of the armed militants who lost their lives in the ongoing armed conflict and of delivering them to their families.

In this period, in which human rights violations escalated with the effect of the conflict environment, a serious damage occurred in the understanding of law and the sense of justice. A lot of violations occurred in many different and categorical issues such as torture and ill-treatment, violations in prisons, prohibitions and interventions on the right to assembly and demonstration, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press, violence against women and children, and economic and social rights. In the environment where people believed Turkish judicial organs lost their impartiality due to being influenced by the political discourse, the number of unlawful detentions and arrests increased. Detentions and arrests against Kurdish politicians, women and all opposition groups, who stand against and criticize the policies and practices of the government, are based on heavy charges such as "membership of an illegal organization" "knowingly and willingly aiding an illegal organization" "making propaganda for an illegal organization,” and we would like to point out that the detentions are a clear violation of personal security and freedom and freedom of association. The authoritarian policies of the government manifested themselves with the appointments of rectors and interventions to universities. The appointment of the new rector of Bogaziçi University in a way lacking scientific and academic autonomy and the harsh interventions, detentions and arrests, torture and ill-treatment against university students and other groups who reacted against this appointment sparked reaction among human rights defenders and world public.

All around Eastern and South-eastern Anatolia Regions, a lot of violations occurred in many different and categorical issues such as torture and ill-treatment, violations in prisons, prohibitions and interventions on the right to assembly and demonstration, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press, violence against women and children, and economic and social rights. The following are some examples of violence we experienced in 2020:

In the armed conflicts that took place in 2020, 43 law enforcement officers lost their lives and 30 law enforcement officers were injured in our region. While 218 militants of the armed organisation lost their lives, 1 civilian caught in crossfire during a military operation was killed. During the attacks against law enforcement units, 15 civilians lost their lives. In 2020, when the pandemic started and its fatal effect increased to a high level, the violation of the right to freedom and security, the interventions against the right to assembly and demonstration, torture and ill-treatment, violations of the right to access health services did not falter. Inhumane treatment, including sexual assault, was committed in detention and outside of detention places, and human dignity was disregarded. At least 109 citizens were subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention units, house raids, streets and prisons. It will be seen in our report that violations in prisons increased significantly. Violations on many issues, especially banishment and torture, increased as a result of administrative practices. In 2020, at least 496 political prisoners in the region were transferred to remote prisons, either without any justification or due to their political stance. Also, 54 political prisoners were subjected to torture and ill-treatment by the prison administration inside prison facilities or transport vehicles. Prisoners' health and communication rights were violated, and they were subjected to solitary confinement as non-judicial (disciplinary) punishment In addition, right to health were still being violated. According to the HRA’s 2020 List of Sick and Heavily Sick Prisoners, There are 1605 sick prisoners in Turkish prisons, 604 of whom are severely ill.

Unfortunately, the pressures on freedom of expression and association continue with prohibitions and restrictions. Although defined as a form of right to remedies in the Constitution’s Article 34, the outdoor assemblies and demonstrations were prohibited or restricted by governors unlawfully and arbitrarily. In 2020, 19 peaceful open air meetings were stopped by police interventions and many protesters were injured. Provincial and/or district governors issued 72 province-wide prohibitions against open air meetings/demonstrations. Also the sit-in protest named ‘Find the Missing, Judge the Perpetrators’ carried out weekly by the families of the disappeared persons, held in Diyarbakir Kosuyolu Park at the Right to Life Monument, was banned by The Governorship of Diyarbakır on 1st of September 2018. We would like to remind you that all democratic protest events, which are considered as part of the right to assembly and demonstration, have continuously been banned in Van Province for more than 4 years.

As is known, since March 2020, with the Covid-19 outbreak, there has been a period in which violence against women in the family has escalated. As a result of the increase in the duration of stay at home and the release of some male prisoners convicted of domestic violence as a result of the amendments made in the Execution Law in this process, the rate of women being exposed to violence has also increased. While it is necessary to focus on increasing femicides, it is not an acceptable situation that the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, which, in some way, guarantees protection of women against violence, is open to discussion. The Istanbul Convention is an international convention ensuring that a state party must implement gender equality both in their laws and in social life in order to end violence, and the state's duty is to effectively implement the articles of the agreement.

Children, among the groups that exposed to violation to the highest degree, were subjected to domestic and non-domestic violence and sexual abuse. In 2020 as a result of violence, 4 children were murdered, 4 committed suicide, and 219 children were sexually abused.

Violations of freedom of thought, expression and association continued in 2020. Investigations and lawsuits were launched against 302 people, including university students and politicians, for political reasons, and 230 people were imposed to various penalties. In terms of violations of economic and social rights, 18 workers were killed in industrial accidents, 2 workers were injured and 418 people were unfairly discharged from work. While 46 public officers were removed from office, 42 public officers were dismissed.

When the Covid-19 virus was widespread and people were afraid to even leave their homes, the government continued their unlawful and arbitrary actions based on security policies. Homes were raided by law enforcement officers accompanied by dogs in the middle of the night or early in the morning, Detentions and arrests were conducted ignoring the safety and hygiene rules.

The present government continued to use mostly the judicial authorities to put pressure on opposition groups, especially Kurdish politicians, and in order to actualise their authoritarian system. ECHR Grand Chamber, with their decision on 22 December 2020 (, Selahattin Demirtas vs. Turkey), stated that there had been a violation of freedom expression and right to liberty and security, and also included significant findings in their verdict related to Turkish judicial system and Criminal Code. The ECHR determined that Demirtaş and HDP became the target of Erdogan and the government after HDP’s success in the Solution Process (aka PKK-Turkey Peace Talks) and the June 2015 elections, and stated that the reasons put forward by the authorities regarding the applicant's detention borne a concealed political purpose. The ECHR stated, "The Court concludes that the purpose of keeping the applicant arrested during 16.04.2017 constitutional amendments referendum and 24.06.2018 presidential elections campaign is to strangle the pluralism and to limit the free political platform," and decided that  Turkey violated the article 18 of the Convention saying “The restrictions permitted under this Convention to the said rights and freedoms shall not be applied for any purpose other than those for which they have been prescribed.”  Currently, the deprivation of liberty of detained municipal co-mayors and former MPs by arbitrary and unfair judicial decisions is against international conventions. Turkey is a party to the ECHR and it should be noted that Turkey adopted ECHR as a supreme judicial body in accordance with Article 90 of the Constitution. We would like to emphasize once again that, according to Article 46 of the ECHR, state parties to the Convention have to comply with the EHR decisions.

Dear Members of the Press,

The authoritarian administrative system and the dependent judicial crisis cause serious increases in the number of prisoners. Treating Turkey’s socio-economic problems and matters related to fundamental rights and freedoms, but mainly Kurdish Issue, from a security-oriented point of view have worsened the problems, let alone finding any solutions. For this reason, it is not possible to reach a permanent solution to the problems experienced in prisons unless a fair, equal and holistic policy based on fundamental rights and freedoms is developed

The increase in torture, isolation and other rights violations in prisons also reveals this situation clearly so much so that even prisoners in the same category and subject to the same legal regulation in terms of the execution system are treated arbitrarily with different practices. Hunger strikes launched by prisoners due to these arbitrary and illegal practices have once again come to the fore. We know from our previous experiences that this action carries serious risks, especially of the right to life.

Commenced on November 27, 2020 within Turkish prisons, the indefinite hunger strikes have lasted for 77 days as of 11.02.2021. The hunger strikers demand the government to end the violations in prisons, to improve the aggravated penal system and to end the long-term isolation practices on Imrali Prison (t/n: Abdullah Ocalan), allowing family and lawyer visits.

Practices and violations against universal and humanitarian law continue in Imralı High Security Prison. The system of disenfranchisement for Abdullah Ocalan and the prisoners in the same prison was maintained non-stop, with the exception of a family visit held in March 2020 and a phone call since the pandemic broke out. We would like to draw attention to the connection between the continuation of this isolation system, which we describe as a serious violation of rights, and the deep and irreparable armed conflict. One of the main actors in the non-conflict process in which the method of dialogue and negotiation was used in the solution of the Kurdish Issue, Ocalan must be provided with necessary conditions to fulfill this mission. The long-standing aggravated isolation should be ended immediately.

Dear Members of the Press,

As human rights defenders, who are constantly being oppressed and intimidated by the practices of detention and arrest, continuous investigation and prosecution threats, legal regulations made for prohibiting our activities, we would like to state once again that we continue and will continue our struggle for rights despite all the pressure. HRA has always defended and will continue to defend the right to peace. Violations in our lives are the result of wrong government policies. That is why we human rights defenders believe that violations in our lives are preventable. We demand all related parties to abandon policies leading to human rights violations. We hope that the armed conflict will end as soon as possible and that a permanent non-conflict state will be re-negotiated by means of a democratic solution process.