During the final stage of Turkey’s UPR on Tuesday, at the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists International and the Turkish Association of Atheism criticized Turkey over its failure to acknowledge its poor record on protecting freedom of expression, association, and the rights of women and minorities, including LGBTI+ individuals and religious minorities.
Turkey’s ongoing crisis of freedom of expression
Turkey is currently experiencing a crisis of freedom of expression. Its crackdown on journalists, human rights defenders, academics and civil society in the wake of the 2016 attempted coup has only intensified with the passing of time.
At the heart of many politically charged prosecutions in Turkey lies a repressive anti-terrorism law and provisions in its Penal Code against “insulting” public authorities. Its systematic attempts to dismantle the independent judiciary have meant that many activists have been imprisoned without undergoing a fair trial.
During the review, Turkey chose not to accept a number of recommendations from States calling on it to amend its counter-terrorism legislation. It claims that the law “is already in line with international standards” and that “regardless of their profession or status, no one [in Turkey] is arbitrarily arrested.” It also suggested, against all evidence, that the “expression of thoughts amounting only to criticism” in Turkey is not a criminal offence.
In their joint statement, Humanists International and the Turkish Association of Atheism made a plea to Turkey to reconsider its rejection of recommendations regarding the reform of its counter-terrorism law and Penal Code. They urged it to set up an independent body to monitor violations of the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and association.
Turkey’s failure to protect women, LGBTI+ individuals, and religious minorities
In its statement to the Council, Turkey congratulated itself for having been the first State to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence without reservations. However, as mentioned in the joint statement, it notably failed to mention that it is currently considering withdrawing from that same Treaty. Nor did it acknowledge the rising number of femicides and domestic violence cases under the country’s authoritarian Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
Whilst discrimination against LGBTI+ individuals was not addressed comprehensively during the review, Humanists International and the Turkish Association of Atheism’s statement drew attention to anti-LGBTI+ comments from high level officials and religious leaders in Turkey – including President Erdoğan’s referral of LGBTI+ people as “perverts.”
During its review, Turkey also stated that “religious minorities enjoy their rights without any discrimination in line with national and international law”. The facts on the ground tell a very different story. Turkey’s criminalization of blasphemy and President Erdoğan’s push to convert buildings – including historic churches and hospitals – into mosques and Islamic education centres in order to appeal to his conservative support base are blatant examples of religious privilege.
In light of this, Humanists International and the Turkish Association of Atheism strongly criticized Turkey’s assertion that it had achieved “progress” in recent years towards protecting the rights of women and other minorities.
Read the full statement here.