Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2008 Reports on Human Rights Practices. .
2008 Human Rights Report: Armenia
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, February 25, 2009
Armenia is a constitutional republic with a population of approximately 3.2 million. The constitution provides for an elected president and a unicameral legislature (the National Assembly). The country has a multiparty political system. On February 19, the country held a presidential election that was significantly flawed; problems included favorable treatment of the government's candidate, instances of ballot stuffing, vote buying, multiple voting, voter intimidation, violence against election commission members and party proxies, and misuse of public resources for electoral ends. On March 1-2, authorities used force to disperse large crowds of demonstrators protesting the conduct and results of the election; clashes between protesters and security forces resulted in the deaths of 10 persons. Authorities imposed a 20-day state of emergency following the violence. On April 9, Serzh Sargsian of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) was sworn in as president, replacing Robert Kocharian. Upon taking office, President Sargsian appointed Tigran Sargsian (no relation) prime minister. In the National Assembly, the RPA dominated a four-party majority coalition. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, although some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses with impunity while under the direction of civilian leadership.
The government's human rights record deteriorated significantly during the year, with authorities and their agents committing numerous human rights abuses, particularly in connection with the presidential elections and the government's suppression of demonstrations that followed. Authorities denied citizens the right to change their government freely and citizens were subject to arrest, detention, and imprisonment for their political activities. Authorities used force, at times lethal, to disperse political demonstrations. Authorities used harassment and intrusive application of bureaucratic measures to intimidate and retaliate against government opponents. Police beat pretrial detainees and failed to provide due process in some cases. The National Security Service (NSS) and the national police force acted with impunity for alleged human rights abuses. Authorities engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention.
Prison conditions remained cramped and unhealthy. Authorities imposed arbitrary restrictions on freedom of assembly and the press, particularly through harsh measures imposed during the state of emergency. Journalists continued to practice self-censorship. The government and laws restricted religious freedom. Violence against women and spousal abuse, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against persons with disabilities and homosexuals was also reported.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were reports alleging that the government and its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings during the year.
In the early morning of March 1, police forcefully cleared a public square in downtown Yerevan of several hundred encamped protesters who were disputing the conduct and results of the February presidential election. After this clearance action, approximately 15,000-20,000 protesters reconvened in another downtown location. Some protesters established barricades, which they reportedly were prepared to defend with improvised weapons. Security forces responded and, after several hours' standoff, cleared many demonstrators from the scene by firing into the air and setting off noise grenades. A number of protesters remained behind their barricades, however, and police equipped with riot gear engaged them directly. The resulting clashes persisted well into the predawn hours of March 2.
The clashes between protesters, looters, and security forces resulted in at least 10 deaths, including eight civilians and two police officers, and dozens of injured persons. By the end of the year, the circumstances of the 10 deaths remained unclear. According to official information, all of the deaths happened in skirmishes occurring a considerable distance from the scene of the primary confrontation. Some of these deaths may have occurred from purposeful arbitrary killing, misuse of crowd control equipment such as tear-gas cartridge guns or some combination of these factors. There were no credible criminal investigations into the actions of any police or security officers in connection with any of these deaths.
Authorities initially denied that security forces shot directly at protesters during the March 1 clashes, but video footage later surfaced which appeared to dispute this claim. In mid-December the government confirmed that at least one of its snipers was present during the March 1-2 events, while denying that any of the 10 deaths were attributed to the sniper. Government opponents and some human rights activists alleged that security forces killed protesters and staged lootings to impose the state of emergency late on March 1, giving authorities a legal pretext to stop the protests.
From May to July the president dismissed the chief and deputy chief of the national police, the chief of the State Protection Service, and the chief of the Police Troops (paramilitary riot police). It was unclear if the dismissals were related to their roles in the March 1 violence; none had been prosecuted to that effect by year's end. On June 16, the National Assembly established an ad hoc commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances of March 1-2. Opposition parties were invited to participate in this commission, but refused to do so, claiming they would have comprised an unacceptable minority among mostly governmental participants. On October 23, a presidential decree established a new fact-finding panel of experts with balanced opposition and governmental representation, and the opposition agreed to join this effort. Both the parliamentary commission and the fact-finding group continued to operate at year's end, and neither had issued public findings. A government human rights defender (ombudsman) issued a report on April 25, which called into question authorities' official version of events. On September 24, Alik Sargsian, the police chief appointed on May 29 to replace the police chief in charge at the time of the March events, contended that all police had acted appropriately during those events.
On December 17, the prosecutor general's office released information containing results of the forensic examination reports of the victims. According to this information, five of the victims died of gunshots, two persons were killed from the impact of tear gas cartridges, one person died from blood loss resulting from an explosion of a tear gas cartridge that hit his leg; one person died from injuries sustained by a unidentified blow to the head; and one person died from a grenade explosion. Official forensic evidence showed that the tear gas cartridges had been shot directly at the deceased, an improper use of the tear gas projectiles, which are designed to be fired indirectly or at the ground.
In a March 20 interview, the outgoing president, Robert Kocharian, stated that some of the deaths were caused because of the use of expired "special means" (apparently in reference to police paramilitary equipment) by security services, implying that some of the deaths were accidental. In a report released March 20 on his March 12-15 special mission to the country, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's (COE) commissioner for human rights, quoted the prosecutor general as saying that fragments of tear gas cartridges had penetrated the bodies of some of the victims, suggesting that tear gas ordnance was fired at close range. Local observers also expressed doubt in response to Kocharian's statement.
The incoming president, Serzh Sargsian, justified the use of force in an interview after the March 1 clashes, stating that only looters and those who used arms against security forces were targeted. This claim was contradicted by accounts provided by families of three of the victims, who claimed they were simply passersby uninvolved in the protests.
In an August 27 interview, the father of Samvel Harutiunian, one of the eight civilian victims of March 1 (who died of his wounds on April 11), claimed that his son was arrested, severely beaten, and died due to police brutality. He claimed that he and his wife had seen footage of their son on television on March 2 and 3 that suggested he was being subject to inhuman treatment during his detention. The victim's family also claimed to have discovered traces from either the use of handcuffs or ropes on Harutiunian's feet and wrists, which led them to believe that he had been arrested and subjected to inhuman treatment before his hospitalization.
The government reported that during the first 11 months of the year, there were 69 deaths registered in the army of which 25 deaths were due to illness, 14 due to car accidents, two due to mishandling of weapons, one due to "violation of the rules of regulations of behavior between military personnel" eight due to accidents, two due to mine explosions, nine killings (including three possibly by enemy forces), and eight suicides. The reports claimed two of the killings and two of the suicides were judged as resulting from violence and military-related hazing.
In June, families of soldiers who died during military service from 2005-08 issued a joint statement accusing authorities of systematically conducting false investigations into the deaths of their sons and destroying or tampering with evidence in order to disguise homicides as accidents, suicides, or the results of sniper attacks.
According to the Helsinki Association, a local human rights non-governmental organization (NGO), on May 10, the body of Narek Galstian, a soldier serving in a military unit near the city of Meghri, was discovered in a gasoline tank. According to authorities, Galstian had tried to steal gas and fallen in, after which the cover closed and he was overcome by fumes. However, according to the family, the cover could only be closed from the outside; in addition, they stated they had discovered numerous injuries on their son's body, suggesting he was severely beaten and perhaps killed. According to various reports, there was a serious scuffle in the unit the night of Galstian's death, and shouts were heard from the site where the tank was located.
According to the Helsinki Association, soldier Gegham Sergoyan was shot in the head in April 2007 by Lieutenant Henrikh Grigorian, and died shortly thereafter. Grigorian reportedly shot Sergoyan after seeing him without shoes and his uniform hat. Sergoyan's family alleged that authorities obstructed its efforts to be involved in the investigation, as provided by law. Sergoyan's family stated that authorities were trying to mitigate Grigorian's guilt, positing that Grigorian suffered from mental illness or was provoked into shooting their son. According to official information, Grigorian was charged with murder due to hooliganism, and with abuse of power. At year's end Grigorian had not been convicted, and court proceedings were reportedly in progress.
During the year a report surfaced about the death of Eduard Mirzoyan. According to authorities, Igor Atanian, the commander of Mirzoyan's military unit, ordered his soldiers to carry out engineering work within range of Azerbaijani snipers in June 2007, during which Mirzoyan died from a sniper's bullet. Atanian was charged and convicted for abuse of official authority and sentenced to three years of suspended sentence in November 2007. According to Mirzoyan's family, however, the medical examiner's report stated that their son died from a small-caliber gun shot fired at close-range; they disputed Atanian's account and alleged that before he was killed, Mirzoyan had been beaten and tortured.
According to official information, in October 2007 military serviceman Victor Aslanian was charged with abuse of power and false testimony in the July 2007 death of Hovhannes Meltonian in the Koghb military unit in the Tavush region. Officials reported that Meltonian had committed suicide by shooting himself in the neck as a result of continuous humiliation and physical abuse by Aslanian. Meltonian's family disputed the official account, alleging he had been tortured and killed, as suggested by numerous bruises that they found on his body. Aslanian's case was sent to the court on June 9, and was ongoing at year's end.
In May, local media reported that the August 2007 death of Tigran Ohanjanian, a soldier in the Karjaghbuir military unit in Vardenis, was officially attributed to accidental electrocution. According to the media, Ohanjanian's father believed that his son was beaten and then killed by electrocution, or that the killers tried to disguise his death by making it appear to be accidental. The father reportedly took pictures of the body, which had serious injuries and which the forensic expert assigned to the case allegedly refused to record. According to the family's lawyer, the military prosecutor's office tried to conceal the homicide by presenting it as an accident and allegedly refused to consider testimony that the unit commander, Smbat Simonian, had hit Ohanjanian before his death. Ohanjanian's father reportedly received threats following his efforts to investigate his son's death. According to official information, Rustam Asatrian and Karen Tovmasian, two fellow servicemen, were charged with negligence related to the death, and the case was sent to the court on May 30.
Ethnic Armenian separatists, with Armenia's support, continued to control most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. Landmines placed along the 540 mile border with Azerbaijan and along the line of contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continued to cause bodily harm. During the first 11 months of the year government sources reported that two military personnel were killed and 19 military personnel injured by landmine explosions. There were no reports of civilian deaths or injuries caused by landmines.
During the year shootings along the militarized line of contact separating the sides as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict again resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. According to official information, three military personnel and two civilians were killed, and 21 military and two civilians were injured, along the line of contact. On June 17 and 18, two civilians who were residents of the village of Chinari in the Tavush region were shot by snipers while working in their fields; they died on June 18.
In contrast with the previous year, there were no high-profile killings by unidentified assailants during the year.
In August 2007, an unknown person shot and killed the chief prosecutor of the Lori region, Albert Ghazarian, while he was on his way home. The investigation was suspended on August 25, and the identity of the killer was not discovered.
There were no developments during the year with regard to the April 2007 attack on Gyumri mayor Vartan Ghukasian and his entourage that resulted in the deaths of three bodyguards and a driver. The investigation was suspended and the identity of the killer was not discovered.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the law prohibits such practices, they were regularly employed by members of the security forces. Witnesses continued to report that police beat citizens during arrest and interrogation while in detention. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported similar allegations; however, most cases of police mistreatment continued to go unreported because of fear of retribution. Human rights groups continued to report that more than half of the individuals transferred to prisons from police detention facilities alleged torture, abuse, or intimidation while in custody.
Drawing on data collected in 2006, the Partnership for Open Society Initiative, composed of human rights NGOs, reported in June 2007 that the main purpose of torture was to extort confessions. The report maintained that courts generally accepted defendants' confessions as valid evidence, even when it was questionably obtained. The report also noted that approximately 80 percent of criminal defendants recanted testimony given during pretrial investigation, claiming they had confessed under torture or duress. The criminal justice system generally disregarded such claims and conducted little or no investigation, according to the report.
On February 23, masked police officers reportedly used excessive force while arresting the former deputy prosecutor, Gagik Jhangirian and his brother Vardan Jhangirian. Then-president Robert Kocharian had relieved Jhangirian of his duties earlier that day after Jhangirian openly supported opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian. The police stopped their car late in the evening and demanded the passengers leave the vehicle. Vardan Jhangirian, who suffered from spinal tuberculosis that restricted his movement, reportedly was unable to respond quickly to the order, and masked police officers severely beat him. One officer began shooting and struck Vardan Jhangirian as well as two officers. Gagik Jhangirian was also severely beaten. At year's end, Vardan Jhangirian had been released for health reasons and was awaiting the conclusion of his trial on resisting arrest charges, while Gagik Jhangirian was in detention on charges of resisting arrest; by the end of the year, his trial was still in process. The Jhangirians identified police officer Arman Harutyunian as one of their assailants, who was an alleged victim in the resisting arrest case.
Authorities reportedly subjected protesters to physical abuse and inhuman treatment during and after the March 1 events. International and local human rights activists stated that security forces beat detainees at the time of their arrests, as well as on the way to and from police stations or detention facilities. In a March 27 media interview, the human rights defender stated that his staff had visited 90 of the 106 persons officially acknowledged at that time to have been arrested, 12 of whom claimed that security forces and law enforcement officials had tortured or beat them during or after arrest.
On March 21, the Armenia-based Hetq online journal published an account provided by Grizelda Ghazarian and her daughter Gayaneh, who participated in the post-election opposition rallies. They stated that on the evening of March 1, they were brutally beaten along with thirty other civilians as they walked in the vicinity of the French Embassy. At approximately 9pm, as they were walking away from the main gathering of protesters located at Myasnikian Square, they saw police dispersing a small crowd that had been separated from the main gathering. Ghazarian approached one of the officers, who cursed and beat her on the back with a rubber truncheon. Hearing gunfire, the small crowd sought to return to the main gathering or seek shelter nearby, but some were prevented from doing so by police, who chased them down. One officer reportedly dragged Ghazarian's daughter away from a building and threw her onto the street; other officers joined the scene and began kicking the girl. Ghazarian alleged she was severely beaten at the same time. After the beating police dragged the daughter, who was unable to walk, to her mother's side, and an officer shoved them inside a building, reportedly telling them he had just saved their lives.
On March 18, Radio Liberty published the account of Robert Chakhoyan, who was arrested on March 1 and taken to the police headquarters of Yerevan's central Kentron district along with other opposition supporters. Chakhoyan stated he and the others who were arrested with him were beaten inside the police car and at the police station. According to Chakhoyan, police were anxious not to leave traces of violence on his and other detainees' bodies, putting books on their backs, stomachs, and sides before hitting them with truncheons. At the station, Chakhoyan stated he witnessed a badly beaten teenage boy and others in serious condition. After nearly two hours of interrogation, Chakhoyan was transported to the police department in Yerevan's Shengavit district. He was kept there without being charged and released three days later. Police detained his wife, Naira Chakhoyan, as she searched for her husband on March 2. She was taken to the Kentron police station, where she stated she saw detainees who had been beaten. Naira Chakhoyan alleged that police officers hit and swore at her while she was being detained. She was held until midnight and then released.
On August 1, Christophor Elazian, who was arrested on March 3 and sentenced to four years in prison for participating in mass disorders, released a detailed statement alleging that police and the Special Investigative Service (SIS) had systematically tortured and beat him between March 4 and March 10 in an effort to extract incriminating testimony against him and member of parliament Hakob Hakobian who was also detained. Elazian identified some of the persons who beat him, among them Andranik Mirzoyan, the head of the SIS; Artur Mehrabian, the police chief of Yerevan's Kentron district; Aristakes Yeremian, an SIS investigator; and Hakob Gharakhanian, a prosecutor.
Similar allegations of torture/abuse of detainees arrested around the March events were made in the cases of Vahram Mkhitarian, Gagik Avdalian, Hmaiak Galstian, Davit Arakelian, Mushegh Saghatelian, and many others.
On December 23, the opposition reported that Grigor Voskerchyan, Gevorg Manukyan and Armen Khurshudyan, opposition activists who were in prison pending trial in connection with March 1-2 criminal cases, were beaten in Nubarashen prison. Diplomatic observers corroborated that two of these defendants were slapped across the face several times by police. The ombudsman, who had sent his aides to meet with the detainees, expressed serious concern at the torture allegations. On December 24, President Sargsian ordered the Ministry of Justice to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations.
On April 23 and 25, the opposition-leaning Aravot newspaper published reports according to which Suren Khachatrian, the governor of Syunik region, had beaten and broken the jaw of a 16-year-old-boy in retaliation for an altercation the boy had previously with his son. According to the reports, the boy was hospitalized and his family was afraid to report the altercation to the local police. The Governor refuted the media reports. Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian ordered an investigation of the events, which concluded that the reports were inaccurate. Independent observers criticized the apparently superficial conduct of the investigation, reporting that investigators misidentified the boy and conducted an X-ray examination of the wrong person.
During the year there was slight progress in the investigation of the death of Levon Gulian, who died under suspicious circumstances in police custody in May 2007. On March 12, the SIS, which took over the investigation from the prosecutor general's office in December 2007, closed the criminal case. The SIS claimed that Gulian, an alleged witness to a homicide, fell to his death from a second story police station window while trying to escape. Gulian's family and human rights activists stated that the investigation was neither credible nor transparent. Following an unsuccessful appeal of the SIS decision, on April 8, Gulian's family asked a court to reopen the investigation. On June 6, the judge ruled in favor of the family and ordered the SIS to restart the investigation. The SIS took the case to the Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court's ruling on July 21. The reopened investigation was still in progress at year's end.
During the year there was no progress in investigating the allegations of torture and abuse reported by Karen Dodoyan and Ashot Ghukasian, witnesses in the August 2007 murder case of former Lori prosecutor Albert Ghazarian. There were also no further developments in the cases of alleged abuse of a detainee at Nubarashen Prison in October 2007 and of Artavazd Simonian in November 2007.
On April 30, COE Commissioner for Human Rights Hammarberg published a report that expressed concern over police mistreatment of persons during detention, which appeared to be widespread and aimed at extracting confessions. Many of the inmates reported being subjected to severe beatings and other mistreatment. Hammarberg cautioned that signed confessions should not be the primary form of evidence in prosecutions, and that the police should look for other material evidence. Hammarberg reported that defense lawyers whom he met stated that defendants were often afraid to testify about police mistreatment during detention out of fear of retribution.
The human rights defender stated to diplomatic representatives in early October that law enforcement agencies were generally slow to respond to his inquiries into alleged torture and inhuman treatment, or that they repeatedly responded to his inquires with a stock answer that they had investigated the allegations and found them to be baseless.
Customs within the military, the impunity of military commanders and substandard living conditions in the armed forces continued to contribute to mistreatment and injuries unrelated to military operations. Although no reliable statistics were available on military hazing, soldiers reported to human rights NGOs that the practice continued. The families of soldiers claimed that corrupt officials controlled military units. Other human rights monitors reported that soldiers were conscripted into army service despite having serious disqualifying health conditions, although according to the Soldiers' Mothers NGO, the number of cases recorded for the year were down 70 percent from 2007, as authorities took measures to curtail these practices. Eighty-five military personnel were convicted of hazing and related violations during the year. In November 2007, the ombudsman appointed a new specialized military adviser on the human rights defender's staff to focus attention on military hazing and human rights abuses within the military.
On June 23, the human rights defender established a working group to investigate two suicide attempts by a military serviceman, "H.H.," on June 9. According to a press release by the human rights defender's office, H.H. had witnessed a rape in his unit but could identify neither the victim nor the assailant. The father of H.H. claimed that his son was subjected to beatings and violence during his service. According to the Helsinki Association H.H. himself was the subject of sexual abuse by his co-servicemen; however the criminal case was dropped after H.H. was released from service.
On August 15, according to the Helsinki Association, Artur Grigorian, a soldier serving in the city of Goris, was taken to a local military hospital with numerous serious head injuries, where he allegedly was withheld medical assistance for 48 hours. Military prosecutors assigned to the case, while Grigorian was still in a coma, alleged that Grigorian's injuries were the result of falling out of his bunk bed. After transfer to the national military hospital and completion of surgery, Grigorian stated that he was beaten by Davit Hayrapetian, his platoon commander. Grigorian was seriously handicapped as a result of the beatings. Hayrapetian was charged with abuse of power. According to Grigorian's family, on December 15 the general jurisdiction court of Syunik region, despite an appeal to move the hearings to a court closer to Yerevan since Grigorian was unable to travel, proceeded with the trial in Grigorian's absence. Hayrapetyan was convicted and received the minimum possible sentence of two years' imprisonment.
On September 3, the human rights defender sent a letter to the minister of defense regarding the August 4 incident in which Nairi Vardanian, a soldier in a unit based in Ashtarak, tried to kill himself after Garun Abgarian, the unit commander, publicly beat and humiliated him. Military prosecutors had not taken any action against Abgarian as of year's end. According to official information, Abgarian's actions followed Vardanian leaving his post without permission for over two hours; hence both Abgarian's and Vardanian's actions were deemed prosecutable under charges of abuse of power and refusal to perform one’s military duties, respectively. Both men showed remorse for their actions, and a deputy minister of defense had appealed to the investigative body not to prosecute Abgarian. On September 29, the investigative body of the Yerevan garrison elected not to press charges against either Abgarian or Vardanian.
In July 2007, military serviceman Garik Mikayelian tried to kill himself following five months of abuse and harrassment by the head of his unit, Artak Gasparian. Gasparian was charged with abuse of authority. On May 21, the case against Gasparian was sent to the court; the verdict was still pending at year's end.
On July 4, the trial of three soldiers accused of murdering two fellow servicemen in 2003, whose sentences were nullified by the Court of Cassation in 2006, resumed. The murder case was based on the confession of Razmik Sargsian, who stated that he was brutally tortured into incriminating himself and his two fellow soldiers. Human rights activists criticized the lack of a credible investigation into the torture allegations, as well as the repeated trial of the three soldiers for the same crime. Prosecutors reported that they made inquiries about the torture allegations during their original investigation of the murders, concluding that the torture allegations were baseless. The three soldiers applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2004 and 2007, and in October 2007 the ECHR ruled on partial admissibility of the case, which allows the case to be reviewed by the ECHR once all domestic remedies have expired.
On September 4, the government declared its intent to set up a supervisory body composed of prominent public figures to improve the transparency of police conduct and prevent human rights abuses by security forces, but by the end of year this new body had not yet been formed.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained poor and threatened inmates' health, although the Civil Society Monitoring Board (CSMB), an organization established by government initiative involving prison monitoring by NGO personnel, reported continuing improvements to renovate old prisons. Despite this, cells continued to be overcrowded, inmates lacked basic hygiene supplies, and food quality remained poor. The CSMB reported that prisoners were at high risk of contracting tuberculosis, and adolescents held in juvenile facilities rarely received the schooling required by law. The CSMB reported other chronic problems, including denial of visitor privileges, medical neglect, and in some cases, physical abuse.
According to observers, most instances of abuse of prisoners and detainees by law enforcement authorities continued to occur in police stations, rather than in police detention facilities which are subject to human rights monitoring. In its 2006 report, the COE's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted allegations that detainees had spent up to ten days in various police district divisions in Yerevan without mattresses, blankets, and food other than that supplied by relatives. In its December 2007 report, the CPT stated it observed an improvement in police holding areas that had been refurbished, or were in the process of refurbishment in 2006. Mattresses, blankets, and food were supplied to detainees at the facilities that CPT observed. The CPT reported deficiencies, however, in the Vanadzor, Sisian, and Yeghegnadzor police departments, namely small cell space, cold temperatures, and lack of hot water.
From February 27 to March 19, the CSMB visited prisons holding an estimated 100 government opponents detained in connection with March 1-2 events. Drawing on 11 visits and meetings with 60 detainees, the CSMB reported that the cells were overcrowded with more prisoners than beds, and that authorities denied prisoners contact with their families in the first days of detention. Prisoners complained of procedural and other violations at the times of their arrests, beatings, torture, and delayed access to legal representation.
The human rights defender received complaints from those being held in pretrial detention for criminal cases in connection with the March 1 events, who maintained that although they had no prior convictions, they were being held in cells with persons with multiple convictions, in violation of the law.
On March 19, the authorities renovated the pretrial detention center of the Abovian prison for women and juveniles.
On June 24, the minister of justice, Gevorg Danielian, announced the construction of a new prison in Chobankara in the Armavir region; the construction was still in progress at year's end.
Corruption in prisons continued to be a problem, exacerbated by very low salaries for prison administration employees, poor and sometimes dangerous working conditions, and a lack of staff. In certain facilities prisoners bribed officials to obtain single occupancy cells and additional comforts. There were also unverified reports that authorities charged unofficial fees to family members and friends seeking to deliver meals to inmates. In some prisons monitors noted that prisoners had difficulty mailing letters and that some prison officials did not adequately facilitate family visits.
Despite jurisdiction for all prisons officially resting with the Ministry of Justice, the National Security Service (NSS) continued to de facto operate the Yerevan-Kentron prison, located on NSS property; the facility was often used to hold pretrial detainees and sentenced prisoners whose cases were politically sensitive. There were reports that NSS monitored communications of prisoners held in this prison, including their meetings with defense lawyers.
The government generally permitted local NGOs and international rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to monitor conditions in prisons. The ICRC was permitted to visit both prisons and pretrial detention centers and did so in accordance with its standard modalities. Authorities generally permitted CSMB personnel to visit prisons without giving advance notice. However, when the CSMB tried to visit prisons on March 4 to monitor the welfare of new detainees after the March 1 clashes, it was denied access. Only after March 7 was the CSMB able to resume their monitoring. A separate Public Monitoring Group continued to monitor police detention facilities.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, in practice authorities continued to arrest and detain criminal suspects without warrants. Authorities detained hundreds of individuals during and after the March 1 clashes on grounds that the arrests were necessary to prevent civil disorder; there were allegations that some of these arrests may have been arbitrary and due to individuals' proximity to the site of the violence or known political affiliations.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The national police are responsible for internal security, while the National Security Service (NSS) is responsible for national security, intelligence activities, and border control; the heads of both organizations are appointed by the president. The police and the NSS continued to lack training, resources, and established procedures to implement reforms or to prevent incidents of abuse. Prisoners reported that police and NSS authorities did little to investigate allegations of abuse. As a result, impunity remained a serious problem.
Corruption remained a significant problem in the police force and security forces, but reform efforts continued, mainly in the area of traffic control and criminal investigations. The police continued to implement procedures established in 2006 to curb corruption at roadside checkpoints. A system of paying traffic fines to reduce opportunities for bribes was established in 2007. Bribe-taking appeared to further decrease during the year.
There was no dedicated mechanism for investigating police abuse. By law citizens may sue police in court. The government reported that during the year police did not receive any complaints lodged by citizens against police for mistreatment of detainees; they reported as well that no policeman was punished for such treatment.
The prosecutor's office launched six criminal investigations into instances of police brutality, of which three were sent to the courts, one was dropped and two were ongoing at year's end.
On September 4, the prosecutor general's office opened a criminal case against the deputy director of Vardashen prison and two accomplices from the prison administration for abuse of power and using violence against an inmate.
The government reported it conducted 10 internal investigations into misconduct by police officers during the year. All the policemen involved were removed from service. The investigations resulted in four convictions; the review of the remaining cases was ongoing at year's end. The government reported that based on applications from prosecutors during the first half of the year 28 police officers received administrative penalties (compared to 23 during the entire previous year).
By law detainees may file complaints prior to trial to address alleged abuses committed by authorities during criminal investigations; however, detainees must obtain permission from police or the prosecutor's office to obtain a forensic medical examination needed to substantiate a report of physical abuse. Human rights NGOs continued to report that authorities rarely granted such permission, or granted it days later when signs of abuse were no longer visible.
In 2007, authorities transferred primary responsibility for criminal investigations from the prosecutor general's office to various police agencies in a reform to improve institutional checks and balances in the judicial system. In December 2007 the SIS was created, ostensibly to become an independent body for investigating official crimes. Located in the building of the prosecutor general's office and headed by the former head of the prosecutor's investigative department, Andranik Mirzoyan, it functioned as the de facto investigative body of the prosecutor general's office during the year, reversing the effects and purpose of the 2007 reform.
The SIS opened 25 criminal cases into crimes committed by police officers or their participation on various charges including abuse or exceeding of official authority, taking bribes, forgery and negligence. Of these 25 cases, 10 were sent to trial; the others were either dropped or were ongoing investigation by the end of the year.
On September 23, the NGO Project Harmony joined with the police to open a community justice center in Ijevan. The Ijevan center, along with centers Gyumri, Alaverdi and Vanadzor, offered counseling to first-time juvenile offenders and brought local police into public schools for community outreach.
In March 2007, the national police, in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), began a pilot project on community policing designed to facilitate cooperation between police and the public. The project, which was located in Yerevan's Arabkir district, continued during the year. On November 27, the OSCE office in the country and the police signed a memorandum on cooperation and assistance in the areas of democratic policing, community policing, police education in accordance with international standards, and development of skills in maintaining public order.
Arrest and Detention
Prosecutors and police investigators must obtain a warrant from a judge to detain an arrested suspect in excess of 72 hours. Judges rarely denied police requests for detention warrants. Police at times made arrests without a warrant, which is not required for the arrest of individuals for up to 72 hours, on the pretext that detainees were material witnesses rather than suspects. Such practices were used extensively during the year. The law provides for a bail system; however, in practice, most courts denied requests for bail, ordering instead either continued detention or release of defendants on their own recognizance pending trial. In the latter case, defendants were sometimes required to surrender their passports and to sign statements promising not to leave the country (or in some cases, the city limits).
The law requires police to inform detainees of their right to remain silent, to make a telephone call, and to be represented by an attorney from the moment of arrest, including by public defenders provided in the case of indigent detainees. In practice police did not always abide by the law. They often questioned and pressured detainees to confess prior to indictment and in the absence of counsel. Police sometimes restricted the access of family members and lawyers to detainees. During questioning by investigators, lawyers were sometimes restricted from posing questions. The practice of detaining individuals as "material witnesses" before being designated as suspects resulted in questioning of individuals without the benefit of counsel.
According to the political opposition led by former president and February presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian, thousands of opposition supporters were detained and questioned by police before and after the presidential election. The opposition charged that these detainees, who included campaign officials, election proxies, and ordinary citizens, were detained to deter or prevent political activities supporting the campaign or attendance at opposition rallies.
Hundreds of persons were arrested in Freedom Square and the nearby vicinity in the early morning on March 1, when security forces cleared the square of demonstrators who had been encamped there for 11 days in protest of the election result. According to eyewitness accounts, police continued to arrest persons until noon; opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian was placed under de facto house arrest by security forces during the dispersal operation, and for approximately three weeks thereafter.
In a March 20 report, the COE estimated that more than 400 persons were apprehended and asked to provide testimony relating to the events of March 1. On March 13, the prosecutor general stated that more than 95 persons had been arrested for organizing or participating in demonstrations and mass disturbances of public order. On March 15, the COE's Human Rights Commissioner stated that he had obtained from unofficial sources testimony that an additional 50 persons had been arrested from March 1-15, mostly outside of Yerevan. According to detainees and defense lawyers, most of those arrested had been charged with disturbing public order, illegal possession of arms, incitement to violent acts, and violently resisting police arrest. Defense lawyers reported that a number of arrests preceded the March 1 crackdown on protesters in Freedom Square.
Many of the individuals arrested in connection with the March 1 events were detained on seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges. Authorities justified the arrests as necessary to prevent attempts to initiate mass disorders and usurp power by extraconstitutional means. In the majority of cases, persons were released without charge after several hours' detention.
Many individuals were detained in a similarly brief fashion in the months following the March events, apparently to dissuade opposition supporters from participating in daily "political promenade" protest walks in Yerevan. Several detainees reported that they were subjected to mandatory drug and psychological testing before being released. The detainees reportedly were often photographed and fingerprinted during detention, in violation of police procedure for persons who are not being formally charged.
Local and international human rights groups reported procedural and other violations during the arrest and detention of persons on March 1 and after. During his visits to detention facilities after March 1, the human rights defender also received complaints on procedural violations, restricted access or no access to legal representation.
On March 4, the National Assembly stripped the immunity of four members of parliament (Sasun Mikaelian, Miasnik Malkhasian, Hakob Hakobian and Khachatur Sukiasian) based on charges of incitement to mass disorders and attempts to usurp power extraconstitutionally. Three of the members were taken into custody, while one, businessman Khachatur Sukiasian, eluded authorities. He remained a fugitive at years' end, as did Nikol Pashinian, the editor of opposition newspaper Haykakhan Zhamanak and a Ter-Petrossian campaign adviser, who was also charged with incitement of mass disorders and usurpation of power.
Some sources reported that authorities carried out house-by-house searches without warrants in connection with the March 1 events.
The COE human rights commissioner noted there had been delays in the registration of arrests upon arrival in custody as required by law and that access to defense lawyers in some instances was delayed. The COE reported that family members or relatives had often not been informed of a detainee's whereabouts; the Helsinki Association reported that the relatives of detainee Borik Arabachian did not know about his whereabouts for almost one week. The COE human rights commissioner also noted obtaining information that some of the persons who were apprehended had not been promptly informed of the charges against them.
According to some defense lawyers, authorities pressured some of the activists in the first days of their detention to decline the services of a defense lawyer, or pressured them to accept the services of legal representation procured by the authorities. They also noted that the conditions of confinement were inhumane, with ten persons sharing a cell envisaged for three persons, and inadequate provision of food.
Lengthy pretrial or preventive detention remained a problem. In practice the authorities generally respected the provision of the law stipulating that pretrial detention could not extend beyond 12 months. However, the law does not set any limits for detention of defendants once the case is sent to the court, and there were cases when defendants spent three or more years in detention before a verdict was reached. Although the law requires a well-reasoned decision to justify grounds for an extension of custody, judges routinely prolonged custody on seemingly unclear grounds. Authorities reported that during the year, pretrial detainees constituted on average approximately 714 persons out of a prison population of nearly 3,969.
On July 11, the human rights defender published his observations on the government's practice of placing persons under detention and on extending the pretrial detention of persons arrested in connection with the March 1 events. The defender found that authorities presented insufficient accounts of alleged crimes to the court, that judges did not substantiate their conclusions that a detainee posed a flight risk as required by law, and that judges failed to consider alternatives to detention, such as release on bond.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, despite structural changes consolidated in the February 2007 judicial code that have resulted in a somewhat greater independence, courts remained regularly subject to political pressure from the executive branch, and judicial corruption was a serious problem. On September 13, the government removed the controversial chairman of the Court of Cassation, replacing him with a more widely respected figure.
As of January 1, the date when the new judicial code became effective, courts were comprised by courts of common jurisdiction of first instance, specialized courts of first instance (civil and criminal), an administrative court, civil and criminal review courts (courts of appeal), the Court of Cassation, and the Constitutional Court. The review courts are considered as final courts for examination of a case's merits. The Court of Cassation has discretionary review authority as a supreme court. The new judicial code assigned new roles to the Court of Cassation, including the provision of uniform enforcement of the law, its correct interpretation, and support of the development of justice. The Constitutional Court rules on the constitutionality of legislation, provides its opinion on the constitutionality of signed international agreements prior to their ratification by the National Assembly, and rules on election-related questions.
Since 2006 citizens have had the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court. During the year 238 citizens appealed to the Constitutional Court, out of which the court accepted 38 cases for further review.
The Council of Justice recommends candidates for judgeships, who are then appointed by the president, who continued to retain a highly influential role over judicial branch personnel. The council also nominates candidates for the chairmen of courts on all three levels and their chambers, and subjects judges to disciplinary proceedings for misconduct. The president and the National Assembly each appoint two scholars to the council, and the General Assembly of Judges elects the remaining nine members by secret ballot.
In July 2007, the Constitutional Court ruled that sending back criminal cases for additional investigation by pretrial bodies was unconstitutional and voided the relevant provisions of the criminal procedure code. As a result, trials must end either by acquittal or guilty verdicts, effectively ending the practice of holding defendants indefinitely for "additional investigation" when underlying cases are weak. Despite the ruling, the National Assembly subsequently enacted a law in November 2007 allowing a trial judge to suspend a trial and apply to the prosecutor general’s office for reconfirmation of the indictment protocol to include new aggravated charges. This statutory authority effectively undermined the presumption of innocence and potentially favored the prosecution in such trials.
The law generally requires that trials be public, but it permits exceptions, including when a trial's secrecy is in the interest of "morals," national security, or for the "protection of the private lives of the participants." Juries are not used. A single judge issues verdicts in courts of first instance (except for cases on crimes punishable by life imprisonment), and panels of judges preside in the higher courts. Defendants generally have the right, and are generally required, to be present at their trials. They have the right to counsel of their own choosing, and the government is required to provide them with defense counsel upon request; however, this obligation was frequently not honored in regions outside of Yerevan, where there often were not enough defense lawyers. Defendants also commonly refused free counsel due to the poor quality of the public defenders or the perception that public defenders colluded with prosecutors.
Under the law, defendants may confront witnesses and present evidence, and they and their attorneys may examine the government's case in advance of the trial. In practice, however, defendants and their attorneys had very little ability to challenge government witnesses, particularly police officers. Under the law, police officers are prohibited from testifying at trial in their capacity as a police officer, unless they are testifying as a witness or victim in the case. Thus, official police reports detailing the evidence found at a crime scene or the confession of a defendant were routinely received as evidence without any in-court testimony from police. Defense lawyers had almost no capacity to challenge the findings of these official reports, which were generally considered by courts to be unimpeachable.
Defendants, prosecutors and the injured party have the right to appeal court rulings. Judges generally granted defendants' requests for additional time to prepare cases. The law provides for the presumption of innocence; in practice, however, this right was frequently violated.
Court statistics released in 2007 indicated that less than 1 percent of court cases resulted in acquittals. However, these statistics did not reflect the many cases that prosecutors dropped, which in effect resembled an acquittal, or cases that were closed due to defendants' medical condition.
There were widespread reports that prosecutors and police used confessions that were obtained through methods that some NGOs characterized as torture and inhuman treatment. Defense lawyers may present evidence of torture to overturn improperly obtained confessions; however, defendants, their attorneys, and NGOs often stated that judges and prosecutors refused to admit such evidence into court proceedings, even when the perpetrator could be identified.
On March 1, authorities opened a single criminal case against persons whom they charged had resorted to violence against representatives of state authorities at the clashes in Freedom Square; who engaged in extraconstitutional actions aimed at the forcible seizure of power; and who organized or directed participation in riots and armed resistance to representatives of the authorities through violence, beatings, arson, destruction and damage of property with arms, explosive substances and mechanisms on March 1-2. As the investigation of this case proceeded, individual cases were split off and prosecuted separately.
According to defense lawyers involved in the March 1 cases, law enforcement bodies failed to state the specific actions that supposedly triggered the specific charges against defendants, or they arbitrarily interpreted certain acts by the defendants to make them fit the charges.
Following a January 27 opposition rally in Talin, Aragatsotsn region, authorities opened a criminal investigation of three opposition supporters, Zhora Sapeyan, Mkrtich Sapeyan and Hayk Gevorgian, for allegedly assaulting Sargis Karapetian at the rally after Karapetian began shouting against opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian. The investigation initially involved charges of simple battery, a crime that is not punishable by incarceration. According to Hovik Arsenian, lawyer for the three defendants, Karapetian at first described the assault to police as simple battery. Following a public statement by then-president Kocharian that all "hooligans" must be punished, Karapetian told police in a second interview that the defendants had used obscene language, which raised the crime from battery to hooliganism, and police detained the three individuals. At their trial, both the judge and investigators denied requests by the defendants' lawyer to interview other witnesses. On April 15, the court sentenced the three to prison terms of one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years for group hooliganism.
On February 25, Petros Makeyan, head of the Democratic Motherland Party, Ashot Zakarian, head of the Shirak regional branch of the Yerkrapah Union, a prominent Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans association, and Shota Saghatelian, a member of the opposition Republic Party, were arrested and charged with hindering the process of the presidential election on February 19 when they had registered as election proxies for opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian. During court hearings, at least six out of the ten witnesses in the case retracted testimony given during the pretrial investigation which, they claimed, was extracted under pressure. Two other witnesses never appeared at the hearings. Despite this, on June 13, Zakarian and Makeyan were sentenced to two-and-a-half and three years in prison, respectively. Saghatelian received a suspended sentence of two and a half years.
On February 19, Hovhannes Harutyunyan, member of the opposition Republic Party, was arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms. The firearms, however, were legally registered and he had permission to carry them. He was then convicted on March 28 to one-and-a-half years in prison for possession of 41 bullets that allegedly were not designed for the firearm that he legally owned. Husik Baghdasarian, another member of the Republic Party, was arrested on February 26, and on March 31 was convicted to three years in prison for illegal possession of 16 bullets.
During the trial of former deputy prosecutor general Gagik Jhangirian and his brother for felony assault against police officials, which many observers considered to be politically motivated by Jhangirian's expressed support for opposition candidate Ter-Petrossian, some shortcomings were noted in the testimony provided by police. In response to the defense's question as to who had given the order to stop the defendant's car, police claimed that they did not know who gave the initial order or any of the names of their commanding officers, and they refused to state the rank of their regular commanding officer.
According to the Helsinki Association, sentences diverged greatly for different defendants charged under the same articles of the criminal code and under the same mitigating circumstances. According to local legal and human rights observers, the courts did not ensure equal rights for the defense and the prosecution. They cited as evidence the courts' continued refusals of defense motions, illicit editing of proceedings records in the criminal court, hindering the activities of journalists who were covering the trials, and general favor toward the prosecution. Diplomatic observers witnessed numerous cases in which convictions were rendered on the basis of highly questionable police evidence and testimony which was persuasively disavowed by the reputed witnesses in open court.
According to local observers, the majority of March 1-related defendants charged for resisting law enforcement and using violence were pressured to plead guilty by the prosecution. When such guilty pleas were entered, the courts regularly held "expedited hearings" which used template wording in the indictments, generally did not entail examination of evidence and resulted in either suspended sentences or fines. Those defendants who did not plead guilty nor agree to expedited hearings -– a judicial provision somewhat similar to plea bargaining -- were more likely to receive actual prison time.
In June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed a resolution on the country, criticizing verdicts which were based on a single police officer's testimony without corroborating evidence. In the majority of these trials, the sole witnesses or alleged victims were police officers, whose testimony was often inconsistent. In some cases the same police officers were involved as witnesses in several cases. Observers also singled out cases of intimidation and pressure against witnesses who were not employees of the police.
While addressing the conduct of trials of March 1 cases, Ruben Sahakian, the chairman of the Chamber of Advocates, stated on September 25 that many prosecutors, investigators, and judges involved in these cases were acting in potential violation of the criminal code.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Of the hundreds of persons detained around the time of the March 1-2 political violence, approximately 150 were held for a significant period of time, and over 100 were charged with a crime. Most or all of these arrests appeared politically influenced to varying degrees. Some were charged under broadly defined criminal charges of "usurpation of state authority" or "mass disorders." Others were charged with selectively enforced weapons possession charges or with resisting arrest. Authorities denied the presence of political prisoners in the country and maintained that the political opposition planned the postelection violence in an attempt to seize power extraconstitutionally.
No specific information from government authorities was available on how many individuals remained in detention at year's end -- whether already convicted, awaiting trial, or in ongoing trials -- in connection with the events of March 1-2. Most of these detainees were supporters or members of the political opposition.
According to the political opposition, as of year's end there were approximately 59 persons in custody whom the opposition deemed "political prisoners," including 36 persons detained in connection with the March 1 events and the remainder either held in connection with the presidential elections or serving sentences handed down in previous years.
In April, PACE passed a resolution that criticized the arrest and continuing detention of opposition supporters on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges." The PACE resolution stated that, "in the absence of adequate judicial control, the arrests and continuing detention of persons on seemingly artificial charges after contesting the fairness of the presidential elections or their participation in the protests after the elections could only point to the political motivation of such acts." In a second resolution in June, PACE criticized verdicts "based solely on a single police testimony without corroborating evidence," and called for the release of all persons who did not personally commit any violent acts or serious offenses.
According to official information, as of December 17, 90 cases against 111 persons had gone to court in connection with the March 1-2 events. Verdicts in 87 cases against 101 persons were in place, leaving in progress three cases against ten persons. All 10 persons whose cases were in progress, remained in custody. Of the 101 persons already tried, 38 persons received suspended sentences, five were fined, 52 were given prison sentences from six months to nine years, five were acquitted and one case was dropped due to an amicable settlement with the defendant. At year's end charges against three more persons (Hamlet Hovhannisian, Samvel Abovian and Gnel Tovmasian) who undertook not to leave the country were in place, and five more persons (Nikol Pashinian, Khachatur Sukiasian, Virab Manoukian, Hamlet Hovhannisian (different from above), and Sevak Stepanian) were wanted fugitives.
On September 5, approximately six months after their arrests, the SIS sent to court the combined criminal case against seven prominent opposition members whom authorities accused of masterminding the March 1-2 unrest. The case included Alexander Arzumanian, a former foreign minister who served as Ter-Petrossian's campaign manager, member of parliament Hakob Hakobian, an opposition demonstrator Shant Harutyunian, and opposition members Grigor Voskerchian and Suren Sirunian, who were charged with mass disorders leading to deaths and usurpation of state authority. In addition to the charges of mass disorders leading to deaths and usurpation of state authority, the charges against the remaining two defendants, members of parliament Myasnik Malkhasian and Sasun Mikaelian, included being an accomplice to violent resistance against representatives of the state for Malkhasian, and possession of illegal weapons and ammunition for Mikaelian. Five more opposition activists, including Nikol Pashinian, editor of a leading opposition daily, and MP Khachatur Sukiasian, a prominent businessman, were wanted under similar charges. The "trial of the seven" -comprising the most prominent defendants- began on December 19 and was ongoing at year's end. Charges of illegal money laundering against former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian (one of the seven defendants), for which he spent four months in prison in 2007, were still pending at year's end.
The political opposition claimed that there were also a number of opposition supporters arrested for political motives during the year on charges unrelated to the March 1-2 violence. The opposition claimed these persons were prosecuted under trumped-up charges of illegal possession of weapons, participation in mass disorders; hooliganism; abuse and exceeding of official duties; and revealing state secrets. The political opposition and human rights activists also considered as political prisoners those members of the opposition who were arrested during the election period for alleged election violations. The opposition maintained that these persons were arrested for attempting to prevent fraud by government supporters.
On February 22, while the result and outcome of the presidential election were in dispute, Gagik Jhangirian, then a deputy prosecutor general, publicly stated his support for opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian. On February 23, Jhangirian was relieved of his duties by then-president Kocharian, and he and his brother were stopped in their vehicle and arrested later that night. Some observers and opposition supporters contended that the arrests were politically motivated in retaliation for Jhangirian's support of Ter-Petrossian. Jhangirian was initially charged with treason, illegal weapons possession and felony assault against police officials. The first two charges were eventually dropped. The trial on the remaining charge was ongoing at year's end.
On March 21, police arrested Anush Ghavalian, a waitress at a restaurant owned by an opposition supporter and parliamentarian Khachatur Sukasian, on tax evasion charges. According to Ghavalian, her relatives, and her lawyer, authorities were using the charges to try to extract evidence from Ghavalian that would help them prosecute the director of the restaurant, Gevorg Safarian. Safarian was detained in October 2007 in a wide-ranging tax police action against the businesses belonging to the Sukiasian family, immediately after Khachatur Sukiasian publicly supported Ter-Petrossian's presidential bid. On August 15, another waitress, Karine Mnatsakanian, was arrested on similar grounds. On November 6, the Yerevan criminal court ordered Safarian and Ghavalian released on bail, on grounds of deteriorating health. Safarian's bail was 3.5 million drams (approximately $11,475) and Ghavalian's was 500,000 drams ($1,640); Mnatsakanian was convicted as an accomplice to four months of imprisonment and was released from prison on December 15, having served her full sentence.
On December 10, after serving a full two-year prison sentence, Vardan Malkhasian was released from prison, six months following the June 9 release of Zhirayr Sefilian. Both were leaders of a small hard-line opposition group called the Alliance of Armenian Volunteers who were arrested shortly after the group's establishment on charges of "public calls for the overthrow of the constitutional order by force" and illegal possession of arms.
Arman Babajanian, the editor of the opposition newspaper Yerevan Zhamanak, who was arrested in June 2006 and charged with document forgery and evasion of military service, remained in prison. On July 18, the authorities rejected his petition for release on parole.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
First instance courts of common jurisdiction try both minor civil claims and petty criminal cases. Other civil claims (those exceeding 5 million drams (approximately $16,400), and crimes where the maximum penalty exceeds more than five years in prison, are adjudicated by specialized civil and criminal courts, respectively. Citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation; however, the courts were widely perceived as corrupt, and potential litigants in civil cases often evaluated the advisability of bringing suit on the basis of whether they or their opponents had greater resources with which to influence judges. Citizens also had access to the human rights defender's office as well as to the Constitutional Court, in the latter case to challenge the unconstitutionality of legislation.
There was no progress during the year in the cases of Yerevan residents whose property was razed on eminent domain grounds, despite the Constitutional Court's ruling in 2006 that the 2002 government decision authorizing such demolitions violated the constitution. In June 2007, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) initiated a settlement in one such case, Chghlian vs. Armenia, when the authorities agreed to pay 150,000 euros (approximately $210,000) compensation in exchange for the claimant dropping the ECHR complaint.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The constitution prohibits unauthorized searches and provides for the right to privacy and confidentiality of communications; however, the government violated these rights in practice.
By law, judges may authorize authorities to wiretap a telephone or intercept correspondence only after being presented with compelling evidence; during the year judges arbitrarily granted permission.
According to the political opposition and local human rights observers, police conducted wide-scale searches in the homes of opposition supporters, election proxies and campaign staff both before and after the February 19 presidential election. These searches were reportedly carried out with procedural violations, intimidation, and threats.
On July 1, opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian released a copy of a directive from the SIS dated March 5 that was addressed to the prosecutor of Vayots Dzor region. SIS chief Andranik Mirzoyan publicly confirmed the authenticity of the document and stated that similar directives were sent to regional prosecutors in Gegharkunik and Aragatsotn, the police, and the NSS. In the directive, Mirzoyan ordered the regional prosecutor of Vayots Dzor to identify and question participants of Ter-Petrossian's rallies, as well as local Ter-Petrossian campaign managers. Subjects of interest to the SIS included any conversations at political rallies about foreign assistance, activists' perceptions about instability being advantageous to foreign agencies or states, and any talk of eliminating Russia's influence in the country. The directive also instructed police to interrogate these individuals about their whereabouts between February 20 and March 2; gather personal information on them; conduct criminal background checks; and collect reports from their neighbors and local authorities about them and their family members. The directive also instructed recipients to retrieve telephone numbers of local Ter-Petrossian campaign officials and obtain court permission to wiretap them; to obtain information on the property owned by rally participants and campaign chiefs; to get copies of their passports; to find out the names of the drivers of the minibuses and taxis who brought persons from Vayots Dzor to Yerevan to participate in opposition rallies; and to find out who accompanied their passengers, who paid their fares, and what they stated about the rallies.
Local human rights organizations called the March 5 directive unconstitutional and politically motivated persecution of government opponents. On July 11, the human rights defender called it illegal, stating that the SIS does not have the right to give an investigative order to a prosecutor and that the police work that resulted from such and order would be illegal.
According to Artak Zeynalian, a board member of the opposition Republic Party, on July 24, persons presenting themselves as police employees called the cell phones of Ter-Petrossian supporters, various opposition party leaders, and media representatives to verify that the numbers belonged to them. Zeynalian filed a complaint with the police to find and punish the persons behind the calls; police did not respond to the complaint. Zeynalyan filed a subsequent complaint with the court to order the police to comply; however, his appeal was rejected.
On September 2, Levon Ter-Petrossian released to journalists a copy of a court ruling that allowed the NSS to wiretap telephone conversations of Alexander Arzumanian, Ter-Petrossian's campaign manager, and place him under around-the-clock surveillance for a period of two months. Observers criticized the court order as politically-influenced and intrusive on Aruzmanian's right to privacy, as well as an unacceptable interference with the election activities of a presidential candidate. Beginning on September 12, the Dashnak-supported Yerik Media aired, and progovernmental newspapers Hayots Ashkhar and Golos Armenii began publishing, extracts of the wiretapped conversations between Arzumanian and other persons. Since reportedly only Arzumanian's lawyers, the SIS, and the prosecutor general's Office had access to the case materials, it was widely believed that sources within the government gave the transcripts to the newspapers. The wiretap transcripts portrayed conversations between Arzumanian and his political allies about events, political tactics, and other political figures as well as potentially compromising conversations related to his personal life.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and freedom of the press; however, the government did not respect these rights in practice. There continued to be incidents of violence, intimidation, and self-censorship in the press throughout the year. There was also progovernment and antiopposition media bias in the run-up to the February 19 presidential election. Following violent clashes between protesters and police on March 1, the government imposed censorship and suspended freedom of speech and press during a state of emergency that lasted until March 21. The media, and television in particular, continued to lack political diversity. A new amendment to the Law on Television and Radio imposed a two-year moratorium on the issuance of new television broadcasting licenses, further reducing prospects for greater media pluralism.
Most newspapers were privately owned, with the exception of government-sponsored Hayastani Hanrapetutiun and its Russian-language version, Respublika Armenii. Except during the March state of emergency, the print media generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, but remained influenced by economic or political interest groups or individuals. Authorities continued to make unscheduled tax inspections of independent and opposition media, which local observers viewed as attempts to stifle the press.
Newspaper circulation was very limited, as was the audience for the country's 14 radio stations. Most of the population relied on the country's 42 television stations for news and information. All but one station are privately owned and half were small broadcasters based in the provinces. Only the state-owned Public Television (H1) had nationwide coverage, although three stations were able to cover most of the country, and some stations were able to extend beyond Yerevan. Most stations were owned by progovernment politicians or well-connected businessmen, factors that prompted journalists working for these stations to practice self-censorship. Major broadcast media outlets generally expressed progovernment views and avoided editorial comment or reporting critical of the government. This was especially the case during the presidential election campaign and the protests and state of emergency that followed the election.
The personnel and property of Azparez Journalists Club (AJC), based in Gyumri, were subject to repeated acts of violence and intimidation. The AJC received threatening phone calls and was targeted for arson January 19 by unknown individuals. AJC chairman Levon Barseghian was detained at a rally on March 2 and held for more than five hours at the police station. On March 21, a fire bomb destroyed the AJC's president's car. Investigations of the arson attempt and the fire bomb were subsequently closed without any suspects.
Prior to the February 19 presidential election, the broadcast media displayed bias in favor of the official candidate, and eventual winner, then-prime minister Serzh Sargsian. OSCE/ODIHR and TEAM Research monitored the election and concluded that the prime minister received preferential treatment in the amount of airtime he was allocated and also in the almost exclusively positive or neutral content of the coverage. In contrast, Sargsian's electoral opponent, Levon Ter-Petrossian, received far less airtime and was covered in negative or neutral terms. The similar timing and content of the reporting suggested to both monitoring organizations that authorities coordinated some coverage.
Public television station H1 and public radio stations did not impose any restrictions on the content of the legally mandated free time given to each presidential candidate. TEAM Research noted that the Sunday current affairs program 360 Degrees aired on H1 showed a "consistently negative attitude" towards Ter-Petrossian. Despite the diversity of views in the print media, private Kentron Television documented 71 negative references to Ter-Petrossian and no positive clips between January 21 and February 17. Ter–Petrossian received more coverage on H1 than Sargsian but, according to OSCE/ODIHR, the former received negative and "distorted" coverage, while the latter was covered in "overtly positive" terms. Public Radio followed a similar pattern.
Neither the Central Election Commission (CEC) nor the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) fulfilled their statutory obligations to ensure equality and objectivity of media coverage towards candidates. On March 8, the Constitutional Court ruled that the CEC neglected to exert "effective control over preelection promotion" and that the NCTR displayed a "formalistic approach" to complying with the law. As a result, media coverage displayed not only partiality but also, in some cases, "violations of legal and ethical norms." Nevertheless, the court found that no sanctions or remedies were warranted because the candidates were able to present their platforms to voters by other means of preelection promotion.
Some journalists were prevented from covering voting on election day, February 19. There were reports of assaults on reporters and staff, damage to media equipment, and seizure and erasure of film, often in the presence of police officers. During one altercation, an A1 Plus cameraman's camera was damaged and his film was removed near a voting site in Yerevan. In another incident, a Hayk newspaper reporter's tape was erased in the presence of a police officer. In one case, a Haykakan Zhamanak newspaper correspondent was ejected from a polling station, resulting in the chair of the precinct election commission later being fined 300,000 drams (approximately $1,000).
During the postelection protests, reporters were subjected to widespread harassment and intimidation. On February 27, Radio Liberty reporter Erik Ghazarian was attacked in a downtown police station and his microphone seized. Hayk newspaper correspondent Artak Yeghiazarian was taken to a police station and interrogated about his presence at a political rally. On February 29, and again on March 1, photojournalist Gagik Shamshian was attacked and beaten by several police officers when he attempted to photograph them near a protest in downtown Yerevan. In the second incident, Shamshian's camera was seized and he required medical treatment.
Censorship was imposed and freedom of press and media were severely restricted during the March 1-21 state of emergency. According to the decree enacting the state of emergency, "reports in the mass media on issues concerning the internal situation and of state importance are restricted to official information provided by state entities." The decree resulted in the closing of all opposition media, all Web sites critical of the government, and several days of broadcasts of Radio Liberty. It did not, however, prevent other print and broadcast media from airing strident criticism and unfounded charges against the political opposition and its leaders. H1 was identified by the country's human rights defender as "a most vivid example of such unacceptable coverage." While the state of emergency decree applied only to Yerevan, there were numerous reports of the severe media restrictions being imposed in many other parts of the country.
In Gyumri, three members of a GALA television crew covering a rally were taken to a police station and held for three hours. Police reportedly attempted to seize the camera of an Aravot correspondent but were thwarted by the crowd. Police also reportedly threatened and insulted a Radio Liberty journalist.
Criminal charges for violence against a law enforcement official were brought against Nikol Pashinian, editor in chief of the proopposition Haykakan Zhamanak, the most widely read daily newspaper in the country. Pashinian, who was one of the opposition figures leading protesters on March 1, went into hiding and remained a fugitive at year's end.
Although opposition newspapers were eventually able to resume publishing on March 21, reporters continued to be harassed and intimidated.
On March 25, police reportedly attempted to seize three journalists covering a protest in the Kotayk region. The crowd helped them escape but one was pursued, captured, forced into a car and taken to the police station where she and her driver were held for an hour.
On May 21, a reporter for Zhamanak Yerevan, covering a protest in the town of Masis, was detained by police, beaten, held for several hours and released after the pictures were deleted from his camera.
On August 1, Haykakan Zhamanak reporter Gagik Hovakimian was detained and held by police for over an hour in the town of Ashtarak after Hovakimian's investigation of whether persons were being prevented from going to Yerevan to participate in an opposition rally.
During the year, a number of journalists were the targets of attacks by unknown assailants. Some observers and human rights groups alleged that the journalists had been targeted for their work.
On August 11, two unknown assailants attacked Haykakan Zhamanak reporter Lusine Barseghyan. Barseghyan, who was briefly hospitalized after the attack, linked the assault to a recent series of articles she had written that scrutinized the alleged illicit activities of influential individuals close to the government. The assailants were not identified by year's end, and the investigation was ongoing.
On August 18, an unknown assailant attacked the acting chief of Radio Liberty's Yerevan bureau Hrach Melkumian in downtown Yerevan as he was walking home. The unknown assailant approached Melkumian, calling him by name, and proceeded to beat him while cursing the radio and its programming. Melkumian sustained broken teeth and bruises to his head and back. According to local media, the police suspended the case on October 20 because they could not identify the attacker(s).
On November 17, Edik Baghdasarian, an investigative journalist known for his stories exposing government corruption, was the target of a violent attack, which he and many observers believed to be linked to his reporting. Three unknown assailants ambushed and beat Baghdasarian as he was getting into his car near the office of the "Hetq" online magazine. Baghdasarian suffered serious head injuries and was hospitalized for several days. At year's end the investigation was ongoing.
After the lifting of the state of emergency, the State Tax Service (STS) conducted unannounced tax inspections on four independent and opposition media. On March 24, the opposition Chorrord Ishkhanutyun and Zhamanak Yerevan were audited by STS officials. On March 25, the STS notified Haykakan Zhamanak that it would look into its financial records. STS officials also raided the offices of Aravot, asking for the newpaper's tax records dating back to its founding in 1996. Aravot was fined a nominal amount after minor violations were found, as was Chorrord Iskhananutiun. Haykakan Zhamanak reported its tax inspection ended after it sent a protest letter to the head of the STS.
The GALA regional television station was under pressure simultaneously from tax auditors, broadcast regulators, and municipal authorities. An intrusive tax audit opened in October 2007 resulted in the levying of approximately 26 million drams (approximately $85,000) in back taxes, fines, and late fees on March 19 after a lengthy court process. Observers widely believed the audit was retribution for GALA's September 2007 broadcast of a speech by Levon Ter-Petrossian that was critical of the government. After the audit began, GALA also faced difficulty trying to keep or find advertisers. The station's owner alleged that authorities were forcing advertisers to stop doing business with GALA.
A1 Plus television still remained without a broadcasting license or frequency at year's end. The station has unsuccessfully filed 10 applications for a television or radio license after the government failed to renew its frequency use license in 2002, an action that many considered to be politically motivated. Since 2002, A1 Plus has operated as an Internet news agency, posting its video footage to the Web. During and after the state of emergency, A1 Plus-produced news footage appeared on a variety of international amateur video Web sites. On June 17, the ECHR ruled that authorities had violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to give a written explanation for refusing a broadcast license to A1 Plus. The ECHR's decision stated that "a procedure which did not require a licensing body to justify its decisions did not provide adequate protection against arbitrary interference by a public authority with the fundamental right to freedom of expression." The ECHR awarded, and the government paid, 30,000 euros (approximately $42,000) to A1 Plus' parent company, Meltex, Ltd.
On September 10, with essentially no prior notification or public discussion, the National Assembly amended the Law on Television and Radio to impose a moratorium until July 2010 on the issuance of new television broadcasting licenses. The amendment was passed in an unannounced, evening extraordinary session. The moratorium was enacted shortly before a call for bids on several television frequencies that were due to become available based on expiring licenses. The amendment also gives existing stations the right to extend their licenses to January 2011. Independent media, media analysts, and NGOs viewed the measure as an effort to block issuance of a license to A1 Plus or other applicants more sympathetic to the political opposition than current license holders. On September 19, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media sent a letter to President Sargsian warning that the new law "may make Armenia unable to comply" with the ECHR decision in the A1 Plus case.
In October 2007, police filed criminal charges against two editors, Nikol Pashinian of Haykakan Zhamanak and Shogher Matevosian of Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, and a reporter from Chorrord Ishkhanutyun Gohar Vezirian, all of whom had participated in an opposition march in support of Levon Ter-Petrossian that was broken up by riot police. The charges included "hooliganism committed by a group" and "violence against a representative of the authorities." According to one of the editors, these earlier charges were added to charges that authorities subsequently brought against them in connection with the March 1 events.
In December 2007, the office of the opposition newspaper Chorrord Ishkhanutyun suffered an explosion, which its editor in chief linked to its critical coverage of the government. The prosecutor's office suspended the investigation after approximately one month; the perpetrators were not identified.
In 2006, authorities arrested Zhirayr Sefilian and Vardan Malkhasian, members of the political opposition, allegedly for planning a coup, due to the critical nature of their speeches towards the government. Sefilian was released on June 9 after serving a one-and-a-half year sentence for illegal arms possession, while Malkhasian was released December 10 after serving a two-year sentence for making "public calls for the overthrow of the constitutional order by force" and illegal arms possession.
Arman Babajanian, the editor of the opposition newspaper Yerevan Zhamanak, remained in prison at year's end on a 2006 conviction for forgery and evasion of military service. While Babajanian pleaded guilty to the charges, his four-year sentence was widely considered harsh for such incidents, and some observers believed that he was the victim of selective prosecution. On July 18, authorities rejected his petition for parole, despite calls by prison officials, the human rights defender, and international and local human rights observers. Babajanian was hospitalized September 4-12 due to a serious health condition reportedly exacerbated by his detention.
In March following the decree of the state of emergency, authorities selectively blocked access to independent or opposition Internet sites known to air critical reports of the authorities. Individuals and groups reported suspected government interception of e-mail or Internet chat conversations, although there was no evidence to confirm that this took place during the year.
Internet cafes were widely available in the cities, although local Internet service provider connections were often extremely slow which limited their effectiveness.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were widespread reports of school administrators being dismissed for refusing to support the official candidate in the presidential election. In Gyumri, the regional campaign director for one political party with a candidate in the presidential race, reported that he and over a dozen members of his party had been dismissed from their public sector jobs in the run-up to the election due to their political affiliation. Many of those dismissed had been school directors or administrators in the Shirak region. Similarly, there were widespread reports of school administrators being required to mandate students and teachers to attend rallies for the official candidate. There were reports in the Lori region that school directors and their staffs were being pressured to vote for Serzh Sargsian, who was prime minister at the time. There were reports of teachers and professors throughout the country being fired for their support of the opposition after the March 1-2 events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, authorities severely restricted this right in practice. Prior to the enactment of the state of emergency on March 1, the Law on Conducting Meetings, Assemblies, Rallies and Demonstrations stipulated that groups may peacefully assemble without obtaining a permit, as long as they provided prior notification to the relevant authorities. In the run-up to the February 19 presidential election, political parties generally demonstrated freely. In response to the postelection protests, then-president Kocharian issued a state of emergency decree on March 1 for the city of Yerevan, which imposed a ban on any type of public gathering and was rigorously enforced by police.
On March 17, three days before the end of the state of emergency, authorities amended the law to give broad discretionary powers to authorities to prohibit political rallies and protests. The National Assembly amended the law again on June 11, somewhat relaxing the strict provisions enacted on March 17. In practice, however, authorities continued to severely restrict freedom of assembly through an arbitrary interpretation of the new law and denied approximately 100 opposition applications to hold rallies at requested venues from March through the end of the year. When denying permission to hold rallies, authorities routinely cited the amended provision of the law that allows them to withhold authorization if law enforcement officials indicate that that the event creates potential threats of violence to state security or to public order. However, on several occasions authorities tacitly allowed mass opposition rallies to proceed without interference after having formally refused permission, and granted permission for one opposition rally in Gyumri on June 28 and two in Yerevan on September 15 and October 17.
On February 29, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA) of Vanadzor held a rally demonstrating against electoral fraud in a Vanadzor park. Individuals reportedly working for Vanadzor's mayor tried to disrupt the rally several times, and then disconnected the electricity being used to power the sound equipment at the site. Arthur Sakunts, the director of HCA Vanadzor, sent a letter to Vanadzor's police to report the case but no further action was taken by year’s end.
Early on March 1, authorities used force to end 11 days of continuous, peaceful postelection protests in Yerevan's Freedom Square by government opponents led by opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian. The protests attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators each afternoon, with 300 to 2,000 persons remaining nightly.
On March 1, hundreds of security forces, mainly police and riot personnel, used force to disperse protesters who had spent the night in Freedom Square. According to numerous eyewitness accounts, security forces encircled the protesters and began to beat them with truncheons, use electric stun guns against them, and destroy their tents. When protesters resisted, clashes broke out with security forces. Film footage and eyewitness accounts indicated that police chased protesters a considerable distance from Freedom Square, and that four or five police officers at a time beat individual protesters before taking them into custody. There were also reports that police attacked passersby on nearby streets and assaulted media representatives.
Official government accounts of the clearing of Freedom Square were inconsistent, raising questions about their accuracy. On March 1, police officials stated that they had received information on February 29 that demonstrators were about to be provided large quantities of weapons and that, on March 1, they would use them to instigate mass disorders. The officials claimed that police asked demonstrators to allow them to check for weapons early on March 1, at which point the demonstrators attacked them and police officials decided to disperse the rally. However, a press release posted on the prosecutor general's Web site dated March 1 stated that, consistent with the law concerning unauthorized rallies, police went to Freedom Square to end the rally but, when protestors refused orders to disperse, police proceeded to use force.
Following the dispersal of protesters, police repeatedly broadcast video footage of police officers apparently discovering a cache of hand grenades and other weapons in opposition tents. The authenticity of the video was widely doubted by local observers, many of whom believed the weapons had been planted by police, who then staged the filming of the "discovery." The human rights defender also questioned the official version of events. The opposition consistently denied that it had any weapons at Freedom Square.
According to official information released by the Ministry of Health shortly afterward, 31 persons including six police officers were injured in the March 1-2 dispersal. Following the dispersal, the chief of the Presidential Security Service, Grigorii Sargsian, forcibly removed opposition leader Ter-Petrossian from the square and placed him under de facto house arrest at Ter-Petrossian's residence in central Yerevan.
The state of emergency decree issued by then-president Kocharian was approved by the National Assembly late on the evening of March 1 and went into force immediately. The decree included, among other restrictions, a ban on any type of public gatherings, strikes or other actions that could stop or suspend the activities of organizations and limits on the movement of individuals and the means of transportation. The decree officially applied only to Yerevan, however many of its provisions, including the ban on gatherings, were de facto implemented in other regions as well. Authorities insisted that the state of emergency was necessary in order to restore law and order in the capital and the country as a whole.
Following the March 1 events, authorities effectively sealed off Freedom Square using a heavy police and military presence to deter and prevent assembly of opposition protesters there. In June, authorities denied a political opposition request to hold a rally in the square, citing a children's fair that would be taking place at that time. The fair occupied the square for the remainder of the summer. In September authorities began a major construction project to build a parking garage under the square. Local observers viewed these actions as pretexts to deny political demonstrators access to the square.
On March 4, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA) in Vanadzor was denied permission to hold rallies in Vanadzor in the period from March 6-8 to discuss the March 1 events. The municipality rejected the application, stating that that the rally would cause unexpected circumstances that could jeopardize the health and life of people. On March 20, the administrative court upheld the decision of the municipality.
On March 18, the campaign office of Levon Ter-Petrossian declared in a statement that opposition activists who had been prohibited from, or detained upon, gathering in public demonstrations were forced by police to sign documents in which they undertook not to attend future rallies or marches.
On March 20, the last day of the state of emergency, then-president Kocharian warned that, according to his instructions, police would "take strict measures" against protesters. Kocharian also stated that authorities would not sanction rallies for some time after the end of the state of emergency. On March 21, the first day after the state of emergency ended, approximately 2,000 protesters attempted to march in downtown Yerevan. The police blocked their procession and used force to stop the march.
After the lifting of the state of emergency, protesters gathered regularly for evening "political promenades" on an avenue adjacent to Freedom Square. For the first several days of promenades, police periodically used force to disperse the assembled crowds and temporarily detained dozens of protesters.
Following the March 12 arrest of opposition supporter MP Sasun Mikaelian, regular protests began in Mikaelian's home village of Vanatur, including 10 persons who went on hunger strike. On April 7, police used force to disperse the hunger strikers and reportedly took them away to an undisclosed destination in the nearby city of Hrazdan. On April 8, several dozen opposition supporters clashed with police in Hrazdan to demand to know the detained hunger strikers' whereabouts; approximately 70 Vanatur residents gathered the next morning to demand their release. All of the hunger strikers were subsequently released the next day. According to the opposition, seven of the protesters who pressed for the hunger strikers' release were each fined 50,000 drams (approximately $165) for violating the regulations on conducting public events.
On June 20, in his first major public outing after the March 1 events, Levon Ter-Petrossian held an unauthorized rally in downtown Yerevan that authorities had indicated they would prevent. Riot police positioned at the site left the venue as the rally started. The rally proceeded peacefully after accessing electricity for the sound equipment, which reportedly had been cut. On June 28, Ter-Petrossian held an officially sanctioned rally in Gyumri, the first instance of permission granted to him after more than 40 requests, which was monitored but not disrupted by police.
On July 2, a group of alleged supporters of Gagik Beglarian, the prefect of Yerevan's Kentron district, and Mher Sedrakian, the prefect of the Erebuni district, insulted and beat peaceful protesters who had launched a sit-in on Yerevan's Northern Avenue to protest the detention and imprisonment of the opposition activists. Police officers, who were present at the scene, did not intervene and reportedly prevented reporters from taking photographs of the incident. Beglarian later denied any responsibility for the clash, claiming the beating had been a provocation orchestrated by the protesters themselves.
On July 10, Yerevan's municipality banned a rally which Zhirayr Sefilian, an opposition activist released from jail on June 9, had planned to hold on July 17. According to Sefilian, Yerevan's municipality banned the rally based on police claims that protesters intended to provoke clashes with law-enforcement representatives.
In the morning of August 25, approximately 50 police officers raided Northern Avenue, the scene of an ongoing sit-in by opposition supporters, where they confiscated posters and other materials. The following afternoon, police detained six opposition members at the scene after discovering pro-Ter-Petrossian graffiti painted on the ground. According to one news report, one of the detainees was a minor who was released immediately, while others were taken to the police and released later in the evening. On September 9, police officers used force to disperse opposition supporters gathered on Northern Avenue. Six persons who had declared hunger strikes to urge the release of those they considered to be “political prisoners” were taken to police.
In an October 2 decision citing ongoing construction in the area, the Yerevan municipality banned a rally requested by the opposition to be held on Northern Avenue on October 17. Following an appeal to the administrative court, the court ruled that the rally could be held at an alternative venue, but banned the march afterwards. On October 15, riot police forcibly dispersed approximately 30 young opposition activists who were marching in downtown Yerevan to promote the October 17 rally. The ombudsman, who had sent his representatives to the scene, criticized the police actions in a statement issued later that day.
In addition to open air gatherings, the government also at times restricted citizens’ rights to hold closed door meetings. On December 3, a group of local NGOs distributed a statement stating that during the year, civil society groups had repeatedly been denied the right to conduct meetings, discussions, and film screenings on social and political issues. According to the statement it had become common practice for hotels, cinemas, and business centers to refuse rental of space to civil society organizations critical of the government, current events, or political conditions. The NGOs stated that some hotels had stated that they were instructed by authorities not to rent halls for any event that might be considered political, and that they were instructed to check with designated officials on a case-by-case basis. These claims were corroborated by employees of several hotels.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it in practice. However, registration requirements for all political parties, associations, and secular and religious organizations remained cumbersome. The law stipulates that citizens have the right to form associations, including political parties and trade unions, except for persons serving in the armed services and law enforcement agencies.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the law places some restrictions on the religious freedom of adherents of minority religious groups. The government generally did not enforce existing legal restrictions on religious freedom. The Armenian Apostolic Church is considered the national church and enjoys some privileges not available to other faiths. The law does not mandate registration of NGOs, including religious groups. However, only registered organizations have legal status and may publish more than 1,000 copies of newspapers or magazines, rent meeting places, broadcast programs on television or radio, or officially sponsor visas for foreign visitors, although there is no prohibition on individual members doing so. There were no reports of the government refusing registration to religious groups.
While the law prohibits "proselytizing" as well as foreign funding for foreign-based churches, neither restriction was enforced in practice.
Although the law provides for alternative service for conscientious objectors, the military services themselves administer the alternative service, and members of Jehovah's Witnesses refused the alternative program for that reason. Since 2005 there have been no applications for alternative service by an Armenian citizen. According to lawyers for Jehovah's Witnesses, by the end of the year, 81 of the group's members were serving prison sentences for evading alternative service. One additional person had received a suspended sentence. Jehovah's Witnesses complained about the length of court-ordered sentences for evasion of alternative service.
On July 28, following mediation by the human rights defender, the military commissar sent a letter to the Jehovah's Witnesses informing them that he had instructed all commissariats to register and to provide passports to all persons who had been prosecuted for evading military service for conscientious reasons and who had served their prison sentences. The letter stated that the Ministry of Defense and the military prosecutor did not object to the registration of these citizens. The Jehovah's Witnesses reported improvement in military commissariats' treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses, especially in the issuance of documents after completion of prison sentences.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Societal attitudes toward most minority religions were ambivalent. Television outlets disparagingly labeled denominations other than the Armenian Church as "sects" in their broadcasting and aired negative programs about them.
According to observers the general population viewed nontraditional religious groups with suspicion and expressed negative attitudes about members of Jehovah's Witnesses because of their proselytizing practices and refusal to serve in the armed forces. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses continued to experience occasional societal discrimination.
Jewish community leaders estimated the community's size at between 500 and 1,000 persons. There is a resident rabbi and one synagogue. There were no reports of anti-Semitic violence or vandalism during the year. In December 2007 Jewish community members discovered a small swastika drawn on the Hebrew side of the Joint Tragedies Memorial.
In the days prior to the February 19 presidential election, an anonymous antiopposition organization distributed a DVD in Yerevan that contained anti-Semitic claims, epithets, and innuendo against presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian. The allegations cast aspersions on the candidate's Jewish wife and alleged that he was collaborating with the Israeli government and others in a "Zionist plot" to undermine the state. Some of the video was shown on a private television channel that had a national viewing audience.
Throughout the year, progovernment Hayots Ashkharh daily continued to publish negative articles about the Jehovah's Witnesses. The articles presented the group as a sect endangering the security of the state and calling for their expulsion from the country. They also called for tougher punishment for evasion of alternative service by conscientious objectors.
According to a police report, on July 13, a 53-year-old Yerevan resident attacked two Jehovah's Witnesses while they were preaching. According to the Jehovah's Witnesses, on December 19, the attacker, Hayk Elizbarian was found guilty on charges of insulting, threatening, and beating the victim and was fined 150,000 drams (approximately $490).
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/rpt.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
While the law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, there were some restrictions in practice. The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons, and asylum seekers.
In order to leave the country on a temporary or permanent basis, citizens must obtain an exit visa. Exit visas for temporary travel out of the country may be routinely purchased for approximately 1,000 drams (approximately $3) for each year of validity. Following leadership changes in the police passport and visa agency, exit visas were routinely provided within one day of application. In October, the government abolished the requirement for emigrants to deregister themselves from the civil registry, which had widely been viewed as an onerous process that was subject to extensive corruption.
Freedom of movement of citizens within the country was restricted by the president's state of emergency decree adopted on March 1. During the year there were numerous reports that citizens residing outside of Yerevan were restricted from attending opposition rallies held in the capital.
The law does not prohibit forced exile, but there were no reports that the government used it.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found in a 2005 study (the last year for which figures were available) that 8,399 IDPs resided in the country in 2005.
During the country's war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the government evacuated approximately 65,000 households from the border region, but most have since returned to their homes or settled elsewhere. Of the remaining IDPs, almost two-thirds could not return to their villages, which were surrounded by Azerbaijani territory, and others chose not to return due to socioeconomic hardships or fear of landmines. The government afforded full citizenship rights to IDPs but did not have programs to help integrate them; however, international organizations supported their adjustment.
On September 25, authorities approved a program to assist in the resettlement of 626 families that were displaced during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to persons in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government granted refugee status and asylum during the year; however, many asylum requests remained undecided with applicants complaining of long processing delays, and in some cases discrimination, by the authorities based on their country of origin.
In practice, the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened. The government also provided temporary protection during the year to persons who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol.
As of November 1, a total of 190 persons applied for asylum and the government granted temporary asylum to 68 persons and refugee status to one person. Other cases were under review at year’s end.
There was an established procedure for granting asylum which included amnesty for the illegal entry of an asylum seeker and access to the territory for individuals seeking asylum. However, some delays and difficulties with refugee processing at airports and land borders arose due to frequent rotations of inexperienced border officials and little training on asylum procedures.
Due to a lack of institutional capacity, the government often struggled to integrate asylum seekers into society once they were granted permanent residency status. Temporary housing for refugees and asylum seekers was often inadequate in supply and in poor condition.
During the year the UNHCR implemented an intensive program to train border guards. International organizations asserted that Russian border guards, who operated under an agreement between the country and Russia, usually came into first contact with potential asylum seekers at the country's borders with Turkey and Iran and sometimes at the main international airport in Yerevan and often refused them entry without informing either the government or the UNHCR. During the year some Russian guards were phased out at the Yerevan airport, but the percentage of Russian border guards remained at approximately 18 percent due to increasing numbers of unstaffed positions normally filled by border guards from the country.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Although the law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, that right was restricted in practice due to repeated, significant flaws in the conduct of elections at the national and local levels.
Elections and Political Participation
The conduct of the February 19 presidential election was significantly flawed. Problems included favorable treatment of the government's candidate, instances of ballot stuffing, vote-buying, multiple voting, voter intimidation, violence against and intimidation of opposition commission members, proxies and reporters, restriction of their civil and political rights, and suspiciously high turnout figures.
On February 24, the Central Election Commission (CEC) declared that Prime Minister Serzh Sargsian won the election with 52.8 percent of the votes. Levon Ter-Petrossian, the second-place candidate, received 21.5 percent of the votes. The remainder of the votes cast went to Artur Baghdasaryan (16.7 percent), Vahan Hovhannisian (6.2 percent), Vazgen Manukian (1.3 percent), Tigran Karapetian (0.6 percent), Artashes Geghamian (0.5 percent), Arman Melikian (0.3 percent) and Aram Harutiunian (0.2 percent).
An international election observation mission with members from OSCE/ODIHR and a number of European parliamentary organizations observed the February 19 election. The final OSCE/ODIHR report on the election stated that, while it "mostly met OSCE commitments and international standards in the preelection period and during voting hours, serious challenges to some commitments did emerge, especially after election day," which displayed "an insufficient regard for standards essential to democratic elections and devalued the overall election process." The lack of accountability and transparency in the vote count and ineffective procedures for registering complaints and appeals were also noted. Deficiencies in implementation of the election code were also a problem. The report noted the blurring of party and government functions in apparent violation of the law. In the preelection campaign period, for example, media bias favored then Prime Minister Sargsian, and numerous local government officials actively campaigned for him, some while performing official duties. There were also accounts of local government employees and public-sector employees being obligated to attend the prime minister's campaign events. Observers also noted implausibly high turnout figures at approximately 100 polling stations.
Prior to, during, and after the election campaign, which began January 21, the opposition reported multiple cases of politically-motivated harassment by authorities.
There were reports of persons being fired from their jobs for their political views or activities before or after the election. The NGO Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor reported that Arshavir Ghukasian and Armen Hovhannisian, employees of the Lori regional administration, were dismissed from their jobs after the election because of their support for Ter-Petrossian. In the Shirak region, a regional political party head reported that over a dozen members of his party, which had a candidate in the presidential election, were dismissed from their public sector jobs because they refused to support then-Prime Minister Sargsian's campaign. Local government employees and public sector workers were reportedly obliged to attend then-Prime Minister Sargsian's campaign events under the threat of being fired or receiving a cut in pay.
There were also reports of the misuse of government administrative resources by then Prime Minister Sargsian's campaign prior to the election. Authorities in Vanadzor reportedly provided free public transportation, cancelled classes, and suspended the work of other public institutions to ensure high turnout at a February 7 Sargsian campaign rally.
Some opposition activists were assaulted for their campaign activities. Prior to the February 9 rally of Ter-Petrossian, Hovhannes Grigorian, Gevorg Zakarian and Aghvan Hakobian were posting Ter-Petrossian campaign information in downtown Yerevan when they were reportedly assaulted by Melik Gasparian, the Sargsian campaign manager in Yerevan's Nor Nork district.
Parties in the political opposition reported that authorities pressured landlords not to rent them office space during the campaign. There were also reports that advertising companies were under pressure not to rent billboard space to the opposition. There were also numerous instances of campaign material for the then prime minister Sargsian being posted in state-owned buildings, such as mayors' offices, schools, and cultural centers. On January 28, police in the city of Kapan reportedly used force to close Ter-Petrossian's sole campaign office there. The Ter-Petrossian campaign leased the office in December 2007, but its owner decided to end the lease agreement despite being paid two months' rent in advance. Ter-Petrossian's campaign manager in Kapan stated that police ordered him and other campaign volunteers to vacate the office despite the owner's willingness to let them stay there two more days. Police then sealed the office.
Various campaigns reported arson and gunfire attacks on their offices during the month prior to elections. Such incidents were reported in Vanadzor, the Silikian district in Yerevan, Haghtanak village (located within Yerevan's administrative boundaries), in Nor Nork and another Yerevan district. One person was convicted for hooliganism in connection with such an incident.
Some opposition campaign events were disrupted by violence. Three Ter-Petrossian supporters were arrested and charged with "collective hooliganism" for an alleged assault on a heckler at a Ter-Petrossian rally in the town of Talin on January 27, and were sentenced to prison terms of 1.5 to 2.5 years on April 15.
During a Ter-Petrossian rally in the city of Artashat on February 6, a group of government supporters threw stones and scuffled with Ter-Petrossian's supporters, apparently in an attempt to disrupt the rally. The Ter-Petrossian campaign filed a complaint with police, which resulted in two persons being fined 100,000 drams (approximately $300) each.
During a campaign rally in Freedom Square on February 3, Artur Baghdassarian declared that he had received death threats; he suggested the threats were politically motivated and that authorities were behind them. According to the prosecutor general’s office Artur Baghdassarian sent his representative to the police to discuss the statement made at the rally, but failed to provide specific information and details about the alleged threat, thus no state protection was provided to the presidential candidate.
According to the local affiliate of Transparency International, an anticorruption NGO, both Serzh Sargsian and Vahan Hovhannisian spent more money on their presidential campaigns than was allowed by the election code.
On February 7, Levon Ter-Petrossian asked the Constitutional Court to postpone the presidential election by two weeks, citing state television's antagonistic coverage of his election campaign. Ter-Petrossian sought to invoke a provision of the election code in which a presidential election can be postponed if one of the candidates is deemed to be facing "insurmountable obstacles" in getting a message across to voters. During its preelection media monitoring, the final OSCE/ODIHR report noted a clear imbalance in coverage of the candidates, stating that "in contrast to the almost exclusively positive or neutral coverage afforded to Serzh Sargsian, Levon Ter-Petrossian was regularly portrayed in a negative light." On February 11, the Constitutional Court denied the appeal, ruling that the alleged obstacles were not insurmountable. At the same time the court stated that Ter-Petrossian's complaints should be addressed by the National Council for Television and Radio, the Central Election Commission and the administrative courts. Complaints filed with each of these bodies were reportedly refused or dismissed.
In a written statement three hours before the closing of the polls, Artur Baghdassarian's Rule of Law party campaign headquarters stated the voting was taking place in an atmosphere of threats and violence and was characterized by mass ballot stuffing and other irregularities. After the announcement of results, Baghdassarian claimed that he won considerably more votes than were shown by the CEC due to deliberate miscounting of ballots and other violations by election officials on polling day. On February 20, Baghdassarian issued a statement alleging that the election was marred by numerous falsifications, intimidation and violence against election commission members and proxies, as well as numerous cases of ballot-stuffing, distribution of election bribes, open and multiple voting, and falsifications during the count. Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun party (ARF) also expressed concern that there had been vote fraud, including widespread vote buying, ballot-stuffing, and other violations.
The Ter-Petrossian campaign stated scores of Ter-Petrossian's elections proxies in and around Yerevan were beaten by government supporters after alleging voting irregularities, although independent observers were unable to confirm such a high number of assaulted proxies. Human Rights Watch noted 13 cases of assault on Ter-Petrossian proxies, two opposition members of parliament, and at least two journalists. According to Human Rights Watch, in several incidents the assaults took place in the presence of police and polling station officials, who did not intervene. One of the reported assaults included the alleged kidnapping of a Ter-Petrossian proxy from a polling station in the Yerevan suburb of Abovian. Larisa Tadevosian stated she was driven outside of Abovian and beaten up by three men after making allegations of fraud. She identified one of the assailants as the chief bodyguard of Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman with close ties to the outgoing President Robert Kocharian. The authorities launched an investigation into the allegations, but dropped the case due to lack of evidence. A similar incident was reported in Yerevan's northern Avan suburb, in which two Ter-Petrossian proxies claimed to have been kidnapped and beaten by a group of men led by Ruben Hayrapetian, a business tycoon and reputed criminal figure with ties to authorities. Vahagn Khachatrian, Ter-Petrossian's campaign manager in Yerevan's Malatia-Sebastia district, stated that numerous assaults and cases of violation fraud committed in the district were orchestrated by MP Samvel Aleksanian, another businessman with alleged ties to authorities.
In one of his postelection reports, alongside the mention of assaults on opposition proxies by progovernment supporters, the human rights defender stated that some Ter-Petrossian proxies assaulted election officials and proxies on election day. For example, in one polling station in the town of Maralik, Ter-Petrossian's Maralik campaign chief and his supporters reportedly severely attacked a proxy representing Serzh Sargsian. Harutun Urutian, the campaign chief claimed he was trying to prevent voting violations when a scuffle broke out. In the harshest election-related punishment meted out to date, a court sentenced Urutian to seven years in prison for impeding the activities of an election commission and for assault. Urutian rejected the charges as politically motivated and appealed the verdict. On May 22, the Court of Appeals upheld the charges but shortened the prison sentence to six years.
In the large majority of cases of alleged violence during the election campaign and on election day, Ter-Petrossian supporters and proxies were almost invariably prosecuted and convicted. Most progovernment supporters and proxies saw similar charges against them either go unpunished or they received milder punishment than Ter-Petrossian's supporters. According to official information, approximately 26 persons had been convicted for violence or violations on election day, and at least two of the cases were considered by appeals courts, which upheld the lower courts ruling. Fourteen of the 26 persons were supporters of Levon Ter-Petrossian; nine of the 14 were convicted to prison terms ranging from one-and-a-half to six years. Out of the five election commission officials convicted for their behavior on election day, two were sentenced to prison.
Approximately 17 percent of the international election mission observers reported significant procedural errors in the vote, mostly after the opening of ballot boxes. In 21 percent of polling stations visited, the number of votes per candidate was not announced and in 10 percent there were inconsistencies in determining valid votes. Other problems included failure of precinct commissions members to showing marked ballots to observers present; placing ballots on the wrong candidate piles; signing protocols before completion of the count; signing blank protocols; indications of ballot box stuffing; and attempts to impede observers. Domestic observers or proxies were not afforded a clear view of the vote count at approximately 10 percent of polling stations visited. In eight polling stations, observers saw deliberate data falsification.
According to the CEC, recount requests were filed in 25 territorial election commissions (TECs) regarding 159 precinct election commission (PEC) results. According to the opposition, TECs rejected 34 requests without sufficient cause. One candidate, Aram Harutiunian (who received just 0.2 percent of the vote), requested 27 recounts, some of which were filed right after midnight on February 20 before other candidates filed requests. Because territorial election commissions generally conducted recounts according to the time a request was filed and by law had just three days to complete recounts, some commissions were occupied with the Harutiunian recounts and unable to conduct some recounts requested by other candidates. Some observers believed that Harutiuniun's requests were deliberately orchestrated as a tactic to run out the recount clock before ballots from problematic precincts could be recounted.
The majority of recounts witnessed by international observers showed discrepancies and mistakes in the original count, some significant. Other serious problems occurred during recounts that raised questions about the honesty and political impartiality of precinct and territorial commissions. In Davitashen, Yerevan, territorial commission officials procrastinated in the recounting ballots of polling stations, as key officials absented themselves from the proceedings without reason and other officials insisted nothing could be done without them. After a three hour hiatus in the recount, a group of thugs entered the premises and forced commission members, candidate proxies, journalists, observers from OSCE/ODIHR and diplomatic representatives to leave the building while police officers passively stood by. By the end of the year, no action had been taken against officials who delayed the recount or against police who allowed the illegal disruption of the vote recount. None of the persons who interrupted the recount were identified or arrested.
Despite multiple changes to the election code shortly before the election campaign began, important shortcomings remained. In an overwhelming majority of election commissions, the key leadership positions were held by progovernment appointees, which raised concerns over the independence and impartiality of the administration of elections. There was also no separation between the government and the ruling party during the presidential election, which resulted in unequal campaign conditions for the nine presidential candidates.
Two appeals were filed against the election results at the Constitutional Court, one by Levon Ter-Petrossian and the other by Tigran Karapetian. On March 8, the court upheld the election results but criticized the National Committee of Television and Radio and the CEC for not taking actions to ensure unbiased media coverage, as prescribed by law. However, the court found that their inaction did not affect the election outcome and ruled that inaccuracies in some precinct election result protocols could not affect the results of the election.
The state of emergency imposed on March 1, among other restrictions, banned "political propaganda" through leaflets or other means without permission from relevant state bodies and temporarily suspended the activity of political parties and other public organizations that could impede the elimination of the circumstances that served as the grounds for declaring the state of emergency.
There were 11 women serving in the 131-seat National Assembly, including one of two deputy speakers, as well as two women appointed to the government cabinet, and one female governor.
There were no members of ethnic minorities in the National Assembly or government cabinet, nor did any members of ethnic minorities participate in the presidential election.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was widespread on all levels and in all sectors. The World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem. The public rarely protested corrupt practices, such as routine bribe-paying, and appeared to be aware of the problem's prevalence.
Financial disclosure laws cover public officials and their family members. However, according to a 2006 report by the Anticorruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the declaration was a formality, and there are no mechanisms in place to verify the declaration information, which was not fully accessible to the public. While individuals with annual incomes above 8 million drams (approximately $26,000) as well as state officials, were required to submit income tax declarations beginning April 15, the government had not established mechanisms to implement the requirement by year's end.
Government programs to curb corruption were largely inactive during the year. The governmental Anticorruption Strategy Monitoring Commission (ACSMC) and Anticorruption Council met only sporadically during the year, in apparent violation of its own regulations. In December 2007, the council approved a nine-month timetable for drawing up an anticorruption strategy for 2008-12. By the end of the reporting period, four of the five planned chapters of the strategy had been drafted. Drafts of the four chapters completed to date were widely distributed during the year, and the NGO Freedom of Information Center Armenia posted the completed chapters of the strategy on its website. Public consultations on the strategy were held in three of the country's 11 regions as well as in Yerevan during the year.
There were some improvements, including a decline in incidents of corruption and increased transparency, in the operations of the police passports and visas department (OVIR) following the removal of its chief on July 7 and the appointment of a new chief, Norayr Mouradkhanian, on July 9. On June 26, Prime Minister Sargsian called corruption "the number one problem" facing the country and identified the passport service as "one of the most corrupt government agencies."
According to official statistics, authorities investigated 173 corruption cases during the first 11 months of the year, of which 57 cases against 75 persons (including 57 officials) were sent to the courts. The Special Investigative Service investigated 34 officials under corruption charges, the majority of whom worked in the police forces or the Ministry of Justice. Most of these officials were section heads or low-level officials. The disposition of these cases by the end of the year was unknown.
On September 17, the Audit Chamber of the National Assembly reported that violations and abuses of the state budget amounted to over 1.3 billion drams (approximately $4.3 million) during the first half of the year, mainly involving construction. The chamber's chair, Ishkhan Zakarian, stressed that damage to state budget should be compensated and the guilty parties punished.
On September 24, the Audit Chamber of the National Assembly announced the results of oversight investigations in the Syunik region. According to the chamber's chair, Syunik's governor and regional government officials under his supervision embezzled 575 million drams (approximately $1.9 million) in public funds and property. The chamber found that approximately one-third of this amount was misappropriated by officials in the regional administration, who inflated the cost of procurements and failed to properly use government funds earmarked for construction, and that the mayors of towns and villages embezzled even larger sums through similar schemes. The chamber's chair alleged that the mayor of Syunik's capital, Kapan, sold 5,200 square meters of public housing for as little as 3,500 drams ($12) and stated that he would forward the case to state prosecutors after the chamber completed its inspections in Syunik.
While the law provides for public access to government information, in practice the government rarely provided such access. By the end of the year, the government had not yet adopted the legal regulations required by, and supplementary to, the 2003 Freedom of Information Law, on the aspects of collection and provision of information. Officials cited the absence of these regulations when refusing to provide information. NGOs were more successful in gaining access to information through the courts.
On April 10, the NGO Freedom of Information Center published the results of a survey on journalists' access to information which cited access to official information as a serious problem. The survey claimed the biggest obstacle in obtaining official information was the mentality of officials, who viewed the information at their disposal as their private property. Other obstacles included the absence of formal procedures for storing and providing information, as well as the low level of awareness of their rights among journalists.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.
During the year independent local religious and human rights organizations and local affiliates of international organizations operated in the country. Government authorities generally did not deny requests to meet with domestic NGO monitors and followed some NGO recommendations, particularly those related to social welfare, education, or involving local matters.
The human rights defender is mandated to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms from abuse by the national, regional, and local governments or their officials. During the first half of the year the human rights defender's office received written complaints from more than 1,662 citizens; the office resolved 48 of these complaints, with 87 persons reportedly receiving redress for their grievances.
On March 3, the human rights defender issued a statement on the March 1 political violence that questioned authorities' use of lethal force against opposition protesters. The statement suggested that clashes between security forces and protesters resulted from the violent dispersal of demonstrators from Freedom Square earlier that day and called on authorities to answer allegations that protesters were attacked without warning and explain why security forces hindered the media from reporting the incident. The defender also criticized state-controlled media for presenting only the official version of events. On March 5, then-president Kocharian criticized the human rights defender's assessment as well as the defender personally, asserting that the defender did not understand what he was talking about. Kocharian also warned the defender that every state official must remember that they work for the country and "not Strasbourg," in reference to the seat of the European Court of Human Rights.
On April 25, the human rights defender released a more extensive ad hoc report on postelection developments, in which he again questioned the official version of the March 1 events as well as the legality of the actions taken by then-president Kocharian and law enforcement bodies, and called for an independent investigation into the March 1 events.
In response to the April 25 report, the prosecutor general and the minister of justice rejected the ad hoc report's assertions, and various officials appeared on television to criticize the human rights defender, blaming him for taking sides and alleging that he had exceeded his mandate by issuing the ad hoc report. On June 5, the National Assembly's committees on human rights and European integration held hearings on the report, during which the human rights defender criticized the prosecutor general and justice minister for misrepresenting the content of the report and for refusing to answer questions about the March 1 unrest.
During the year authorities did not provide access to case materials and results of forensic examinations to the families of the March 1-2 victims. On June 26, authorities recognized those killed as "victims" or "injured parties" and their family members as legal heirs, which legally entitled them to access investigation materials into the deaths, but this access was not granted in practice. An independent May 7-12 inquiry into postelection events conducted by a Paris-based association of Armenian lawyers (AFAJA) suggested that families of these victims were subjected to various pressures by authorities and were allegedly offered financial compensation "to turn the page" and cover the funeral expenses.
On May 21, Tigran Urikhanian, the leader of a marginal political party, assaulted and shot Mikhail Danielian, the head of the NGO Helsinki Association, with an air gun. Danielian sustained light wounds in the attack. Despite numerous witnesses to the incident, authorities had not prosecuted Urikhanian by year's end. According to the prosecutor general's office, a criminal case on charges of hooliganism was launched to investigate the argument between Urikhanian and Danielian, however, the status of Danielian and Urikhanyan within the criminal case was unclear at year’s end.
On May 28, Arsen Kharatian, a member of the proopposition HIMA youth civic initiative movement that emerged following the disputed presidential election, was attacked and severely beaten by three unknown individuals. Kharatian believed he was targeted for his public activities and political views. After the March 1 events, Kharatian had been detained twice while participating in political promenades; he was released the same day on both occasions. On September 28, the investigation was suspended; the assailants were not identified.
On June 25, two unknown men assaulted 20-year-old Narek Hovakimian, an active member of HIMA. Hovakimian, who was hospitalized with head and stomach injuries told the press that he was convinced the attack was politically motivated. On August 26, the investigation was suspended; the assailants were not identified.
The government generally cooperated with international NGOs, permitting them to visit prisons and, in the case of the ICRC, all detention centers in the country.
After the May 2007 elections, the new parliament established a Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Issues. Human rights NGOs viewed the committee with skepticism due to its unclear mandate and apparent lack of concrete activity.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status; in practice, however, there was societal discrimination against women, ethnic and religious minorities, persons with disabilities, and homosexuals.
Rape is a criminal offense and carries a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment. There are no explicit laws criminalizing marital rape. During the year authorities launched 20 criminal cases against 15 persons on cases of rape and attempted rape; however, social stigma contributed to the underreporting of those crimes. Authorities convicted 11 out of these 15 individuals for rape or attempted rape; the disposition of the other cases was unclear at year's end.
There is no law against domestic violence. Few cases of spousal abuse or other violence against women were reported during the year, although such violence was widespread. In a May 2007 survey commissioned by the Women's Rights Center, 66 percent of the respondents acknowledged that family members subjected them to psychological abuse and 39 percent considered themselves victims of either moderate or severe physical abuse. Most cases of domestic violence were not reported to police because victims were afraid of physical harm, were apprehensive that police would return them to their husbands, or were embarrassed to make family problems public.
In November, Amnesty International issued a report on domestic violence in the country noting that all domestic violence shelters, with the exception of one, have been forced to close due to funding problems. Prior to their closure, the NGO-operated shelters offered refuge and assistance, including psychological and legal counseling to domestic violence victims.
On April 30, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, issued a report on the human rights situation in the country based on his visit in 2007. The report noted there was a police unit that specialized in domestic violence, but that police attention to the problem continued to be inadequate. NGOs reported that police officers were reluctant to communicate with female victims. The number of female police officers continued to be insufficient.
Prostitution and sex tourism are legal, but operating a brothel is prohibited and engaging in other forms of pimping are punishable by one to 10 years' imprisonment. According to media reports, there were fewer than 5,000 women involved in prostitution in the country, approximately 1,500 of whom were in Yerevan. Police and other security forces reportedly tolerated prostitution.
The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although it addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior. Sexual harassment appeared to be widespread, especially towards younger women and women who worked in the public sector.
Men and women enjoy equal legal status, although gender and age discrimination were continuing problems in the public and private sectors. Women generally were not afforded the same professional opportunities or wages as men, and often were relegated to more menial or low skill jobs. Authorities asserted that women constituted half of all public servants and received the same pay as men.
The government was committed to protecting children's rights and welfare, but it did not allocate sufficient resources to fulfill this commitment.
Observers indicated that parents, particularly the poorest and most socially disadvantaged, were unable to register their children at birth, thereby potentially depriving them of essential social services and increasing their children's vulnerability.
Many educational facilities were severely underfunded and in poor condition, although major renovation works were initiated with government and foreign funding. Access to education in rural areas remained difficult, and work in the fields during harvest season took precedence over school for many children. Lack of funding to provide heat prompted school officials in many areas to extend winter school breaks by as much as an additional month. Many teachers solicited bribes from parents in return for good or passing grades.
Severe disparities remained in both primary and secondary education in the country between gender, regions, and income. Dropouts after basic education were substantial, especially among poor students. According to the State Statistical Service, 13 percent of children aged 15-16 were not attending school in 2006, the most recent year that statistics were reported.
Attendance rates among children in the Yezidi ethnic minority continued to be lower than average, partially due to economic reasons, a lack of Yezidi teachers and textbooks, and the early removal of teenage girls from schools for marriage. In 2007 new Yezidi language textbooks, as well as Assyrian language texts, were used in ethnic minority schools around the country.
Free basic health care was available to boys and girls through age 18 but often was of poor quality, and officials often required overt or concealed payment for services.
There were reports that girls were trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons; however there were reports that persons were trafficked to and from the country. There was no credible data as to the real extent of the problem.
The country is a source and transit point for women and girls trafficked primarily for sexual and, to a lesser extent, labor exploitation to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. There were also reports that men were trafficked to Russia for forced labor in the construction sector. There were reports of trafficking victims from the country registered in West European countries. There was one report of internal trafficking of a minor. The country was also a destination for a group of trafficked persons from other countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.
According to the Prosecutor General's Office, during the year at least 40 persons were victims of trafficking. The Prosecutor General's Office also reported that 24 persons were victims of pimping during the year, including 23 exploited within the country and one exploited in Turkey.
Traffickers, using developed networks in source and destination countries, typically recruited victims who were already engaged in prostitution. The majority, but not all, of the identified victims were aware that they would end up in the sex industry in other countries; however, they were unaware of the traffickers' intent or the exploitative circumstances they would face abroad. Once in the destination country, victims were deprived of their travel documents, locked in hotel rooms, and told that they must "repay" their expenses. The initial consent of the victims contributed to authorities' difficulty in identifying cases of trafficking. In most cases, victims left the country with valid documents after which the traffickers provided them with forged documents in a transit country. According to local observers, traffickers occasionally refrained from violence against victims and used more subtle means to exercise control. There were reports that traffickers encouraged victims to become recruiters, promising them that they could keep a percentage of their recruits' earnings.
Women engaged in prostitution, orphans who had outgrown their institutions, homeless or divorced women, and women in difficult financial situations were at greatest risk of being trafficked. There were some reported incidents of physical violence against trafficking victims.
Trafficking in persons is punishable by three to 15 years' imprisonment, depending on the presence of aggravating factors such as the death of the victim or the involvement of a minor. Traffickers are eligible for early release from prison after serving half of their sentences, and in the past such releases have been routinely granted.
According to the prosecutor general's office, courts convicted persons during the year under the trafficking statute and 13 persons under the pimping statute. Experts noted that inconsistent application of the two statutes continued to be a problem during the year.
In July, police uncovered a large group of trafficking victims from Russia who were exploited in local night clubs as exotic dancers. The recruiter, a Russian citizen, and her accomplices were apprehended. The investigation of the case was ongoing at year's end.
The Ministerial Council to Combat Trafficking in Persons, chaired by the deputy prime minister, is responsible for implementing, coordinating, and monitoring the government's antitrafficking efforts. In December 2007, following extensive discussions with foreign governments and NGOs involved in antitrafficking programs, the government approved a 2007-09 national action plan to combat trafficking in persons.
The police, the NSS, and the prosecutor's office were responsible for investigation and prosecution of trafficking. The government actively cooperated with several trafficking destination countries and regularly shared information with them.
Previous allegations of official complicity in trafficking continued to harm the credibility of the government's antitrafficking efforts. Some observers asserted that agreements between corrupt court officials and traffickers were also common.
By year's end no officials had been prosecuted in connection with the 2006 escape from the country of convicted Uzbek trafficker Anush Zakharyants. An official investigation into the escape had resulted in the dismissal of two senior inspectors of the border oversight department, and the head of the border oversight department, Lieutenant Colonel V. Poghosian, was reprimanded. On December 18, in connection with the escape of Zakharyants, the government launched a new criminal case into the circumstances of Zakharyants' illegal crossing of the border.
Upon their return to the country, many trafficking victims feared social stigma and discrimination and were reluctant to help locate and prosecute their traffickers. Government officials did not require victims to assist in pursuing traffickers but worked with the ones who were willing to do so. NGOs reported that judges' treatment of victims has improved in recent years.
Several NGOs assisted trafficking victims, many of whom were referred to them by the government. Two hotlines were also available for trafficking victims. Antitrafficking NGOs operated without financial assistance from the government and depended on foreign government funding. At the end of the year, however, the government approved five line items in the national budget directed at combating trafficking in persons, including a trafficking victims' shelter.
On November 20, the government approved the National Referral Mechanisms (NRM) for use by public officials to help refer trafficking victims for assistance. According to local observers, however, the referral mechanism appeared to place disproportionate focus on helping law enforcement agencies locate and punish traffickers rather than providing assistance to victims. The level of assistance to the victim prescribed in the NRM depends on the level of cooperation with the law-enforcement bodies.
NGOs, international organizations, and the government conducted trafficking prevention activities, mainly through educational and media programs to raise public awareness of the problem.
The State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services; however, discrimination remained a problem. The law and a special government decree provide for accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, but in practice very few buildings and other facilities were accessible to them.
According to media reports, institutionalized patients often lacked medication and received substandard care. On July 28, Armenianow.com published a Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor survey of patients at the Vanadzor Neurological and Psychiatric Clinic. Patients reported beatings, torture, and abusive narcotic sedation by sanitary personnel and medical staff. Patients complained of deprivation of privileges and insufficient food.
Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with serious disabilities were substandard. According to official data, as of July 2007 over 90 percent of persons with disabilities who were able to work were unemployed.
On October 7, the National Library opened a special reading hall for persons with visual disabilities. The government also installed special computer software in the National Library and the Syunik regional library in order to provide internet access to persons with visual disabilities.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but did not do so effectively.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Persons who were openly gay were exempted from military service, purportedly because of concern that they would be abused by fellow servicemen. However, the legal pretext for the exemption was predicated on a medical finding of gays possessing a mental disorder, which was stamped in their documents and could affect their future. General societal attitudes towards homosexuality remained unfavorable.
There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
Many employers reportedly discriminated against potential employees by age, most commonly requiring that job applicants be between the ages of 18 and 30. After the age of 40, workers, particularly women, had little chance of finding jobs that were appropriate to their education or skills.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law allows workers, except for those serving in the armed services and law enforcement agencies, to form and to join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements; in practice, however, most workers did not exercise this right. Labor organizations remained weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and poor economic conditions. The Confederation of Labor Unions (CLU) estimated that, as of February, there were 240,000 members in 24 trade unions, which constituted roughly 20 percent of the workforce. There were additional labor unions that did not belong to the CLU. Labor unions were generally inactive, with the exception of those connected with the mining industry. However, some mining enterprises, including some financed by foreign capital, discouraged employees from joining labor unions with the implied threat of loss of employment.
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. The law provides for the right to strike, except for members of the armed services and law enforcement agencies, but workers rarely went on strike due to the fear of losing their jobs. The law also prohibits retaliation against strikers, although it sometimes occurred.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Although the law provides for collective bargaining, in practice there was only one collective bargaining agreement reported during the year. Factory directors generally set pay scales without consulting employees. As of January, newly established courts of general jurisdiction arbitrated labor disputes.
There were no reports of antiunion discrimination.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that women and girls were trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and labor and that men were trafficked for labor.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The minimum age for employment is 16 but children may work from age 14 with parental and labor union permission. The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for child labor law compliance, but the inspectorate, community councils, unemployment offices, and, as a final board of appeal, the courts, enforced the law unevenly. Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from working overtime or in harmful and dangerous conditions, at night, or on holidays.
According to the Employment Service Agency, some children were involved in family businesses (mainly agriculture) as well as other activities not prohibited by law. Observers also reported seeing children in Yerevan selling flowers, drawings and working in local markets after school hours. On October 30, UNICEF published the results of a nationwide survey on child labor. According to the study less than 5 percent of children between 7 and 18 had paying jobs, not counting those involved in family farms or businesses. The survey also found that almost one third of working children were below the legal working age; that most children worked without legal contracts; that some children were employed in heavy manual work as laborers and loaders.
There was one report of an individual engaging a minor in prostitution within the country during the year. The case was prosecuted as "pimping."
The State Labor Inspectorate as well as other state agencies are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but did not always enforce these laws effectively. The inspectorate, however, made little progress toward implementing an inspection regime or the requirements of the labor code, and its work was reportedly undermined by corruption.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The government sets the minimum wage by decree. The monthly minimum wage of 25,000 drams (approximately $81), as fixed by the state budget, did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Many private sector employees were unable to obtain paid leave and were required to work far more than eight hours a day. According to representatives of some employment agencies, many employers also hired an employee for a "probationary" period of 10-30 days, during which the employee was not paid. Often these employees were subsequently fired, but, because their initial employment was illegal, they were unable to claim payment for the time they worked. Evidence also suggested that some private sector employers underreported the size of their staff to avoid paying taxes.
The law sets the workweek at 40 hours and provides for mandatory vacation of 28 calendar days annually as well as overtime compensation; however, these standards were not effectively enforced. In the mining sector, employers allowed limited sick leave with the presentation of a medical certificate. There were reports that employers fired employees who took extended sick leave.
Workers had the legal right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered health and safety, but they were unlikely to do so because such an action would place their employment at risk. As required by law, the government has set occupational and health standards. The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards, but did not do so effectively.
2008 Human Rights Report: Turkey
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, February 25, 2009
Turkey, with a population of approximately 71.5 million, is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliamentary system. The country has a president with limited powers elected, as of an October 2007 referendum, by popular vote for a maximum of two five-year terms. President Abdullah Gul was elected in August 2007 by the single-chamber parliament, the Turkish Grand National Assembly. In July 2007 parliamentary elections, considered free and fair, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the majority of seats and formed a one-party government under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There were six opposition parties and five independent members in parliament. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, serious problems remained in some areas. During the year human rights organizations documented a rise in cases of torture, beatings, and abuse by security forces. Security forces committed unlawful killings; the number of arrests and prosecutions in these cases was low compared with the number of incidents, and convictions remained rare. Prison conditions remained poor, with chronic overcrowding and insufficient staff training. Law enforcement officials did not always provide detainees immediate access to attorneys as required by law. There were reports that some officials in the elected government and state bureaucracy at times attempted to undermine the judiciary's independence. The overly close relationship of judges and prosecutors continued to hinder the right to a fair trial. Excessively long trials were a problem. The government limited freedom of expression through the use of constitutional restrictions and numerous laws, including articles of the penal code prohibiting insults to the government, the state, the "Turkish nation," or the institution and symbols of the republic. Limitations on freedom of expression applied to the Internet, and courts and an independent board ordered telecommunications providers to block access to Web sites on approximately 1,475 occasions. Non-Muslim religious groups continued to face restrictions on practicing their religion openly, owning property, and training leaders. Violence against women, including honor killings and rape, remained a widespread problem. Child marriage persisted. Incidents of police corruption contributed to trafficking in persons for labor and sexual exploitation.
In April the government reduced limitations on freedom of expression by amending Article 301 of the penal code to more narrowly define the circumstances under which speech may be criminalized and prosecuted. In June the government amended the law to reduce restrictions on non-Turkish language broadcasts on state-owned television. On December 25, the government expanded Kurdish language broadcasts with the introduction of a pilot, 24-hour state television channel in the Kurdish language. The government took initial steps during the year to recognize and address the concerns of the Alevi population. In February the parliament amended the Foundations Law, expanding the ability of minority religious groups to acquire new property and recover confiscated property.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, security forces killed a number of persons during the year.
The nongovernmental association (NGO) Human Rights Foundation (HRF) reported that security forces caused the deaths of seven persons during demonstrations. On February 15, Yahya Menekse died under an armored police vehicle during a demonstration in Cizre, Sirnak. Official autopsy results confirmed that Menekse died as a result of being crushed under the vehicle. The Cizre District Governorship initially did not give permission to the Office of the Cizre Public Chief Prosecutor to investigate the death. On October 23, a Diyarbakir court reversed the district governor's decision and issued permission for the prosecution of seven policemen. The investigation was ongoing at year's end.
On March 5, in Ercis, Van province, Mehmet Deniz suffered serious injuries and later died during a clash between demonstrators and security forces at a demonstration to mark World Women's Day.
On March 22, police shot Zeki Erik in the chest during Nevruz celebrations in Van; he subsequently died in Van University Hospital.
There continued to be reports that security forces shot and killed civilians who refused to obey a warning to stop. The Human Rights Association (HRA) reported that nine persons died and 12 were injured specifically for refusing to stop, an increase over the previous year.
Human rights organizations stated that the government's failure to clearly delineate appropriate situations to use lethal force, in the revised Antiterror Law or other laws, contributed to cases of disproportionate use of force.
On July 26, a police officer in Bursa killed Gokhan Ergun for not obeying a warning to stop. A Bursa penal court prosecuted the police officer on charges of "intentionally wounding in a way that causes death," releasing him on bail following a November 13 hearing. The trial was pending at year's end.
On August 25, a checkpoint police team in Sivas fired on a car for refusing to obey a warning to stop, killing the driver, Turan Ozdemir.
According to the HRF, security forces killed a total of 37 persons for refusing to obey a warning to stop, by haphazard police fire, or other extrajudicial killings.
On October 11, Engin Ceber, who had been detained on September 28 with three other youths for selling the leftist newspaper Yuruyus (March), died of a brain hemorrhage, reportedly as a result of beating by security forces during his detention. The detainees' attorney filed a criminal complaint against police officers at Istanbul's Istinye police station for allegedly beating the four youths, who were later transferred to Metris Prison. The justice ministry appointed an investigator to conduct a probe into the death, which was ongoing at year's end. On October 15, the justice minister publicly apologized for the use of disproportionate force by security forces. The Ministry of Justice suspended 19 prison personnel during the investigation.
On December 29, an Istanbul prosecutor closed the investigation of seven police officers suspected in the death of Mustafa Kurkcu in Umraniye prison in June 2007 from cerebral hemorrhaging, allegedly as a result of abuse. Countering family observations of Kurkcu's condition and some medical reports, the prosecutor said the injuries occurred before Kurkcu's detention.
There was no progress by year's end on investigating or prosecuting the case of Ejder Demir, an ethnic Kurdish citizen whom security forces shot and killed in September 2007 in the Asagi Kockiran village in eastern Van Province. An NGO delegation that visited the town after his death reported eyewitness statements that soldiers shot Demir in the back without warning; government officials maintained that Demir was trying to flee when shot.
On November 6, an Istanbul court granted bail to police officer Ali Mutlu during his trial for the November 2007 death of 26-year-old Feyzullah Ete in the Avcilar neighborhood of Istanbul. Mutlu allegedly kicked Ete in the chest, after which Ete died of a heart attack. Ete and a friend had been drinking in a public park. Witnesses said police warned the victim and his friend prior to the physical confrontation. The trial was ongoing at year's end. There were no results at year's end of a related Ministry of Interior investigation into the officer's conduct.
After a June 6 hearing, the trial continued at year's end of Jandarma officers Ali Kaya and Ozcan Ildeniz and alleged informant Veysel Ates related to the 2005 bombing of a bookstore that killed one person in Semdinli, Hakkari province, and the violent protests that followed. In May 2007 the court of appeals overturned the 2006 conviction of Kaya and Ildeniz for the bombing, and the conviction of Ates in a separate case, directing the cases to be joined and tried in a military court. Related cases against Tanju Cavus for using excessive force against demonstrators after the bombing, and against bookstore owner Seferi Yilmaz for assisting and sheltering members of the terrorist organization Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), were ongoing at year's end.
On March 12, an Eskisehir criminal court acquitted attorney Tahir Elci of allegations that he tried to interfere with the prosecution of four police officers charged with the unlawful killing of Ahmet and Ugur Kaymaz in 2004. In 2007 prosecutors filed charges against Elci, who represented the Kaymaz family, after he spoke to the press about the case. The four officers were acquitted in April 2007.
The HRF reported 32 suspicious deaths of prison inmates through December, a significant increase over 2007. At least 17 of the deaths were reportedly suicides.
The case against an officer from the Beyoglu District of Istanbul for the August 2007 killing of Nigerian refugee Festus Okey was ongoing at year's end. Okey died in a police station in Istanbul during interrogation by the officer, who allegedly had a gun. The Beyoglu criminal court decided in November 2007 to send the case to the penal court under the charge of "premeditated murder" rather than "negligent killing."
According to the government, 49 civilians were killed and 252 were injured, 143 members of the security forces were killed and 256 were injured, and 657 terrorists were killed in armed clashes related to the struggle against the PKK during the year. Most of the clashes occurred in the southeast. The numbers of civilian deaths and injuries significantly increased from 2007.
According to the HRF, landmines and unattended explosives killed 24 civilians and injured 43 during the year. Both security forces and the PKK used landmines.
On several occasions throughout the year, government military aircraft attacked areas controlled by the PKK in northern Iraq following attacks in Turkey. According to press reports, one civilian was injured in these attacks.
There were two reports of politically motivated disappearances.
On June 3, the relatives of Enver Elbat notified the HRA that Elbat had been missing since December 2007. Elbat's father reported that his son had been jailed for 12 years. He alleged the police told him to look for Elbat in the mountains when he requested more information about his son's disappearance.
On July 29, the family of Hasan Onay notified the HRA that Onay had been missing since June 13 after allegedly being detained by the police. In December 2006 Onay and others resisted the police during a raid on the Basic Right and Freedoms Association. Onay escaped and had remained in hiding until his alleged detention.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, members of the security forces continued to torture, beat, and abuse persons.
Human rights organizations and the European Commission reported a rise in cases of torture and abuse during the year. In a July 2007 report, Amnesty International (AI) noted that a "culture of impunity" allowed police and Jandarma to escape accountability for torture and enabled courts to disregard medical evidence of torture and accept as evidence statements allegedly extracted under torture.
Courts investigated many allegations of abuse and torture by security forces during the year; however, they rarely convicted or punished offenders. When courts did convict offenders, punishment generally was minimal and sentences were often suspended. Authorities typically allowed officers accused of abuse to remain on duty and occasionally even promoted them during their trials, which often took years.
A December parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission report found that, between 2003-08, 2 percent of the 2,140 personnel who were investigated due to accusations of torture or mistreatment were given disciplinary sentences.
The Turkish National Police (TNP) reported 14 cases of torture allegations and opened administrative and judicial investigations against 60 personnel. As of October 24, there were no cases of prosecution against alleged torture suspects that had resulted in conviction or firing. Four cases resulted in salary cuts.
According to an October report by the Prime Ministry's Human Rights Presidency (HRP), the number of torture and cruel treatment cases reported in the first six months of the year surpassed the number reported in the first half of 2007. The HRP reported that, in the first half of the year, 178 persons reported cruel treatment and 26 reported torture, up from 79 reports of cruel treatment and 17 reports of torture during the same period in 2007.
According to the HRA, there were 238 incidents of torture in the first nine months of the year. The reports involved a total of 178 victims and 298 suspects (263 police, 15 Jandarma, and 20 other public servants).
The HRF reported that, in the first nine months of year, 312 persons applied to the HRF's centers for assistance. Of these, 182 cases involved torture or abuse inflicted during the year; the rest involved abuse incidents that occurred previously. A number of human rights observers claimed that only a small percentage of detainees reported torture and abuse because most feared retaliation or believed that complaining was futile.
In its October report, the NGO Societal and Legal Research Foundation (TOHAV) reported an increase in torture cases during the year. Based on a study of 275 surveys from individuals who submitted credible reports of torture from 2006 through February 28, TOHAV found that 210 of the victims were ethnic Kurds, 55 ethnic Turks, and 10 ethnic Arabs. A total of 217 victims claimed that they were tortured for their political views, 36 for their sexual orientation, and 22 for criminal reasons. Fifteen of the victims said they were abused in a police car, 83 in open fields, and 76 in police stations. Only 70 of the torture allegations resulted in criminal complaints, and only five of those resulted in court cases, which were ongoing at year's end.
The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and domestic human rights observers reported that security officials mainly used methods of torture and abuse that did not leave physical signs, including repeated slapping, exposing detainees to cold, stripping and blindfolding detainees, food and sleep deprivation, threatening detainees or their family members, dripping water on detainees' heads, isolation, and mock executions. Human rights activists, attorneys, and physicians who treated victims said that, because of increased punishments for torture and abuse, police who engaged in these practices often did so outside of police detention centers to avoid detection.
Human rights activists maintained that those arrested for ordinary crimes were as likely to suffer torture and mistreatment in detention as those arrested for political offenses, such as speaking out against the government, although they were less likely to report abuse. Observers believed that security officials tortured some political detainees to intimidate them and send a warning to others with similar political views. Authorities allegedly tortured some suspects to obtain confessions.
On September 17, police officer Gazi Ozuak from the Van Security Directorate was arrested on charges of torturing theft suspect Zeki Simsek. Ozuak had detained Simsek for alleged involvement in a theft nine days earlier. Simsek's claim at his subsequent arraignment that he had been tortured with nails and cigarettes during his interrogation was verified by a medical report by the Van State Hospital.
On September 28, police detained Engin Ceber, Ozgur Karakaya, Aysu Baykal, and Cihan Gun for distributing copies of Yuruyus (March), a leftist newspaper. The youth were distributing the paper in protest of the shooting and paralysis of Ferhat Gercek by police in 2007 while distributing the same paper. Their attorney filed a criminal complaint against police officers at Istanbul's Istinye police station for allegedly beating the four youths, who were later transferred to Metris Prison. On October 6, Ceber was moved to a hospital for treatment and declared dead on October 11; an investigation into the death was ongoing at year's end (see Section 1.a.). On October 15, the justice minister publicly apologized for the use of disproportionate force by security forces. The Ministry of Justice suspended 19 prison personnel during the investigation.
In the related case of the October 2007 shooting and paralysis of Ferhat Gercek while he was selling Yuruyus, in June Gercek identified the police officer who shot at him during an investigation into the events. Gercek was indicted and faced 15 years and four months' imprisonment for resisting arrest; the eight police officers who arrested him were indicted and faced up to nine years' imprisonment for disproportionate use of force. The cases were postponed after accused police officers failed to appear for the first hearing.
On September 30, Derya Bakir suffered fractures in both legs due to alleged cruel treatment by 20 guards while visiting his brother, held at the Ankara Sincan "F-Type" (maximum security) prison for being a member of a leftist organization. The guards reportedly began to beat him for failing to leave the visitation room in time, resulting in his left foot being broken.
At year's end, there was still no investigation into the March 2007 criminal complaint filed by a Diyarbakir woman alleging police tortured her while she was visiting her detained husband at a polic station. She alleged that one of the officers held her while the other beat her with a police baton for approximately one hour. The police denied any mistreatment.
On December 29, an Istanbul prosecutor closed the investigation of seven police officers suspected in the death of Mustafa Kurkcu in Umraniye prison in June 2007 from cerebral hemorrhaging, allegedly as a result of abuse. Countering family observations of Kurkcu's condition and some medical reports, the prosecutor said the injuries occurred before Kurkcu's detention.
At year's end, there was still no investigation into the July 2007 alleged police beating in Istanbul of Sinan Tekpetek, a leader of 52 Percent, a group that protests the country's university entrance exam system, and editor of 52 Percent Anger magazine and Ozgur Hayat (Free Life) newspaper. Tekpetek alleged that police officers sprayed him with tear gas and beat him during a traffic stop, then drove him to a field where they continued to beat him before driving away and throwing him out of the moving car.
Human rights organizations documented several cases of prison guards beating inmates during the year.
On January 17, three prisoners held in Bolu "F-Type" prison, Muzaffer Akengin, Deniz Guzel, and Naif Bal, filed an official complaint to public prosecutors alleging they were beaten with sticks and kicked by prison guards. On December 1, the prosecutor launched cases against the three for insulting officers, and prison administrators sentenced the prisoners to two months of "discipline punishment."
In July 2007, Hurriyet newspaper published an expose by reporter Aydin Dogan regarding allegations that two boys, aged 17 and 18, were tortured early in the year by prison officials while they were imprisoned for 10 days on allegations, later withdrawn, that the boys had committed rape in a boys' shelter. At year's end, HRF reported that no investigation had been opened.
In September 2007 attorneys Filiz Kalayci, Murat Vargun, and Ibrahim Vargun alleged that a team of guards at Kirikkale "F-type" prison severely beat and mistreated their two clients after they were transferred to Kirikkale from Sincan prison earlier that month. The attorneys observed that their clients had injuries such as bruising, broken teeth, and difficulty standing or breathing after the transfer. There were no reports of an investigation at year's end.
On March 7, in the third criminal trial opened against 12 orphanage employees accused of abusing children at the Malatya State Orphanage in 2005, the Malatya penal court sentenced eight orphanage employees to one year in prison for "neglecting their duties," but postponed execution of the sentence. Two other criminal trials against the orphanage employees on charges of abuse continued at year's end. The investigations began in 2005 when media aired footage of employees beating naked orphanage children, some of whom alleged they had been forced to eat excrement. A physical examination procured evidence that 21 of 46 children had been subjected to torture, including severe beatings and hot water burns.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally improved during the year, but facilities remained inadequate. Underfunding, overcrowding, and insufficient staff training were problems.
At year's end, the Ministry of Justice reported that the country had 391 prisons with a capacity of 92,497 and with a total of 90,837 inmates, 53,229 of whom were detainees awaiting trial.
According to the Turkish Medical Doctors' Association, prisons were not adequately staffed with doctors, and psychologists were available only at some of the largest prisons. Several inmates claimed they were denied appropriate medical treatment for serious illness. The HRA reported that in the first nine months of the year, 370 prisoners were denied access to appropriate medical treatment.
Foreigners who claimed asylum after being detained by security forces were held in "guest houses for foreigners" operated by the Foreigners' Department of the Ministry of Interior. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), detained asylum seekers reported insufficient food and medical attention and overcrowded conditions.
Despite the existence of separate juvenile facilities, at times juveniles and adults were held in adjacent wards with mutual access. Observers reported that detainees and convicts occasionally were held together. Inmates convicted for nonviolent, speech-related offenses were sometimes held in high-security prisons.
The government has permitted prison visits by representatives of some international organizations, such as the CPT, which last conducted one of its periodic visits to the country in 2004. In May 2007 a CPT delegation visited the Imrali High Security Closed Prison where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was the sole prisoner. The CPT visited psychiatric facilities in 2006. Domestic NGOs did not have access to prisons. Domestic human rights organizations and activists reported that prison monitoring boards composed of government officials and private individuals were ineffective.
In July 2007 the Ministry of Justice issued a regulation that restricted the ability of members of parliament to visit inmates who were convicted of terrorism or violations against the constitution and state. According to government sources, officials adopted the regulation to prevent possible attempts by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputies to visit Abdullah Ocalan. Human rights activists called the measure undemocratic and argued that reducing parliamentarians' access to prisons would diminish oversight of continuing problems, such as torture.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government at times did not observe these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The TNP, under Ministry of Interior control, is responsible for security in large urban areas. The Jandarma, paramilitary forces under joint Ministry of Interior and military control, is responsible for policing rural areas. The Jandarma is also responsible for specific border sectors where smuggling is common; however, the military had overall responsibility for border control. Human rights groups reported that judicial police, established to take direction from prosecutors during investigations, continued to report to the Ministry of Interior.
A civil defense force known as the village guards, concentrated in the southeast, was less professional and disciplined than other security forces. The village guards were accused repeatedly of drug trafficking, corruption, theft, rape, and other abuses. Inadequate oversight and compensation contributed to the problem, and in many cases Jandarma allegedly protected village guards from prosecution. Although security forces were generally considered effective, the village guards, Jandarma, and police special forces were viewed as most responsible for abuses. Corruption and impunity remained serious problems.
Progress was made to overhaul the village guard system with a May 2007 law passed by parliament that limits the total number of village guards under normal circumstances to 40,000; provides that the Council of Ministers may increase this number by up to 50 percent; provides continued employment for current guards; establishes a mandatory retirement age at age 55; provides a partial salary for early retirement; provides for a pension to guards who served more than 15 years; and requires the Ministry of Interior to establish procedures for hiring, firing, training and otherwise regulating the guard system. According to government officials, the law is intended to gradually phase out the system through retirement while providing social support for the 63,000 current village guards.
The TNP and Jandarma received specialized training in a number of areas, including human rights and counterterrorism. According to the government, the armed forces emphasized human rights in training for officers and noncommissioned officers.
The Ministry of Interior reported that, through October, judicial and administrative cases were initiated against 60 security personnel for excessive use of force and torture. Four personnel received salary cuts, but none were fired or convicted for torture or excessive use of force. Investigations were dropped in 22 judicial cases, and in 29 administrative cases it was determined that there was "no need to punish" or "no need to reach a decision."
The Ministry of the Interior reported that 93 cases against security personnel for mistreatment and excessive use of force were concluded during the year from previous years. Eighty-four resulted in acquittal and nine personnel were convicted. No personnel were fired.
On October 8, the court of appeals overturned a sentence of three years and four months' imprisonment for eight police officers who were convicted of causing the death of detainee Alparslan Yelden in 1999. The high court ruled that the police officers should have been acquitted.
In October a Burdur penal court sentenced the three commanders of the Bucak Jandarma command headquarters to two years' imprisonment and disqualification from office for one year each on charges of "torturing in detention." In 2000, 17 villagers were detained and beaten in the Jandarma headquarters on accusations of theft.
Arrest and Detention
Warrants issued by a prosecutor are required for arrests unless the suspect is caught in the commission of a crime. A suspect may be detained for 24 hours, with prosecutorial discretion to extend the period to 48 hours, excluding transportation time, before being arraigned by a judge. There is a functioning bail system. After arraignment, the judge may release the accused upon receipt of an appropriate assurance, such as bail, or order detention if the court determines that the accused is likely to flee the jurisdiction or destroy evidence. The law provides that detainees are entitled to immediate access to an attorney and to meet and confer with an attorney at any time. The law requires the government to provide indigent detainees with a public attorney in criminal cases where the defendant faces a penalty of more than five years in prison.
Private attorneys and human rights monitors reported irregular implementation of these regulations, particularly with respect to attorney access. According to a number of local bar associations, attorney access for detainees remained consistent with the previous year and continued to vary widely across the country. Numerous bar association representatives and human rights organizations reported that in urban areas most detainees consulted with attorneys soon after being detained, while in rural areas, particularly the southeast, there was a higher number of cases where defendants did not have immediate access to an attorney. The HRA observed no change in the percentage of detainees consulting with attorneys.
Human rights observers noted that, in most cases where a defendant could not afford an attorney, one was provided; however, in terrorism-related cases an attorney was frequently not provided until after the suspect had been detained and interrogated by security forces. Provincial bar associations continued to face difficulties providing such attorneys because the government was behind on compensation payments for such work.
The HRA claimed police often intimidated detainees who asked for attorneys, for example by telling them a court would assume they were guilty if they consulted an attorney during detention. Detainees were generally allowed prompt access to family members; however, human rights organizations reported that they were hindered from helping families find out whether a relative had been detained because the government refused to release such information to the organizations.
In February 2007 parliament amended the Law on the Duties and Competencies of Police to significantly expand the authority of security forces to search and detain a suspect. Under the amended law, police and Jandarma may compel a citizen to declare his identity without any cause. The HRA stated that the expanded authority was contrary to legal and civil rights.
During the year police routinely detained demonstrators. Police detained several members of the DTP party on various occasions. Police continued to detain and harass members of human rights organizations, the media, and monitors. Police continued to detain persons on suspicion of "membership in an illegal organization" and for the distribution of leftist material.
On July 14, prosecutors in Istanbul indicted 90 persons, including prominent military, business, and press corps personalities, on charges of plotting to foment unrest and topple the elected government as members of an organization labeled the "Ergenekon Network." The indictment included allegations that the group plotted assassinations of public figures, including religious leaders, as well as planned beatings and bombings of prominent individuals. When the trial opened on October 20, there were 86 persons named in the indictment. Some members of the press and critics of the government considered the indictment to be politically motivated. Several individuals were held without charge for approximately a month prior to the July 14 indictment.
Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. The law provides detainees the right to request speedy arraignment and trial; however, judges have ordered that some suspects be detained indefinitely, at times for years, without trial.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary was occasionally subject to outside influence. There were reports of judicial corruption.
The law prohibits the government from issuing orders or recommendations concerning the exercise of judicial power; however, the government on occasion launched formal investigations against judges who had spoken critically of the government or state structure.
There was at least one instance of a government official making a statement that could be interpreted as instructions to the judiciary. In November Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin granted permission for the prosecution of Temel Demirer on charges of violating Article 301. Before the trial, Sahin said, "I will not let someone call my state 'murderer.' This is not freedom of expression. This is exactly what the crime of insulting the person of the state is."
The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors was widely criticized for undermining the independence of the judiciary. The justice minister serves as chairman of the seven-member council, and the undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice also serves on the council. The council's rules stipulate that one of these two officials must preside over meetings. The council selects judges and prosecutors for the higher courts and is responsible for oversight of the lower courts. The council is located in the Ministry of Justice and does not have its own budget. While the constitution provides for job security through tenure, the council controls the careers of judges and prosecutors through appointments, transfers, promotions, and reprimands.
On April 30, the parliament passed an amendment to Turkish Penal Code Article 301, which criminalizes insults to the Turkish state. Previously, it had been a crime to insult "Turkishness." The amendment provides for greater separation between the court and ideologically motivated attorneys by requiring the approval of the justice minister for charges of violating Article 301 to proceed to court. However, the Turkish Publishers Association (TPA) continued to find that prosecutors and courts accepted certain classes of cases filed by ideologically motivated attorneys, such as those involving allegations of insulting the state or Ataturk, but ignored complaints of violations of human rights.
In December 2007, the Higher Board of Prosecutors and Judges closed for lack of evidence its investigation opened in March 2007 against Ankara Kazan sub-provincial judge Kemal Sahin for allegedly insulting the judiciary in a 2006 newspaper article. Sahin had written that the judiciary was losing credibility and objectivity because judges face the fear of being investigated by the High Council if they pursue certain crimes or cases.
The close connection between public prosecutors and judges gave the appearance of impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases. Prosecutors and judges study together before being assigned by the High Council. Once appointed, they are housed together, frequently share the same office space, and often work in the same courtroom for more than five years.
In December 2007 the government enacted a law that codified the practice of subjecting all judicial candidates to a written and an oral examination administered by the Ministry of Justice and established a mechanism to allow private attorneys with five years' experience who are younger than 35 to enter the judiciary's ranks. The Union of Turkish Bar Associations organized a rally that month protesting the oral examination provision, which it asserted would allow the Ministry of Justice to select candidates based on political considerations. The government maintained that the law merely codified prior practice and was necessary to fill thousands of vacant posts for judges. At year's end, the High Council continued to make judicial appointments.
According to several regional bar associations, the government devoted insufficient resources to public defense. The associations also noted that public defense attorneys underwent less rigorous training than their prosecutorial counterparts and were not required to take an examination to demonstrate a minimum level of expertise.
The judicial system is composed of general law courts; specialized heavy penal courts; military courts; the Constitutional Court, the country's highest court; and three other high courts. The High Court of Appeals hears appeals for criminal cases, the Council of State hears appeals of administrative cases or cases between government entities, and the audit court audits state institutions. Most cases were prosecuted in the general law courts, which include civil, administrative, and criminal courts. The Ministry of Justice reported that none of the regional appeals courts established by 2004 legislation to relieve the high court's caseload were operational at year's end and that the project was postponed due to delays in building new court houses and assigning judges and prosecutors. In November the European Commission noted this as "a matter of concern."
The Constitutional Court examines the constitutionality of laws, decrees, and parliamentary procedural rules, and hears cases involving the prohibition of political parties. If impeached, ministers and prime ministers can be tried in the Constitutional Court. However, the court cannot consider "decrees with the force of law" issued under a state of emergency, martial law, in time of war, or in other situations as authorized by parliament. Military courts, with their own appeals system, hear cases involving military law for members of the armed forces. Military courts can also hear cases involving crimes committed by both civilians and military personnel.
Administrative and bureaucratic barriers impeded prosecutions and contributed to the low number of convictions of security force personnel for human rights abuses. Under the law courts could not convict unless a defendant attended at least one trial session. Police defendants occasionally failed to attend hearings in order to avoid conviction; prosecuting attorneys claimed courts failed to make serious attempts to locate such defendants, even in cases where the defendants received salary or pension checks at their home address.
According to a 2007 AI report, criminal defendants faced numerous violations of their right to a fair trial during courtroom proceedings. The report found that courts frequently refused to hear defense witnesses, despite a new law allowing the defense to call its own witnesses; courts and prosecutors often refused to consider new exculpatory evidence; pretrial and trial periods frequently lasted for many years due in part to a severe backlog of cases; courts often did not allow defendants to take part in pretrial hearings; and courts frequently failed to provide defendants with qualified interpreters.
According to the AI report, defendants in cases that were transferred from state security courts, abolished in 2004, to heavy penal courts often faced the same judges and prosecutors who presided over their cases in the state security courts. The report also found that these judges frequently failed to investigate or take into account allegations that confessions were brought about by torture or allegations of long periods of "unofficial" detention with no access to legal counsel. The report noted that defendants in these cases were being sentenced on the basis of evidence extracted under torture or other mistreatment.
There is no jury system; a judge or a panel of judges decides all cases. Trials are public for all cases except those involving minors as defendants. The law requires bar associations to provide free counsel to indigents who request it from the court if the potential sentence is more than five years, and bar associations across the country did so in practice. Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants or their attorneys can question witnesses for the prosecution and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to appeal.
International human rights organizations and the European Union (EU) stated that the courtroom structure and rules of criminal procedure gave an unfair advantage to the prosecution. Prosecutors enter the courtroom through the same door as the judge; defense attorneys enter through a separate door. Prosecutors sit at an elevated desk that is at the same level as that of the judge; the defense sits at floor level. During the trial, the prosecutor may himself call any witness desired, whereas the defense must request that the judge call a witness. Judges decide whether to ask and how to phrase defense counsel's questions, but ask all of the prosecution's questions in the exact form presented.
The law provides for the right to a speedy trial; however, at times trials lasted for years. Proceedings against security officials often were delayed because officers did not submit statements promptly or attend trials.
The law prohibits the use of evidence in court obtained by torture; however, prosecutors in some instances failed to pursue torture allegations, forcing defendants to initiate a separate legal case to determine whether the evidence should be excluded. Human rights organizations reported that in such instances the primary case frequently was concluded before the secondary case was decided, effectively rendering the secondary case moot, and leading to unjust convictions.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees from the Ministry of Justice. However, the HRA asserted that there were several thousand political prisoners, including leftists, rightists, and Islamists, and contended that the government does not distinguish them as such. The government claimed that alleged political prisoners were in fact charged with being members of, or assisting, terrorist organizations. According to the government, 2,232 convicts and 2,017 pretrial detainees were being held in prison on terrorism charges through September 2007.
International humanitarian organizations were allowed access to alleged political prisoners, provided they could obtain permission from the Ministry of Justice. In practice organizations were rarely granted such permission.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. The law provides that all citizens have the right to file a civil case for compensation for physical or psychological harm suffered.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law allows for phone tapping with a court order. There were occasional complaints by individuals and public figures, including higher court members and politicians, that their phones were tapped. In June the court of appeals annulled a lower court decision that ruled Jandarma had permission to tap phones. Only the Turkish Telecommunication Agency was authorized to tap phones when presented with a court order directed against alleged drug traffickers, organized crime members, and terrorists.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government continued to limit these freedoms in occasional cases. Some senior government officials made statements during the year strongly criticizing the press.
The government, particularly the police and judiciary, limited freedom of expression through the use of constitutional restrictions and numerous laws including articles of the penal code prohibiting insults to the government, the state, "Turkishness," Ataturk, or the institutions and symbols of the republic. Other laws also restricted speech, such as the Antiterror Law and laws governing the press and elections.
On April 30, the parliament passed a constitutional amendment to reform Article 301, which criminalizes insults to the Turkish state. Previously, it had been a crime to insult "Turkishness." The amendment requires the approval of the justice minister in order for charges of violating Article 301 to proceed to court. However, the TPA continued to find that prosecutors and courts accepted certain classes of cases filed by ideologically motivated attorneys, such as those involving allegations of insulting the Turkish state or Ataturk.
Justice Minister Sahin reported that the court continued 527 Article 301 cases during the year, after concluding 217 cases in 2007. After May 15, the Ministry of Justice received 519 applications to initiate a court case under amended Article 301 charges. The minister granted permission for 70 cases to proceed.
Individuals could not criticize the state or government publicly without fear of reprisal, and the government continued to restrict expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, and Kurdish nationalist or cultural viewpoints. Active debates on human rights and government policies continued, particularly on issues relating to the country's EU membership process, the role of the military, Islam, political Islam, the question of Turks of Kurdish and other ethnic or religious origins as "minorities," and the history of the Turkish-Armenian conflict at the end of the Ottoman Empire. However, persons who wrote or spoke out on such topics, particularly on the Armenian issue, risked prosecution. The TPA reported that serious restrictions on freedom of expression continued despite legal reforms related to the country's EU candidacy.
The TPA reported that it faced more problems related to publishing of books and articles on the Kurdish issue than in the previous year. The most serious problem during the year remained the large number of complaints filed by ideologically motivated attorneys.
According to the government, there were no journalists held on speech violations during the year. However, the TPA reported there were 21 journalists in jail for the content of their reporting, including Kurdish media members and those accused of being leftist dissidents.
On June 19 and July 3, a Diyarbakir court tried nine children, ages 12 to 17, for "promulgating propaganda on behalf of an illegal organization" after they sang a Kurdish folk song that is also the anthem of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government at the San Francisco International Music Festival in October 2007. Three boys were tried in an adult court in Diyarbakir on June 19 and the other six members were tried in children's court on July 3. In both cases, the charges were dropped because the judge determined that the song was sung upon request. An arrest warrant remained active for the choir director, Duygu Ozge Bayar, who had not returned to the country after the festival.
In December an Istanbul court acquitted prominent transsexual singer Bulent Ersoy of alienating people from military service. On February 24, Ersoy said during a television interview that, if she had a son, she would not send him to fight in the cross-border operations in northern Iraq.
In July 2007, police detained Gazi University students Durmus Sahin and two friends for five days after Sahin criticized Health Minister Recep Akdag during a campaign stop by refusing to shake his hand and calling him a "traitor." Akdag filed a complaint with the local prosecutor, who brought charges under Article 301. The students face imprisonment for six months to two years if convicted. The case was ongoing at year's end.
At year's end, the case continued of Tulga Hepis, who was arrested in October 2007 for allegedly insulting Turkishness by dressing his dog in a shirt depicting the Turkish flag during an antiterrorism rally in Bodrum. Hepis told police his aim was not to insult Turkishness but to show patriotism.
Throughout the year, law enforcement and the judiciary increased pressure on members of the pro-Kurdish DTP. The most common tactic used was investigation and prosecution of DTP leaders for speaking in the Kurdish language or for making statements critical of the government.
In February the DTP sub-provincial chairman in Istanbul's Fatih district, Mehdi Tanrikulu, was convicted for speaking Kurdish during judicial proceedings in 2007, and was sentenced to five months' imprisonment.
On April 22, a court convicted DTP Diyarbakir provincial chairman, Hilmi Aydogdu, of inciting hatred and sentenced him to 15 months in prison for suggesting that Kurds would fight the government if government forces ever attacked Kurds in Iraq. He was found guilty of threatening public safety after he warned the government against taking any action in Kirkuk and was banned from politics. In February 2007, police had arrested Aydogdu for the statements; Aydogdu later clarified his remarks to mean that he was suggesting the government extend a hand of friendship to Kurds in northern Iraq.
In April ethnically Kurdish former parliamentarian Leyla Zana was sentenced to two years' imprisonment by a Diyarbakir criminal court for "spreading terrorist propaganda." In December she received a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment from the same court for violating the penal code and Antiterror Law in nine speeches in which she honored jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.
In May the justice minister dismissed the case against former DTP chairman Nurettin Demirtas and former co-chair Selma Irmak, who were charged in September 2007 with violating Article 301 for handing out flyers with accusations against the military on International World Peace Day.
In September a Mersin penal court convicted the DTP Mersin Province deputy and 2007 election candidate Orhan Miroglu for using Kurdish during his electoral speeches. The court put Miroglu on probation for five years. On September 28, an Antalya penal court sentenced the former DTP Antalya Province branch chairman, Mustafa Gul, to 18 months' imprisonment for using the honorific "sayin" (esteemed) to describe jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in a January 27 speech.
On November 27, a Diyarbakir court acquitted the DTP mayor of Batman, Huseyin Kalkan, of making propaganda for an illegal organization for his remarks on the PKK and Kurdish sentiments in the Los Angeles Times in 2006, after two Turkish citizens filed a criminal complaint.
Mayor of Diyarbakir Osman Baydemir continued to face multiple charges and investigations for use of the Kurdish language. At year's end, he faced four cases for sending Kurdish language holiday cards during the year. In October 2007, the Diyarbakir public prosecutor opened two cases against Baydemir, demanding sentences of five and four and one-half years, for referring to the PKK as the "armed Kurdish opposition." The cases were pending at year's end.
Security officials also prohibited the use of Kurdish in prisons in several cities. The HRA reported 171 instances of such prohibitions during the first nine months of the year.
Early in the year the Ministry of Justice reportedly distributed a memorandum asserting that speaking in any language other than Turkish was forbidden by the 2006 Prison Regulations Law. In June Sabah reported that Fettah Karatas, an inmate in Erzurum Prison, was not permitted to speak in Kurdish on the phone with his mother, who did not speak Turkish.
On July 14, Birgun reported that the Van Prison prohibited the use of Kurdish and put those who insisted on speaking Kurdish in solitary cells. Birgun reported that authorities did not deliver letters written in Kurdish at several prisons.
The country had an active print media independent of state control. There were hundreds of private newspapers that spanned the political spectrum.
The government owned and operated the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). According to the High Board of Radio and Television (RTUK), as of June there were 213 local, 16 regional, and 23 officially registered national television stations and 952 local, 102 regional, and 36 national radio stations. In addition, 66 television channels were operating on the cable network, and RTUK granted 87 television enterprises and 48 radio enterprises satellite licenses and broadcast permits necessary for operation. Two additional enterprises carried out activities as satellite platform operators. Other television and radio stations broadcast without an official license. The wide availability of satellite dishes and cable television allowed access to foreign broadcasts, including several Kurdish language private channels. Most media were owned by large, private holding companies that had a wide range of outside business interests; the concentration of media ownership influenced the content of reporting and limited the scope of debate. Observers noted that media conglomerates increasingly used media as a tool to build pressure against government policies.
Prosecutors harassed writers, journalists, and political figures by bringing dozens of cases to court each year under various laws that restricted media freedom; however, judges dismissed many of these charges. Police harassed and beat journalists during at least one demonstration. Authorities ordered raids of newspaper offices, closed newspapers temporarily, issued fines, or confiscated newspapers for violating speech codes. Despite government restrictions, the media criticized government leaders and policies daily and in many cases adopted an adversarial role with respect to the government.
On April 2, an Istanbul court acquitted journalists Lale Sariibrahimoglu of Today's Zaman newspaper and Ahmet Sik of Nokta news magazine of violating Article 301. In 2007 the court opened an investigation after Sik published a Nokta story in which Sariibrahimoglu expressed concern about the "mentality" of the military and its role in internal security.
On April 11, an Istanbul court acquitted Alper Gormuz, editor-in-chief of Nokta, of slander charges brought against him by a retired naval forces commander, Admiral Ozden Ornek. In April 2007, approximately 50 police officers from an antiterrorism unit had received a warrant to search the employees and office of the Nokta weekly magazine following Nokta's publication of an article that explored the relationship between unnamed civil society groups and the military, citing the diary of Ornek as its source. AI noted that state security denied Nokta staff access to their computers even though the search warrant allowed only for files to be copied.
On September 16, an Istanbul court sentenced journalist Cengiz Kapmaz to 10 months in prison for his 2006 interview in Ulkede Ozgur Gundem with former Democratic Party deputy Orhan Dogan. During the interview Dogan said that the PKK should be permitted a political personality. The court also fined the administrators of the newspaper.
On September 23, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against the government for punishing Sakine Aktan, a reporter for the newspaper Ozgur Bakis, for interviewing the president of the Kurdistan Journalists' Association. An Istanbul security court had sentenced Aktan to 20 months' imprisonment in 2001 and then fined him in February for his 1999 interview.
On September 25, an Istanbul court sentenced Hurriyet journalist Sebati Karakurt and editors Necdet Tatlican and Hasan Kilic to 1,000 days in prison in connection with a 2004 interview with a member of the People's Defense Forces, a militant wing of the PKK. They were charged under the Antiterror Law. The sentences were later changed to fines of 40,000 lira ($30,600).
On November 27, an Istanbul court acquitted journalist and writer Perihan Magden of charges of alienating people from military service. On February 19, a case was opened against Magden for a column she wrote on January 8 that encouraged conscientious objection from mandatory military duty.
In November the Prime Ministry did not renew the press licenses of six journalists, for the purported reason that the reporters had issued inaccurate content. International PEN and other organizations called the dismissals part of a pattern of intimidation of journalists.
At year's end, the investigation continued into the December 2007 beating of Andreas Rombopulos, editor-in-chief of the Greek language newspaper Iho, outside the newspaper's office in Istanbul by two unknown attackers.
The trial of Ogun Samast, suspected of murdering prominent human rights activist Hrant Dink in January 2007, was ongoing at year's end. Dink, the editor-in-chief of the bilingual, Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, was killed outside of his office building in Istanbul. The trial against Samast began in July 2007; he reportedly admitted shooting Dink during an October 1 session of the trial. The investigation resulted in the arrest and indictment of an additional 19 suspects, eight of whom remained in detention. Government officials criticized the killing, while a national debate ensued concerning ultranationalism and the true source of culpability. Dink had previously been convicted in 2005 for "insulting Turkishness" in an article he wrote on Turkish-Armenian relations.
In September Dink's family made an official complaint to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors against the judges of the regional administration court who did not authorize a trial against the Istanbul security director, Celattin Cerrah, and the Istanbul Intelligence Branch's former director, Ahmet Ilhan Guler. Three state inspectors condemned Cerrah and Guler for not investigating warnings received prior to the killing. Investigations into similar cases of negligence of duty in Trabzon, Samsun, and Istanbul continued at year's end.
In October the Ministry of Justice approved continuance of the case against publisher and writer Temel Demirer under Article 301. Demirer had been charged for a statement he made after Dink's killing, calling for the recognition of the tragic events of 1915 as "genocide." The case continued at year's end, as did a separate trial of Demirer for speaking about Ibrahim Kaypakkaya, a former leader of the Turkish communist movement.
The government maintained significant restrictions on the use of Kurdish and other minority languages in radio and television broadcasts. In June amendments to the law permitted the state-owned television channel to broadcast nationally in languages other than Turkish during the entire day, as opposed to half of the day. The amendments were challenged in the Constitutional Court, where the appeal was pending at year's end. RTUK regulations required non-Turkish language radio programs to be followed by the same program in Turkish and non-Turkish language television programs to have Turkish subtitles. Start-up Kurdish broadcasters reported that these were onerous financial obligations that prevented their entry into the market. On December 25, the state-owned TRT broadcasting company started a pilot 24-hour station dedicated to news, music, and cultural events broadcasting in Kurdish and other non-Turkish languages. The programming does not include Turkish subtitles and carries no time limitations for news broadcasts.
Officials at Radyo Imaj reported that they faced increasing pressure in the form of two continuing administrative closure cases and efforts by unknown parties to jam the station's frequency, reportedly because the station played Kurdish music and conducted occasional Kurdish language interviews. Government officials responded that Radyo Imaj never obtained legal rights to the frequency at issue and was only one of numerous stations waiting for a frequency to become available. Radyo Imaj continued to broadcast over the Internet.
The TPA reported that, unlike the previous year, the banning and recall of books was a concern. Five publications were recalled without a final court decision during the year. Writers and publishers were still prosecuted on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, subversion, fundamentalism, and blasphemy. Printing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors at the time they are published. According to the TPA, prosecutors investigated and in several cases pressed charges against printing houses for late submission of materials deemed problematic. The TPA reported that publishers often avoided works with controversial content. According to the TPA, from June 2007 to June 2008, authorities investigated or opened court cases against 38 authors and 22 publishing houses for 47 books they had either written or published. These cases resulted in eight acquittals, 17 convictions, seven dismissals, and 18 ongoing cases. The TPA noted that publishers continued to be held liable for books whose authors were foreigners or living abroad.
The case against Atilla Tuygan for translating two books dealing with Turkish-Armenian relations continued at year's end. The case was opened in May 2007 after the books' publisher, Ragip Zarakolu, was acquitted, and the court ruled that Tuygan should be tried instead. In a second case, Raqip Zarakolu was convicted on June 19 and sentenced to five months in prison for publishing The Truth Will Set Us Free, a book describing the experience of the author's grandmother during the tragic events of 1915. The court postponed the imposition of punishment, and Zarakolu and his lawyer appealed the verdict. The appeal was ongoing at year's end.
Authorities routinely censored media with pro-Kurdish or leftist content, particularly in the southeast, by confiscating materials or temporarily closing down the media source.
On September 1, an Istanbul court halted the publication of Ozgur Ulke for one month for publishing information on rights violations in prisons and reporting on military operations.
On October 7, an Istanbul court halted publication of Kurdish daily newspaper Azadiya Welat for "propagandizing the PKK and publishing its statements." On October 8, the Istanbul Public Prosecution stopped the publication of Kurdish weekly Yedinci Gün for one month for allegedly praising the PKK.
Some members of the AKP party and Prime Minister Erdogan continued to file suits against journalists and cartoonists during the year. Human rights organizations, publishing associations, and journalists alleged that those litigious tendencies created an environment of self-censorship.
In October cartoonist Mehmet Cagcag was fined 4,000 lira ($3,060) by an Ankara court for using Prime Minister Erdogan's image in a critical photo montage. Erdogan had asked for 20,000 lira ($15,300) in a civil case against the cartoonist for insulting him. An appeal was pending at year's end.
Several large holding companies which owned news agencies in the country were concerned over losing business opportunities if their journalists wrote articles critical of the government. One journalist reported that his senior management discouraged the company's journalists from writing articles critical of the AKP or its members.
Senior government officials, including Prime Minister Erdogan, made statements during the year strongly criticizing the press and media business figures, particularly following the publishing of reports on alleged corruption in entities in Germany connected to the ruling party.
Under the law editors at media organizations that disclose the identities of public personnel fighting terrorism may be fined, and a judge may order the closure for up to one month of a publication that "makes propaganda for terrorist organizations." Former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer challenged the law in the Constitutional Court, arguing that such restrictions violate the constitution. At year's end, the Constitutional Court had not ruled on the case, and the laws remained in effect.
During the year cases against the press under the Antiterror Law continued. The TPA and human rights groups reported that the law contains an overly broad definition of offenses that allows ideologically and politically motivated prosecutions. The status of at least 550 cases opened against pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem under the Antiterror Law was unclear at year's end. Some NGOs reported there had been convictions in some of these cases during the year.
The Internet was widely available in the country. It was used in schools, libraries, private Internet cafes, and other public locations, and the government encouraged its use. There were some restrictions on Internet access.
In May 2007 the government adopted a new Internet law governing criminal and civil law violations. The law allows the government to ban a Web site if there is sufficient suspicion that one of eight crimes is being committed by the site: encouraging suicide; sexual abuse of children; facilitation of drug abuse; provision of dangerous substances for health care; obscenity; prostitution; gambling; or crimes regulated in Turkish Code 5816 (crimes against Ataturk). Upon receiving a complaint or as a result of personal observations, a prosecutor may file an application to prohibit access to the offending site or, in an urgent situation, the prosecutor or the Telecommunication Presidency may impose a ban. In either case, a judge must rule on the matter within 24 hours. Following a judicial ban order, the Internet service provider (ISP) must block access within 24 hours. If the judge does not approve the block, the prosecutor must ensure access is restored. The ISP may face a penalty ranging from six months' to two years' imprisonment for failing to comply with a judicial order. The law also allows individuals who believe a Web site violates their personal rights to request the ISP to remove the offensive content. By December 1, the court and prosecutors had issued 1,475 distinct orders to ban Web sites in response to approximately 17,768 complaints, a significant increase over the approximately 900 bans ordered in the previous year.
In May, for the third time, an Istanbul court banned access to the "YouTube" Web site to block a cartoon video that lampooned the country's founding father, Ataturk. Access remained restricted at year's end.
Controversial author Adnan Oktar, widely known as an antievolutionist who authored the book Atlas of Creation, successfully petitioned for the closure of six Web sites. On September 3, a Sisli court banned the Web site of British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in response to a petition filed by Oktar's lawyers claiming that Dawkins posted insults about Oktar. On September 24, a Gebze court restricted access to the Web site of the Education and Science Workers' Trade Union for publishing criticisms of Oktar's perspectives. On October 15, a Silivri court restricted access to the newspaper Vatan's Web site for permitting a reader's comment on an article in the online version of the newspaper that criticized Oktar. At year's end, all of the bans remained in effect.
Government authorities on rare occasions accessed Internet user records to protect "national security, public order, health, and decency" or to prevent a crime. Police must obtain authorization from a judge or, in emergencies, the highest administrative authority before taking such action.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were generally no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, a court convicted one academic who publicly supported views contrary to the official state ideology, and there was some self-censorship on sensitive topics.
On January 29, an Izmir court sentenced suspended Gazi University professor Atilla Yayla to one year and six months in prison under a law pertaining to the "protection of Ataturk" for saying in 2006 that Kemalism was "more regressive than progressive." The court later offered to cancel Yayla's punishment if he does not commit a similar crime for two years. The verdict remained under appeal at year's end.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for freedom of assembly; however, the government restricted this right in practice. Significant prior notification to authorities is required for a gathering, and authorities may restrict meetings to designated sites.
The HRF reported that security forces killed seven persons during demonstrations, and there were reports that police beat, abused, detained, or harassed some demonstrators during the year.
The Ministry of Interior reported that police detained 3,119 persons involved in demonstrations through October. These detentions varied in length from several hours to several days.
Approximately 180 public events around the country celebrating the Nevruz holiday in March were generally peaceful. Some organizers applied for permission to celebrate on March 22, instead of March 21, so participants would not miss work. However, a mayoral decision in Van permitted the celebration to occur only on March 21. During an initially peaceful protest against the decision on March 22, police shot and killed one person and injured 155 after the crowd did not abide by police requests to disperse. Police also killed one demonstrator during protests against a similar decision by Yuksekova officials. According to one public official, security forces killed two demonstrators, injured 187 others, and detained 653 persons during Nevruz demonstrations throughout the country.
On May 1, police used excessive force to prevent labor unions and other civic organizations from gathering in Taksim Square to mark the 31st anniversary of "Bloody Labor Day," when over 30 persons were killed in the square after gun shots into the crowd from an unknown source prompted a stampede. Istanbul's governor denied permits for use of the square for the demonstrations, but unions associated with the Revolutionary Workers' Unions publicized their intention to hold them anyway. On the morning of May 1, police besieged the headquarters of the Revolutionary Workers' Union and fired tear gas as members prepared for the event, and the union president decided not to march to Taksim in order to minimize injuries. Police also fired tear gas into a children's hospital near Taksim Square and used water cannons, batons, and tear gas to disperse demonstrators, including journalists covering the event. One journalist suffered a broken arm. Istanbul's governor announced that police detained 530 persons, although many were released the same evening. Six police officers and 32 civilians were injured. There were no reported trials resulting from the May 1 incident.
In late August the Sinop Governorate banned Ecotopia, an international camp for environmentalists, on the grounds that its antinuclear protests disturbed the peace and harmed the image of the city. Environmentalists protested the decision and police detained 32 protestors.
On September 18, a Diyarbakir court sentenced one demonstrator, Abdullah Gurgen, to one year in prison for chanting pro-PKK slogans during a rally in Siirt. The court later postponed the punishment and prohibited him from participating in demonstrations for one year.
In 2006 the first session of a case against 54 police officers began for alleged use of excessive force during a 2005 international Women's Day demonstration in Istanbul. The case was ongoing at year's end.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association; however, there continued to be several restrictions on this right in practice.
Under the law persons organizing an association do not need to notify authorities beforehand, but an association must provide notification before interacting with international organizations or receiving financial support from abroad, and must provide detailed documents on such activities. Representatives of associations said this placed an undue burden on their operations.
On November 28, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned an Istanbul court's decision ordering the closure of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender solidarity organization, Lambda Istanbul. On May 29, the Istanbul court had ruled that Lambda Istanbul's objectives violated Turkish "moral values and family structure," justifying its closure.
According to the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey, an advocacy NGO, the criteria for NGOs to obtain public benefit status that entitles them to certain tax exemptions were restrictive and complicated. Applications for public benefit status must be approved by the Council of Ministers. The law does not allow applicants to appeal if their petitions are rejected.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice; however, the government imposed significant restrictions on Muslim and other religious groups.
The constitution establishes the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of belief, freedom of worship, and the private dissemination of religious ideas; however, other constitutional provisions regarding the integrity and existence of the secular state restrict these rights.
The government oversees Muslim religious facilities and education through its Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which is under the authority of the Prime Ministry. The Diyanet regulates the operation of the country's 77,777 registered mosques and employs local and provincial imams, who are civil servants. A few groups, particularly Alevis, claimed that the Diyanet reflected mainstream Sunni Islamic beliefs to the exclusion of other beliefs; however, the government asserted that the Diyanet treated equally all who request services.
Academics estimated the Alevi population at 15 to 20 million, including ethnic Turks, Kurds, and Arabs. In general, Alevis follow a belief system that incorporates aspects of both Shia and Sunni Islam and draws on the traditions of other religions found in Anatolia as well. The government considers Alevism a heterodox Muslim sect; however, some Alevis and absolutist Sunnis maintain that Alevis are not Muslims.
Alevi "cem houses" (places of gathering) have no legal status as places of worship in the state. However, two municipalities ruled that Alevi cem houses are considered places of worship. On September 3, the Kusadasi municipal assembly voted unanimously to consider a cem house as a temple. In October the Tunceli municipal assembly voted unanimously to provide temple status to cem houses. Both assemblies included members from major parties, who voted also to apply mosque tariffs to the cem houses' utility charges as part of efforts to improve relations with the Alevi community.
In 2006 authorities in the Sultanbeyli municipality of Istanbul reportedly banned the construction of a cem house on the grounds that the Pir Sultan Abdal Association, an Alevi group, had not acquired the necessary construction permits. Association officials said the local mayor and his staff had attended the groundbreaking ceremony and promised not to interfere with the project. The municipality filed a case against the association after it proceeded with construction following the ban; in January 2007 the court decided in favor of the municipality. The municipality had not demolished the cem house at year's end.
During the year the government took initial steps to recognize and address the concerns of the Alevi population. The minister of culture and tourism participated in the December 23 opening ceremony of an independent, autonomous Alevi Academic and Cultural Institute during which he officially apologized for the past treatment of Alevis.
Mystical Sufi and other religious-social orders (tarikats) and lodges (cemaats) are officially prohibited; however, tarikats and cemaats remained active and widespread. Many prominent political and social leaders continued to associate with these religious-social orders, lodges, and other Islamic societies.
A separate government agency, the General Directorate for Foundations (GDF), regulated a few administratively critical activities of non Muslim religious groups and their affiliated churches, monasteries, synagogues, and related religious property. There were 161 "minority foundations" recognized by the GDF, including Greek Orthodox foundations with approximately 74 sites, Armenian Orthodox foundations with approximately 50 sites, and Jewish foundations with approximately 20 sites, as well as Syrian Christian, Chaldean, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian, Protestant, and Maronite foundations. The GDF also regulated Muslim charitable religious foundations, including schools, hospitals, and orphanages.
In July 2007, the Jehovah's Witnesses received a letter of certification confirming their official registration as the "Association for the Support of Jehovah's Witnesses." However, due to their stance as conscientious objectors to military service, they continued to face difficulties. According to Jehovah's Witnesses officials, harassment of their members included arrests, court hearings, verbal and physical abuse, sleep deprivation, strip searches, and psychiatric evaluations by security forces. At year's end, members of Jehovah's Witnesses had three applications pending with the ECHR that alleged government mistreatment, and they also continued to appeal restrictions on worship at four kingdom halls based on zoning laws.
Religious affiliation is listed on national identity cards. A few religious groups, such as the Baha'i, are unable to state their religion on their cards because it is not included among the options; they have expressed their concerns to the government. In 2006 parliament adopted legislation allowing persons to leave the religion section of their identity cards blank or change the religious designation by written application. However, the government reportedly continued to restrict applicants' choice of religion; members of the Baha'i community stated that government officials had told them that despite the new law, they would still not be able to list their religion on the cards.
Some members of the military, judiciary, and other branches of the bureaucracy continued to wage campaigns against what they labeled proponents of Islamic fundamentalism. These groups viewed religious fundamentalism as a threat to the secular state. The National Security Council categorized religious fundamentalism as a threat to public safety.
According to the human rights NGO Mazlum-Der and other groups, a few government ministries have dismissed or barred from promotion civil servants suspected of antistate or Islamist activities. Reports by Mazlum-Der, the media, and others indicated that the military periodically dismissed religiously observant Muslims from military service. Such dismissals were based on behavior that military officials believed identified these individuals as Islamic fundamentalists, which they were concerned could indicate disloyalty to the secular state. There were some reports that officers in governmental ministries faced discrimination because they were not considered by their supervisors to be sufficiently observant of Islamic religious practices.
According to Mazlum-Der, the military charged individuals with lack of discipline for activities that included performing Muslim prayers or being married to women who wore headscarves. According to the military, officers and noncommissioned officers were periodically dismissed for ignoring repeated warnings from superior officers and maintaining ties to what the military considered to be Islamic fundamentalist organizations. In August the government reported no military dismissals, however in its December session it issued 24 dismissals, five of which pertained to alleged Islamic fundamentalism.
The government did not recognize the ecumenical status of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, acknowledging him only as the head of the country's Greek Orthodox community. As a result, the government has long maintained that only citizens of the country could become patriarch, serve as members of the Greek Orthodox Holy Synod, and participate in patriarchal elections. Nevertheless, officials did not respond to the ecumenical patriarch's appointment of six non-Turkish metropolitans to the Holy Synod in 2004. Members of the Greek Orthodox community asserted that these restrictions threatened the survival of the patriarchate in Istanbul, because, with a dwindling population of no more than 3,000 Greek Orthodox persons in the country, the community was becoming too small to maintain the institution. In January Prime Minister Erdogan stated that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch's use of the title "ecumenical" should not be a matter on which the state should rule. In December the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided one-year visas for foreign clergy working at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Previously, such clergy had to leave and return every three months to obtain new tourist visas.
The law restricts religious services to designated places of worship. Municipal codes mandate that only the government can designate a place of worship; if a religious group has no legal standing in the country, it may not be eligible for a designated site. Non-Muslim religious services, particularly for groups that did not own property recognized by the GDF, often took place on diplomatic property or in private apartments. Unlike in 2007, police and prosecutors did not take steps to prevent or punish such gatherings.
Many local officials continued to impose standards on churches, such as minimum space requirements, that are not imposed on mosques. In numerous incidents, the Protestant community faced the requirement of having to purchase 2,500 square meters of land in order to construct a church, no matter the size of the congregation. Protestant representatives also faced severe difficulty in receiving the legally required municipal approval to build churches in centrally-located areas.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul continued to seek to reopen the Halki seminary on the island of Heybeli in the Sea of Marmara. The seminary was closed in 1971, when the patriarchate chose not to fulfill a government requirement for all private institutions of higher learning to nationalize. The patriarchate found it impossible to comply with the order. Under existing restrictions, religious communities other than Sunni Muslims cannot legally train new clergy in the country for eventual leadership. Coreligionists from outside the country have been permitted to assume leadership positions in a few cases, but in general all religious community leaders, including patriarchs and chief rabbis, must be citizens.
In August three muhtars (the lowest level of non-partisan elected official with limited authority) in Midyat filed a criminal complaint with a local prosecutor against the Syriac Saint Gabriel Monastery alleging it illegally appropriated territory by building a wall. On September 4, a Cadastre court ruled against the monastery and reclaimed all but 30 percent of the monastery's lands. Official papers from the 1950s documented the provincial administrative board's approval of the monastery's borders. The monastery does not have legal status and is represented by a foundation established during the Ottoman Empire. The foundation applied to the ECHR, and three related cases were also pending before the ECHR at year's end.
On December 16, the ECHR issued two judgments against the government for violating the property rights of two Armenian foundations in cases pertaining to properties they formerly owned. The Samatya Surp Kevork Armenian Church, School and Cemetery Foundation and the Yedikule Surp Pirgic Armenian Hospital Foundation brought cases to the ECHR after Turkish courts ruled that the foundations' charters did not give them the right to acquire immovable property.
No law explicitly prohibits proselytizing or religious conversions; however, many prosecutors and police regarded proselytizing and religious activism with suspicion. Police occasionally prevented Christians from handing out religious literature. Christians performing missionary work were occasionally beaten and insulted. Police officers sometimes reported students who met with Christian missionaries to their families or to university authorities.
Several foreigners who were practicing Christians and had lived with their families in various cities for many years, reported governmental harassment during the year, including denial of residence and work permits that had been granted in previous years, monitoring by Jandarma, and receiving threats to themselves and their families. These persons reported that they worshiped in their homes but did not proselytize by distributing Bibles, going door-to-door, or undertaking similar activities.
Authorities continued to enforce a long-term ban on wearing headscarves at universities. Unlike in 2007, there were no reports of a similar enforcement for civil servants who worked in public buildings. Students who wore head coverings were not permitted to register for classes, although some faculty members permitted students to wear head coverings in class. Some wore wigs instead. In February the parliament passed constitutional amendments designed to lift the ban on wearing headscarves on university campuses. On June 5, the Constitutional Court ruled that amendments intended to permit the wearing of headscarves in universities violated the secular nature of the state and were therefore unconstitutional.
In 2006 attorney Alparslan Arslan opened fire in the Council of State, responsible for a ruling earlier that year preventing the promotion of a nursery school teacher who wore the Islamic headscarf outside of the classroom. Arslan killed Judge Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin and injured four other judges; his trial was ongoing at year's end. The Ergenekon indictment mentioned the case and alleged Arslan was involved with the Ergenekon group.
The law establishes eight years of compulsory secular education, after which students may pursue study at imam hatip (Islamic preacher) high schools. Imam hatip schools were classified as vocational, and graduates of vocational schools faced an automatic reduction in their university entrance examination grades if they applied for university programs outside their field of high school specialization. This reduction effectively barred imam hatip graduates from enrolling in university programs other than theology. Most families that enrolled their children in imam hatip schools did so to expose them to more extensive religious education, not to train them as imams.
The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in primary and secondary schools. Religious minorities are exempted. However, a few religious minorities such as Protestants faced difficulty obtaining exemptions, particularly if their identification cards did not list a religion other than Islam. The government claimed that the religion courses covered the range of world religions; however, religious minorities asserted the courses reflected Sunni Islamic doctrine, which they maintained explained why non-Muslims were exempt.
Many Alevis alleged discrimination in the government's failure to include any of their doctrines or beliefs in religion courses. In October 2007 the ECHR ruled in favor of an Alevi parent who in 2004 filed a suit claiming the mandatory religion courses violated religious freedom. Since then, the government added 10 pages of an overview of the Alevi belief system to the textbook for the final year of religious and moral instruction. In August and September, Alevi organizations protested what they perceived to be the government's insufficient solution.
In March the Council of State ruled in favor of an Alevi couple who requested that their son be exempt from the religion course at school in two different cases.
Officially recognized minorities may operate schools under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The curriculum of these schools included Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish instruction.
Only the Diyanet is authorized to provide Koran courses outside of school, although unofficial clandestine private courses existed. Students who complete five years of primary school may enroll in Diyanet Koran classes on weekends and during summer vacation. Only children older than 12 may legally register for official Koran courses, and Mazlum-Der reported law enforcement authorities often raided illegal courses for younger children. According to Diyanet figures, there were nearly 5,000 official Koran courses throughout the country.
Numerous religious groups, particularly the Greek and Armenian Orthodox communities, have lost property to the government and continued to fight ongoing government efforts to expropriate properties. Many such properties were lost because the law allows the GDF to assume direct administration of properties that fall into disuse when the size of the local non-Muslim community drops significantly. The government expropriated other properties that were held in the name of individual community members who emigrated or died without heirs. The GDF also took control of non-Muslim foundations after the size of the non-Muslim community in a particular district dropped below the level required to elect foundation board members.
The law allows the 161 minority foundations recognized by the GDF to acquire property, and the GDF has approved 365 applications by non-Muslim foundations to acquire legal ownership of properties. A February amendment to the law facilitated the return of expropriated minority foundation properties; however, it does not account for properties that have been sold to third parties or to those expropriated when the associated foundations have been taken under government control. These conditions applied to the majority of expropriated Greek Orthodox properties.
On July 8, the ECHR ruled that the country had violated the Ecumenical Patriarchate's property rights to a former orphanage on Buyukada Island.
The law has no provisions to accommodate those who conscientiously object to military service.
On June 2, an Istanbul court sentenced conscientious objector Halil Savda to six months in prison for distancing the public from completing compulsory military service. Savda already served sentences of 20 months and five months for refusing to wear a military uniform and to shave a beard he maintained due to his religious beliefs.
In December, a military court acquitted Mehmet Bal of charges of disobeying orders and desertion after completing nine of 15 months of compulsory service. Bal insisted he was a conscientious objector.
On October 11, Ahmet Karayay was arrested in Ankara for announcing his status as a conscientious objector in a public square. Karayay was released pending the trial, which continued at year's end.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Reports of attacks on persons practicing Christian faiths dropped. Authorities took measures during the year to implement a June 2007 Ministry of Interior circular to governors requesting action to prevent violence against non-Muslims. Non-Muslims in Ankara, Izmir, and Trabzon reported that police took extra security measures during special religious services.
On January 25, there were reports that five youths stoned the Izmit branch of the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation, causing material damage. Later in January the foundation's Christian Turkish administrator in Istanbul received a threat from a citizen who had recently attended services at the church.
In February a 17-year-old youth was arrested and charged with threatening the leader of Agape Church in Samsun. The suspect was arrested for making similar threats in January 2007 but was released and reportedly continued to threaten the church.
On April 14 and 15, unidentified youths stoned the building of a Protestant congregation in the Derince district of Kocaeli for two nights in a row, breaking most of the windows. Security police were posted at the building after the incident, but there were no reports of associated arrests or investigations by year's end.
In March 2007 a hand grenade was thrown into the courtyard of the house of the president of the Syriac Churches Foundation in Mardin's Midyat district. Police opened an investigation after the incident, but there were no reports of an arrest or a court case by year's end.
On December 29, an Izmir court sentenced Ramazan Bay, who stabbed and injured Priest Adriano Francini in December 2007 in Izmir, to five years' imprisonment, but later reduced it to four years and two months for good behavior. He also was sentenced to an extra five months and a 375 lira (approximately $287) fine for carrying a switchblade.
The trial of 11 youths alleged to have killed three members of a Protestant church in Malatya in April 2007, including a German citizen, continued at year's end. The victims were found in the office of a company that publishes books on Christianity; police caught four suspects as they tried to leave the building, while a fifth jumped out of the window and was hospitalized. A total of 11 suspects were charged in connection with the killings, five of whom remained in custody as the investigation continued. The trial began in November 2007. Five defendants faced multiple life sentences for murder and terrorist acts and another two were charged with assisting in the planning of the murders. Judges and lawyers for the case suggested there were possible links to the ongoing Ergenekon case. In August the prosecuting attorneys requested the Ergenekon file from an Istanbul court.
In February one of the attorneys representing the families of the Malatya victims filed a complaint with the Ankara public prosecutor's office regarding threats he had received and suspicions that his e-mail and telephone calls were being monitored and used to manipulate information to discredit him. Authorities subsequently provided him protection.
In November 2007 security officials thwarted a planned attack on a priest at St. Paul's Church in Antalya. The officials had been investigating suspect Murat T. for his ties to other crimes when they discovered a telephone conversation in which he declared his intent to kill the priest. He remained under arrest at year's end for his alleged involvement in five cases of arson and was transferred to be tried in a military court for having evaded military service, although by year's end, there were no reports of charges related to the planned attack on the priest.
In 2006 a Catholic priest in Samsun was attacked and suffered knife wounds. Authorities announced that, prior to the attack, the assailant, who was later arrested, had filed complaints against the priest for "Christian propaganda." During the trial, which was ongoing at year's end, prosecutors requested the assailant be hospitalized after he reportedly was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia.
Members of the Syriac community reported that Syriacs who were forced to leave their southeastern villages during PKK-related violence in the 1980s and 1990s faced fewer problems when attempting to return to their villages. Previously, local villagers, particularly village guards, often occupied the homes of Syriacs who fled and refused to leave when the Syriacs attempted to return. However, the implementation of zoning laws at times resulted in the loss of 40 to 50 percent of the properties of individual Syriacs living in villages in the southeast.
Many Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Baha'is faced societal suspicion and mistrust. Jews and Christians from most denominations freely practiced their religions and reported little discrimination in daily life. However, religious minorities asserted they were effectively blocked from careers in state institutions.
A variety of newspapers and television shows continued to feature anti-Christian and anti-Jewish messages, and anti-Semitic literature was common in bookstores.
The Jewish community numbered approximately 23,000. During the year there were continued reports of anti-Semitic language in newspapers and Web sites, as well as of continued societal antagonism and discrimination.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/rpt.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, at times the government limited these rights in practice. The law provides that a citizen's freedom to leave the country could be restricted only in the case of a national emergency, civic obligations (e.g., military service), or criminal investigation or prosecution. The government maintained a heavy security presence in the southeast, including numerous roadway checkpoints. The government generally cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees (recognized as such with certain geographical limitations), returning refugees, asylum seekers awaiting resettlement to third countries, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In September the Constitutional Court annulled the legislative arrangement authorizing the Council of Ministers to implement "compulsory settlement" upon the suggestion of the National Security Council. The court based its decision on Article 23 of the constitution, which forbids any limitation on the freedom of residence except for the purpose of preventing offenses, promoting social and economic development, ensuring sound and orderly urban growth, and protecting public property. The verdict specified that a village cannot be evacuated due to national security.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not employ it.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
Various NGOs estimated that there were from one to three million IDPs in the country from the PKK conflict, which began in 1984, continued at a high level through the 1990s, and continued during the year. The government reported that 368,360 citizens from 62,448 households migrated from the southeast during the conflict, with many others departing before the fighting. In 2006 Hacettepe University released the results of a study commissioned by the government which concluded that an estimated 953,680 to 1,301,200 persons were displaced by conflict in the southeast between 1986 and 2005. The study found that the main reason for the large discrepancy between government and NGO figures was that the government only included persons evacuated by the security forces from settlements, and not those who were forced to flee because of general violence or for a combination of security and economic reasons. The study also noted that internal displacement in the country is part of a broader rural-to-urban migration by individuals seeking economic opportunity, exacerbated by the violence in the southeast, and has been affected by large-scale development projects, such as the Southeastern Anatolia Project, and natural disasters.
The law to compensate IDPs allows persons who suffered material losses during the conflict with the PKK to apply for compensation. In May 2007 parliament extended the duration of the law so that applicants could apply for compensation through May. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in 2006 that the law was being implemented in a way contrary to the government's stated purpose and principles of fair and appropriate redress. According to HRW, rulings by provincial commissions charged with the law's implementation were inadequate and hindered those IDPs who would like to return to their preconflict homes. HRW also found that IDPs had no avenue of appeal. These findings mirrored those of local NGOs and regional bar associations, which maintained that the law included unreasonable documentation requirements and awarded levels of compensation far below standards established by the ECHR. A representative from the Ministry of Interior denied that the government has implemented the law unfairly.
The Ministry of Interior reported that the review commissions had received a total of 278,165 applications for compensation under the law through December. The commissions have processed 97,579, approving 66,563 and rejecting 31,016. The government paid total compensation in the amount of 351 million lira ($294 million), an average of 16,000 lira ($13,400) per person.
According to the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), the law only compensates losses suffered after 1987, leaving out victims who suffered losses between 1984, when the clashes started, and 1987. TESEV reported that many victims who fled the region because of the deteriorating economic and security situation have been unable to receive compensation because they could not demonstrate a direct link between their losses and the actions of either the PKK or the security forces. HRW reached the same conclusion in its 2006 report, in which it noted that the government has unjustly refused to compensate those villagers in the southeast region displaced prior to 1987.
In September a provincial damage assessment commission in Mardin reached a verdict on 30 cases opened in 2004 under the compensation law. A total of 91 villagers had originally appealed for compensation for losses suffered; many of the applicants were disappointed because they were unable to provide what the commission considered adequate legal evidence of ownership such as photos and tax records. The court also required approval from the husbands of female applicants.
There was no information at year's end on the status of the administrative complaint filed in August 2007 with the Siirt governorship after Jandarma and village guards forced a group of villagers to leave their homes after the military declared a "special security zone" in the area. The villagers and their belongings had been forcibly removed, and their access to crops and services in the village was blocked. There were some reports for residents that the situation generally improved during the year.
Voluntary and assisted resettlements were ongoing. In a few cases, persons could return to their former homes; in other cases, centralized villages were constructed. (The government reported that, as of September 7, its Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project and compensation law had facilitated the return of 151,469 persons from 25,001 households to their villages).
Foreign governments and national and international human rights organizations continued to criticize the government's program for assisting the return of IDPs as secretive and inadequate.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
An administrative regulation provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. However, the country ratified the 1967 protocol subject to a geographic limitation, and therefore accepts its obligations only with respect to refugees from Europe. The government has not established a formal system or legislation for providing protection to refugees. The Interior Ministry conducted a parallel refugee status determination process subsequent to UNHCR's, sometimes affirming UNHCR's decisions. Refugees who were granted status by UNHCR but not affirmed by authorities were not granted exit permission for resettlement flights.
The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol, including individuals of non-European origin. According to the Ministry of Interior, during the year the government provided temporary protection to 7,584 foreigners referred by UNHCR for resettlement to a third country. Refugees were not authorized to work in the country and needed permission from Ministry of Interior authorities to travel to Istanbul or Ankara, including for meetings with UNHCR or resettlement agencies.
The government requires that refugees who have no durable solution in the country obtain exit permission before departing for resettlement in third countries. One obstacle to exit permission is the residence permit fee of 273 lira ($209) that regulations require refugees to pay every six months. If the fees are not paid on time each six months, back fees must be paid in full before the refugees can depart, and a late fine is also assessed. In some cases, families have been charged thousands of dollars in residence fees and late fines before being allowed to depart the country.
In most cases the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened. By October, 790 persons of interest to the UNHCR were deported from the country. Eighty-five of these were recognized as refugees or asylum seekers, while the UNHCR was not given access to interview the remaining 708 although the individuals had informed the UNHCR that they wished to seek asylum. Authorities returned 22 of the UNHCR-recognized refugees and asylum seekers to a home country where the individuals feared persecution or serious human rights abuses. Some of these individuals had already been accepted for resettlement to a third country, but were returned before they could be resettled. Another 298 persons who had informed the UNHCR that they wished to seek asylum were returned to a home country where they feared persecution before receiving a UNHCR refugee status determination.
In April at least two Iranian citizens who were UNHCR-recognized refugees died after being forced by Jandarma to cross a dangerous river on the country's border with Iraq. In June Jandarma dropped three other Iranian asylum seekers at the Iranian border during the night and allegedly threatened them if they returned to the country. A few days later two of them returned to Van and reported that the third had fallen into a pool of water and broken his leg, and they had left him in order to go find help. That individual's fate was unknown at year's end.
In July Jandarma attempted to deport to Iran three Iranian citizens who were UNHCR-recognized refugees and former residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, through an official border crossing. However, when Iranian border officers refused to accept them, authorities took the individuals to a detention center in Van, where they remained at year's end. Another 24 Iranians who had been recognized as refugees by the UNHCR during their stay at Camp Ashraf in Iraq were also deported to Iraq the end of the year.
On September 12, 22 Uzbekistan citizens, who had earlier been recognized as refugees by the UNHCR in Iran but later came to Van seeking resettlement to a third county, were deported to Iran. The refugees were rounded up without notice and taken to an unmarked, mountainous portion of the border and forced to walk into Iran. The group included women and children, who were also forced to walk across the mountains under dangerous conditions. Later, the same group paid Iranian smugglers $5,000 to bring them back across the unmarked boarder to reach Van on September 23. The UNHCR formally approached authorities requesting that the refugees be granted temporary asylum in the country, as they presented credible documentation showing they had reason to fear refoulement to Uzbekistan if they returned to Iran. On October 13, all 22 of the refugees, along with another family of three Uzbekistan citizens who had filed a stop-deportation petition with the ECHR in September, were re-deported to Iran.
In August 2007, Pejman Piran, brother of jailed Iranian activist Peyman Piran and a UNHCR-recognized refugee slated for resettlement to a third country, was deported to Iraq with four other Iranian refugees who had been living in Van. The ECHR issued a decision to stop the deportation that month, but Piran and the other four refugees had already been taken to Iraq. As Piran was later resettled to a third country, the ECHR case against the country was dropped during the year. The country's statement to the court claimed that the deportation did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights because the individuals' asylum claims had been rejected by competent authorities, and because they were deported to Iraq rather than Iran.
Iraqi citizens were generally able to obtain tourist visas upon arrival at airports in the country. However, some foreigners, including Iraqis, transiting the country on their way to Europe were returned to their countries of origin when immigration authorities determined they might seek asylum in Europe. According to the UNHCR, during the year a group of 600 Afghan citizens were returned to Afghanistan from Batman by plane. UNHCR had been informed that some of the individuals in this group had wished to apply for asylum in the country, but the UNHCR was not granted access to them before they were deported.
Illegal migrants detained when found near the country's eastern border areas were more likely to be questioned about their asylum status and referred for processing than those caught while transiting or attempting to leave the country from other locations. However, access to the national procedure for temporary asylum was hindered by the lack of reception facilities for groups of interdicted migrants, potentially including asylum seekers, and a lack of interpreters to assist security officials.
The law does not have a strict time limit for asylum seekers or require them to present a valid identity document. The law also stipulates a waiver of residence permit fees for asylum seekers in "humanitarian situations." Despite this, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that during the year some refugees were charged fines for late registration before being authorized to travel to Istanbul in order to leave the country for their countries of resettlement. Nearly 700 refugees scheduled for resettlement, including a family whose two children have Down's syndrome, missed their flights for this reason and were still in the country at year's end. In 2006 the government also issued an implementation directive that provided detailed guidance on the refugee status determination procedure and established a framework for the provision of assistance to asylum seekers and refugees.
The UNHCR reported that it was able to successfully intervene in most cases where asylum seekers arrived lawfully in the country after transiting through one or more other countries. However, UNHCR access to persons in detention who wished to apply for asylum, to individuals who had stowed away on ships and wished to apply for asylum, as well as to persons trying to seek asylum while they were at the international areas of the country's airports, remained problems.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change their Government
The constitution and law provide citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage. However, the government restricted the activities of a few political parties and leaders.
Elections and Political Parties
The 2007 parliamentary elections were held under election laws that the OSCE found established a framework for democratic elections in line with international standards. The law requires a party receive at least 10 percent of the valid votes cast nationwide to enter parliament. Some political parties criticized the 10 percent threshold as unduly high.
The OSCE noted in its observation report following the 2007 elections that, despite a comprehensive legal framework for elections, political campaigning, and in a broader context, freedom of expression, were constrained by a number of laws that created the potential for uncertainty and scope for arbitrary interpretation. The OSCE also noted the positive efforts made to enhance the participation of citizens of Kurdish origin in political life. However, the law continues to prohibit the use of languages other than Turkish in the election campaign.
In a polarized political climate leading up to the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections, the military issued three statements emphasizing concern over what it regarded as deep threats posed by religious fundamentalism, the military's role as the ultimate defender of secularism, and the alleged weakening of secularism in the country. Human rights groups characterized these statements as attempts to exert pressure on the democratic process that were suggestive of the military's disproportional influence over politics. In a November report, the European Commission noted that the military "continued to exercise significant political influence via formal and informal mechanisms."
Political parties and candidates could freely declare their candidacy and stand for election. The High Court of Appeals chief prosecutor could only seek to close political parties for unconstitutional activities by bringing a case before the Constitutional Court. The November progress report by the European Commission noted that the closure cases during the year against two political parties illustrated that legal provisions on political parties "do not provide political actors with an adequate level of protection from the state's interference in their freedom of association and freedom of expression."
In March the country's chief prosecutor filed a case against the AKP to close the party, claiming that it had become a "center of antisecular activities." According to the constitution, "the activities of political parties shall not be in conflict with…the principles of the democratic and secular republic." While the prosecutor acknowledged that the AKP's program and its written statutes were not unconstitutional, the indictment charged that AKP had "in actions and verbal statements acted against laws and the constitution." On July 30, the Constitutional Court decided not to close the ruling party. While six judges voted for closure, the constitution requires that at least seven judges vote in favor of banning for a party to be closed. The 11-member court instead agreed to halve the party's state funding.
On October 17, a Diyarbakir court sentenced suspects Firat Karahan and Vevsi Akgonul to life imprisonment and Mustafa Kemal Ok to six years and three months' imprisonment for complicity in the murder of former HADEP (People's Democracy Party) vice chair Hikmet Fidan. Suspect Zeki Peker was acquitted.
DEHAP reconstituted itself as the DTP in 2006; and during the year the Constitutional Court added the closure case for DTP to the DEHAP closure case. On September 16, the DTP cochairman, Ahmet Turk, provided a verbal defense to the Constitutional Court denying any organizational link between the DTP and the PKK. Since November 2007 the DTP has faced potential closure and the banning from politics of 221 of its members. Deliberations in the combined legal case on charges of separatism were ongoing at year's end.
During the year police raided dozens of DTP offices, particularly in the southeast, and detained hundreds of DTP officials and members. During the year prosecutors opened scores of investigations and trials against DTP members. Police raids on DTP offices in Van and Siirt provinces resulted in the detention of approximately 50 DTP members during the year.
Jandarma and police regularly harassed DTP members through verbal threats, arbitrary detentions at rallies, and detention at checkpoints. Security forces also regularly harassed villagers they believed were sympathetic to DTP. Although security forces released most detainees within a short period, many faced trials, usually for supporting an illegal organization or inciting separatism.
There were no developments during the year regarding the appeal of Aydin Budak, the DTP mayor of Cizre. In 2006 Budak was sentenced to one year and three months in prison for stating in a speech that was aired on Roj TV that the isolation of Abdullah Ocalan was something "provocative."
During the year DTP Erzurum provincial chairman Bedri Firat continued his appeal of a 2006 conviction. Firat was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly issuing propaganda supporting the PKK in a speech during Nevruz celebrations in which he stated that Kurds were subject to genocide and praised Abdullah Ocalan.
There were no updates during the year in the 25 open cases against DTP member Tuncer Bekirhan initiated in 2007.
There were 50 women in the 550-seat parliament. There was one female minister in the 25-member cabinet.
Although the number was unknown, some minority groups were active in political affairs. More than 100 members of parliament and senior government officials, including three ministers, were of Kurdish origin.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption slightly decreased during the year, though it remained a problem.
Opposition party members criticized the ruling AKP for refusing to lift the immunity of AKP parliamentarians suspected of corruption and other abuses.
Government officials are required by law to declare their property every five years.
The law provides for public access to government information; however, the government occasionally rejected applications on national security and other grounds, and there were no opportunities to appeal.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in many regions but faced government obstruction and restrictive laws regarding their operations, particularly in the southeast. Government officials were generally uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.
Human rights organizations and monitors, as well as lawyers and doctors involved in documenting human rights violations, continued to face detention, prosecution, intimidation, harassment, and formal closure orders for their legitimate activities. Human rights organizations reported that official human rights mechanisms did not function consistently and failed to address grave violations.
The HRA had 34 branches nationwide and claimed a membership of approximately 14,000. The HRA reported that prosecutors opened dozens of cases against HRA branches during the year. The HRF, established by the HRA, operated torture rehabilitation centers in Ankara, Izmir, Istanbul, Diyarbakir, and Adana and served as a clearinghouse for human rights information. Other domestic NGOs included the Istanbul-based Helsinki Citizens Assembly, the Ankara-based Turkish Democracy Foundation, the Turkish Medical Association, human rights centers at a number of universities, and Mazlum-Der.
On January 23, authorities arrested HRA Adana branch chief Ethem Acikalin for being a member of an illegal organization after he attended an event hosted by the Adana representative of the Rights and Freedoms Front in December 2007. The event hosted a press conference to discuss the killing of Kevser Mizrak during a police raid in Ankara earlier in the month. The prosecution requested 7.5 to 10 years' imprisonment. Acikalin was imprisoned for 6 months before being released on bail; the trial continued at year's end.
On February 19, a Diyarbakir court sentenced HRA Siirt branch chief Vetha Aydin to 15 months in prison for his participation as "peace chair" on "World Peace Day" in 2004. The court later postponed the sentence, but ruled that he should report his whereabouts to authorities for one year.
On June 12, a court convicted four members of HRA's Canakkale branch, including its chairman, to 18 months' imprisonment each for violating the Law on Demonstrations when they organized a "September 1 World Peace Day" gathering in 2007. An appeal remained pending at year's end.
On August 14, police raided DTP's provincial office in Adana. Adana HRA chapter president Ethem Acikalin went to the DTP office as an observer joined by the HRA accountant. Police broke the accountant's arm, and charges were brought against Acikalin for resisting police. The trial had not begun by year's end.
On December 29, Acikalin stood trial in an Adana court where he faced two years in prison for propagandizing an illegal organization. Acikalin was charged after chanting slogans during a December 2007 press meeting commemorating the death of 28 inmates during a military operation 2000. The trial continued at year's end.
In July 2007 the government opened a closure case against HRA's Mersin branch, claiming that the local representatives and members were involved in activities incompatible with their positions and accusing them of supporting the interests of "illegal organizations." The case continued at year's end.
In January 2007 the Istanbul governor's office, with no notice, froze three bank accounts of the AI branch in the country, worth approximately 75,000 lira ($62,600). In May 2007 AI filed civil cases against two local government authorities, the Beyoglu district governor's office and the Istanbul governor's office, for failing to respond to AI's administrative queries related to the seizure. In May 2007, the Beyoglu district governor's office issued a decision that AI had participated in "unauthorized fund raising." The decision did not specify what AI actions violated the law. In a June 2007 public statement, AI stated that it does not seek or accept money from governments or political parties for its work but that its funding depends on the contributions of its worldwide membership and fundraising activities, including street fundraising or "face-to-face" activities. The statement noted AI feared the incident could have been "a tactic of government harassment intended to impede legitimate fundraising activities." In February the court ordered AI's accounts to be unfrozen. The governor's office appealed the decision to the Council of State; the appeal was ongoing at year's end.
The government generally cooperated with international organizations such as CPT, the UNHCR, and IOM; however, some international human rights workers reported that the government purposefully harassed them or raised artificial bureaucratic obstacles to prevent their work.
The Prime Ministry's HRP was authorized to monitor the implementation of legislation relating to human rights and coordinate the work of various government agencies in the field of human rights. Despite lacking a budget and sufficient resources, the HRP carried out a number of projects with the European Commission and Council of Europe. On July 2, the HRP released its first annual report on human rights issues in the country.
During the year the HRP promoted human rights by showing short films on topics such as freedom of expression, discrimination, children's rights, and torture. The HRP maintained a free, emergency human rights hotline called "Alo 150," where individuals could report information on human rights violations for transmission to the appropriate government body.
There were provincial human rights councils under the HRP in all 81 provinces and 850 subprovinces. These bodies were established to serve as a forum for human rights consultations among NGOs, professional organizations, and the government. They have authority to investigate complaints and refer them to the prosecutor's office. However, many councils failed to hold regular meetings or effectively fulfill their duties. Human rights NGOs generally refused to participate on the councils, maintaining that they lacked authority and independence.
The HRP reported that it received complaints of human rights violations from 206 persons through the end of June. The boards received 496 complaints of violations during the same period. These complaints were regarding health services and patient rights (115), property rights (84), and general human rights complaints (79).
On April 29, the court of appeals ruled that professors Baskin Oran and Ibrahim Caboglu should be acquitted of a 2005 charge of "inciting people to hatred" and "openly belittling judicial organs." Caboglu and Oran were the former chair and sub-chair of the Human Rights Advisory Board (HRAB), an advising body established to link government bodies and NGOs on human rights issues and provide advice. The HRAB released a report on minorities and cultural rights in 2005 that included language the court of appeals found contrary to the legal principle that there were no minorities in the country, only "non-Muslim citizens." In its decision, the court, citing the right of freedom of expression and international law, held that individuals in democratic nations were entitled to enjoy freedom of expression in its broadest sense.
Other government human rights bodies included the High Human Rights Board, an interministerial committee responsible for making appointments to human rights posts; and a Human Rights Consultation Board (HRCB), established as a forum for the exchange of ideas between the government and NGOs. NGOs found these bodies to have little to no effectiveness. There was no ombudsman mechanism active during the year, following the application by then-president Ahmet Necdet Sezer in 2006 to the Constitutional Court to annul legislation establishing one. The case was pending at year's end.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability, language, or social status; however, the government did not enforce these laws effectively. The government and NGOs focused on eliminating societal violence and discrimination against women and minorities, as well as trafficking, but problems continued in these areas.
The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. Victims often waited days or weeks to report incidents for fear of embarrassment or reprisals, which hindered effective prosecution of assailants. Cases of rape were underreported.
Violence against women, including spousal abuse, was a serious and widespread problem. The law prohibits violence against women, including spousal abuse, but the government did not effectively enforce it. Domestic human rights organizations reported that these laws were partially effective; more women called the police emergency hotline to report domestic violence and went to police stations to file abuse reports.
In October 2007 the governor of Istanbul and the Foundation to Support Contemporary Life launched a domestic violence hotline financed by the EU and staffed by operators who screened calls and then forwarded legitimate calls to police, attorneys, or psychologists.
In January 2007 State Minister for Women and Children's Affairs Nimet Cubukcu established a hotline to prevent the exploitation of women, children, persons with disabilities, and senior citizens. From its inception through November, the hotline received 119,090 calls.
Women's NGOs reported that more than 150,000 women were victims of domestic violence between 2001 and 2005, the latest period for which statistics were available. According to the most recent available government data, there were 646 domestic violence cases brought to court in 2006, a decrease over previous years. The Institution for Social Services and Orphanages operated 23 shelters with a total capacity of 405 for female victims of domestic violence and rape. The government reported that provincial government offices, municipalities, and NGOs operated 38 shelters and that one private foundation operated a shelter. During the year there was one shelter bed for every 144,000 persons in the country, which observers noted was an inadequate amount of shelters for towns with populations of more than 50,000.
Persons convicted of honor killings receive life imprisonment. The Turkish National Police reported 39 honor killings and 9 attempted honor killings through September 30. The HRP reported there were 53 honor killings in 2007 and 1,000 honor killings between 2003 and July 2008, mainly in conservative Kurdish families in the southeast or among migrants from the southeast living in large cities. Because of sentence reductions for juvenile offenders, observers noted that young male relatives often were designated to perform such killings.
Due to penalties for honor killings, family members increasingly pressured girls to commit suicide in order to preserve the family's honor. Between 2005 and 2006, 1,985 women were reported to have committed suicide or have been killed, according to women's rights advocacy group AKDER. Government officials worked with advocacy groups such as KA-MER to hold town hall meetings and set up rescue teams and hotlines for endangered women and girls.
KA-MER, the leading women's organization in the southeast, reported that from 2003-07 a total of 198 women from eastern and southeastern Anatolia contacted it to report that their family had threatened them with honor killings. Of these cases, three of the women died from injuries sustained in the attacks, one committed suicide, and 27 were pressured to commit suicide. The father or husband decided the fate of the woman in the vast majority of the cases. The report observed that 76 of these "decision makers" were illiterate, while 47 had no education beyond junior high school. Increased education levels correlated with a drop in the rate of such crimes.
"Disobedience," variously defined as refusing to marry the person the family had chosen, refusing to have sex with a brother-in-law or father, not agreeing to prostitute oneself, not fulfilling the demands of male family members, and interrupting man-to-man conversations was determined to be the most frequent justification of honor killings.
In April, 24 year-old Leyla Gok was beaten to death in Siirt's Eruh district, apparently on account of an alleged affair she had with a married man. The woman had returned to her family after living with her boyfriend for some time. The family reportedly did not take the body from the hospital, and the victim was buried by municipal officials. After testimonies, Gok's brother Hayrettin was released and her boyfriend Sukru Batuhan was detained in connection with the death. The case continued at year's end.
In November, in the Ceylanpinar district of Sanliurfa in the southeast, Aysel Cadir was shot and killed by Muslum Bakir, her husband via an unofficial religious marriage. The victim's mother claimed that the decision to kill her was made by the husband and his "family council." Cadir was reportedly three months pregnant. Bakir was in custody and the case continued at year's end.
According to media reports, Naile Erdas, a 15-year-old from the southeastern city of Van, was killed by her family in 2006 when she gave birth to a child conceived during a rape. The girl, who hid her pregnancy, reportedly begged doctors at a state hospital where she gave birth not to return her to her family, fearing that she would be killed in accordance with the local tradition demanding her family's honor be cleansed. Doctors informed state authorities, but the woman was ultimately returned to her family. At year's end, six of her relatives, including Erdas' brother, father, mother, and uncles were under arrest for the killing.
Prostitution is legal.
The law provides different penalties for the crimes of sexual harassment and sexual assault, requiring two to seven years' imprisonment for sexual assault and three months' to two years' imprisonment plus a fine for sexual harassment. Women's rights activists maintained that both of the laws were rarely enforced.
In October media and observers criticized the release, pending trial, of a journalist who was accused of raping a 14-year-old girl, upon the medical examiner's report that the girl's physical and mental health were "intact" following the alleged abuse. Women and Children's Affairs Minister Cubukcu denounced the report and in November the Bursa court requested a new report from the Forensic Medicine Institute.
Under the law women enjoy the same rights as men; however, societal and official discrimination were widespread. The Directorate General on the Status and Problems of Women under the State Ministry in Charge of Family Affairs is responsible for promoting equal rights and raising awareness of discrimination against women.
Women continued to face discrimination in employment and were generally underrepresented in managerial-level positions as well as in government. According to a November report by the European Commission, the level of women's employment and their political participation nationally and regionally were low. Women generally received equal pay for equal work in professional, business, and civil service positions, although a large percentage of women employed in agriculture and in the retail, restaurant, and hotel sectors worked as unpaid family labor. The World Economic Forum reported during the year that women earned 61 percent of what their male counterparts earned for similar work.
The government was committed to furthering children's welfare and worked to expand opportunities in education and health.
While education through age 14 or the eighth grade was free, universal, and compulsory, only 40 percent of children received a high school diploma, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and one in 10 girls did not attend compulsory primary school.
Child abuse was a problem. There were a significant number of honor killings of girls by immediate family members, sometimes by juvenile male relatives. There were reports that children were trafficked for sexual exploitation.
On March 7, a Malatya penal court convicted eight suspects to one year's imprisonment for neglecting their duties in the alleged torture and abuse of children at the Malatya state orphanage. The execution of the punishment was postponed. Two other cases against nine orphanage employees continued at year's end.
Child marriage occurred, particularly in poor, rural regions; however, women's rights activists claimed that underage marriage has become less common in the country in recent years.
The law defines 15 as the minimum age for marriage, although children as young as 12 were at times married in unofficial religious ceremonies. In rare instances, families engaged in "cradle arrangements," agreeing that their newborn children would marry at a later date, well before reaching the legal age.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons; penalties for trafficking in persons are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with prescribed penalties for other grave crimes, such as sexual assault. There were media reports that police corruption contributed to the trafficking problem.
The country was a destination point for women and children trafficked primarily for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. The government identified 118 trafficking victims during the year. No male victims were identified or assisted during the year; in 2007, five men from Turkmenistan were trafficked for labor exploitation. Women and girls were trafficked from Moldova, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and other countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. One victim from Indonesia and one from Morocco were also trafficked during the year and awaited repatriation at year's end. Most foreign victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation in Istanbul and Antalya, although victims were identified in cities throughout the country.
Typically, small networks of foreign nationals and citizens, relying on referrals and recruitment from friends and family members in the source country, trafficked foreign victims to the country. According to local experts and researchers, most victims arrived in the country knowing they would work in the sex industry but were subsequently threatened physically or emotionally and trapped. Others were known to have arrived in the country to work as domestic servants and exploited in that industry or trafficked into the commercial sex industry. In some cases it was reported that traffickers continued to utilize abusive physical force and threats to family members to force women into prostitution.
Based on preliminary data, in the first six months of the year the government prosecuted approximately 100 suspected trafficking offenders. Under the penal code, the penalties for trafficking include eight to 12 years' imprisonment and heavy fines. Also based on preliminary data, in the first six months of the year, the government convicted four traffickers. However, approximately 53 additional traffickers were convicted during the same period under the statutes prohibiting mediation of prostitution and organized crime. These convictions averaged three to four years' imprisonment plus fines.
Turkish National Police apprehended 248 suspected traffickers during the year. In 2007, the last year for which complete statistics were available, cases were opened on 422 suspected traffickers; 397 suspected traffickers remained under investigation from previous years.
Allegations that police and other government officials participated in trafficking were reported by the media during the year. According to press reports, a number of active and retired police officers, some of senior rank, were arrested, placed under investigation, or recommended for expulsion for cooperating with trafficking rings. The government provided preliminary data showing that 25 security officials were investigated during the year for possible involvement in trafficking in persons, a significant increase from the twenty similar investigations conducted between 2005 and 2007. Most of the investigations were ongoing at year's end; some of these officials were in prison and others were free awaiting trial. Three were expelled from service.
An ambassador-level Ministry of Foreign Affairs official serves as national coordinator for the government's Task Force on Human Trafficking, which also includes representatives from the ministries of health, interior, justice, finance, labor, the Prime Ministry, and from NGOs, the IOM, and municipalities.
The government participated actively in international antitrafficking investigations and met regularly with neighboring countries and regional groups promoting regional antitrafficking law enforcement cooperation. The government has signed bilateral antitrafficking cooperation memorandums of understanding and protocols with neighboring source countries, including Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan.
There were two NGO-operated shelters for trafficking victims in the country, located in Ankara and Istanbul. The shelters received free rent from the municipalities, and the Ministry of Health provided free medical care to victims in the shelters. Nevertheless, government financial support for these protection mechanisms was inconsistent. The lack of consistent government funding threatened the operation of one shelter, although core services were not impacted. During the year the Istanbul shelter assisted 57 victims, and through December the Ankara shelter assisted 28 victims.
The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations and prosecutions; however, most chose to return to their countries. The Ministry of Justice, through local bar associations, provided free legal services to foreign victims choosing to remain in the country and testify against traffickers. Foreign victims identified by authorities may apply for humanitarian visas to remain in the country for up to six months and may then apply for renewal for another six months. The government had a national referral mechanism, which it implemented in partnership with the IOM and the shelters, and which included the voluntary and safe return of victims. The IOM assisted 78 trafficking victims during the year.
The IOM operated a toll-free hotline for trafficking victims that was answered in Russian, Romanian/Moldovan, English, and Turkish and that could receive international calls. Sixteen victims were rescued from trafficking situations through the assistance of the hotline in the first nine months of this year. On June 30, the government began a new antitrafficking public awareness campaign featuring television and radio advertisements, plus more than 40,000 posters in municipalities throughout the country, primarily in trafficking hotspots, to promote the hotline.
Antitrafficking training courses continued to be held in the country throughout the year. Law enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors participated in "train the trainers" courses which focused on countertrafficking skills, such as victim identification and interviewing.
The State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services; the government generally enforced the law effectively. The law does not mandate access to buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities. The Presidency Administration for Disabled People under the Prime Ministry is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Health operated eight mental health hospitals in seven different provinces. There were two private mental health hospitals in Istanbul. The government reported that it operated 45 boarding care centers and 22 daycare centers for physically and mentally challenged individuals. According to the European Commission, mental health hospitals and rehabilitation centers do not provide sufficient medical care or treatment.
The NGO Mental Disability Rights International announced that the government circulated a notice condemning the use of electroconvulsive or "shock" therapy (ECT) without anesthesia in 2006. A CPT delegation had reported previously finding ECT being used on patients without anesthetics or muscle relaxants during a 2005 visit to two state hospitals, the Bakirkoy Mental and Psychological Health Hospital in Istanbul and the Adana Mental Health Hospital.
During the year, the NGO Initiative for Human Rights in Mental Health (IHRMH) ran advocacy campaigns, organized free vocational trainings, and created monitoring groups to inspect institutions for compliance with legal and health regulations.
In November IHRMH reported on research conducted in 12 mental health care centers between June 2007 and October with permission of the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Child Protection Agency. The report cited a need to increase the number of professional care staff, improve hygienic conditions, vary treatment from only antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants, and allow for greater freedom of movement.
On November 6, a clandestinely filmed documentary on the state of public facilities for children in the country aired in the United Kingdom. Earlier in the year, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson used a disguise to enter and film two care centers for children with mental and physical disabilities for use in the documentary. The expose showed children tied to their beds with fabric, and poor caretaking conditions at Saray Rehabilitation Center in Ankara and Zeytinburnu Center for the Care of Disabled Children in Istanbul.
The law provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not recognize ethnic groups as national, racial, or ethnic minorities. Citizens of Kurdish origin constituted a large ethnic and linguistic group. Millions of the country's citizens identified themselves as Kurds and spoke Kurdish. Kurds who publicly or politically asserted their Kurdish identity or publicly espoused using Kurdish in the public domain risked censure, harassment, or prosecution.
On September 30, ethnic Kurdish resident Murat Aygun reportedly used a truck to kill two persons and injure six others in the Ayvalik district of Balikesir Province. The two individuals killed had played the Turkish national anthem in front of Aygun's home. After the killings, a crowd attacked Kurdish homes and shops. The governate did not permit a DTP committee to investigate.
The NGO Minority Rights Group International reported in March that millions who belonged to ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities faced systematic repression and many remained unrecognized. The report noted that the law is interpreted to protect only three religious minorities--Armenian Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians--and not other ethnic and religious minorities, including Alevis, Ezidis, Assyrians, Kurds, Caferis, Caucasians, Laz, and Roma. The report stated that these "excluded minorities" were prohibited from fully exercising their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights and faced intense pressure to assimilate.
Despite the beginning of TRT pilot broadcasts in Kurdish at year's end, the government maintained restrictions on the use of Kurdish and other ethnic minority languages in radio and television broadcasts and in publications.
Roma continued to face persistent discrimination and problems with access to education, health care, and housing. The government took no apparent steps during the year to assist the Romani community. The European Roma Rights Center, Helsinki Citizens Assembly, and Edirne Roma Culture Research and Solidarity Association conducted a program to train the Romani community on civil society organization and activism. Literacy courses for Roma women offered by the Roma Culture and Solidarity Association of Izmir continued, and the association celebrated International Roma Day in Izmir.
Beginning on June 3, 500 Roma living in the Sulukule neighborhood of Istanbul faced destruction of their homes and were relocated outside of the city due to an urban renewal project sponsored by the municipality.
The law states that "nomadic Gypsies" are among the four categories of persons not admissible as immigrants.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
While the law does not explicitly discriminate against homosexuals, two gay and lesbian rights organizations, Lambda Istanbul and Kaos GL, claimed that vague references in the law relating to "the morals of society" and "unnatural sexual behavior" were sometimes used as a basis for discrimination by employers. The law also states that "no association may be founded for purposes against law and morality." This article has been applied in attempts to shut down or limit the activities of NGOs working on gay and lesbian issues.
In April, Anadolu University in Eskisehir lifted restrictions blocking access to the Web sites of Kaos GL, Pembe Hayat, and Lambda Istanbul from campus computers.
On July 15, 26 year-old Ahmet Yildiz was shot and killed leaving a cafe in Istanbul. Yildiz had represented the country in an international gay gathering in San Francisco in 2007. Yildiz's family disapproved of his homosexuality, and his body remained unclaimed in the morgue for six days. Yildiz had previously filed a complaint with the police after receiving threats. Police collected statements from friends and family, but had not begun an investigation by year's end.
In September a group of transsexuals and transvestites in Istanbul filed a criminal complaint against several police officers for alleged mistreatment. The group leader alleged that group members were arbitrarily detained and released in remote parts of the city.
On November 28, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned an Istanbul court decision ordering the closure of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender solidarity organization, Lambda Istanbul. On May 29, the Istanbul court had ruled that Lambda Istanbul's objectives violated Turkish "moral values and family structure," justifying its closure.
In May 2007 members of the groups Pembe Hayat and Kaos GL protested at the Esat police station in Ankara. Protestors claimed that transsexuals and transvestites had been unjustly taken into custody and faced mistreatment during their detention. Police officers on duty prevented the protestors from making a press statement during the demonstration.
In February 2007 Bilgi University students established the country's first gay and lesbian university club. Approximately 15 parents lodged complaints with the university administration, and the Turkish Higher Education Council opened an inquiry into the university. Bilgi's dean of students, Halit Kakinc, responded that closing the club would violate human rights. The club was operating normally at the end of the year.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides most but not all workers with the right to associate and form unions subject to diverse restrictions; most workers exercised this right in practice. The government maintained a few restrictions on the right of association. Unions may be established by a minimum of seven persons without prior permission. There are no restrictions on membership or participation of individuals or unions in regional, national, or international labor organizations, but such participation must be reported to the government. Labor law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties, from working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise, and from displaying any political party logos or symbols on any union or confederation publications. Unions are required to notify government officials prior to holding meetings or rallies (which must be held in officially designated areas) and to allow government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings; these requirements were usually enforced.
Although official government statistics indicated that 56 percent of the labor force was unionized, union officials noted that figure included retirees and others no longer on the active list of unionized employees. Most labor experts in the country estimated that approximately 20 percent of the wage and salary workers in the labor force were unionized.
The law provides for the right to strike; however, the law requires a union to take a series of steps, including negotiations and nonbinding mediation, before calling a strike. The law prohibits unions from engaging in secondary (solidarity), political, or general (involving multiple unions over a large geographical area) strikes or in work slowdowns. In sectors in which strikes are prohibited, labor disputes were resolved through binding arbitration.
The law prohibits strikes by civil servants, public workers engaged in the safeguarding of life and property, workers in the coal mining and petroleum industries, sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education; however, many workers in these sectors conducted strikes in violation of these restrictions with general impunity. The majority of strikes during the year were illegal according to law; while some illegal strikers were dismissed, in most cases employers did not retaliate.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law and diverse government restrictions and interference limited the ability of unions to conduct their activities, including collective bargaining. Industrial workers and some public sector employees, excluding white collar civil servants and state security personnel, have the right to bargain collectively, and approximately 1.3 million workers, or 5.4 percent of the workforce, were under collective bargaining agreements. The law requires that, in order to become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 50 percent plus one of the employees at a given work site and 10 percent of all the workers in that particular industry. This requirement favored established unions. The International Trade Union Confederation claimed that the law resulted in workers in many sectors not being covered by collective agreements.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, such discrimination occurred occasionally in practice. If a court rules that a worker has been unfairly dismissed and should either be reinstated or compensated, the employer generally pays compensation to the employee along with a fine.
There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the country's 21 free trade and export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that women, men, and minors were trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and for labor.
Some parents forced their children to work on the streets and to beg.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
There are laws to protect children from exploitation in the workplace; however, the government did not effectively implement these laws. The use of child labor was particularly notable in agriculture, carpentry, the shoemaking and leather goods industry, the auto repair industry, small-scale manufacturing, and street sales. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 and prohibits children under 16 from working more than eight hours a day. At age 15 children may engage in light work provided they remain in school. The law provides that no person shall be required to perform work unsuitable for their age, gender, or capabilities, and the government prohibits children from working at night or in areas such as underground mining. The law prohibits school-aged children from working more than two hours per day or 10 hours per week.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security effectively enforced these restrictions in workplaces that were covered by the labor law, which included medium- and large-scale industrial and service sector enterprises. A number of sectors are not covered by the law, including agricultural enterprises employing 50 or fewer workers, maritime and air transportation, family handicraft businesses, and small shops employing up to three persons.
Nonetheless, child labor was widespread. In a child labor survey conducted in the last quarter of 2006 and released in April 2007, the State Statistical Institute reported that the number of child laborers between the ages of six and 17 was 960,000, or 5.9 percent of a total of 16.2 million in that age group. These figures represented a decrease over previous years. The study found that 84.7 percent of children aged six to 17 attended school and that the 31.5 percent of children in that age group who were employed were also attending school at least part time.
An informal system provided work for young boys at low wages, for example, in auto repair shops. Girls rarely were seen working in public, but many were kept out of school to work in handicrafts, particularly in rural areas. According to the 2006 child labor survey, 40.9 percent of child labor occurred in the agricultural sector, with a total of 52.4 percent of employed children working in rural areas, compared to 47.6 percent working in urban areas. Many children worked in areas not covered by labor laws, such as agriculture workplaces with fewer than 50 workers or the informal economy. To combat this ongoing problem, the Ministry of National Education conducted a program in cooperation with the UN Children's Fund that was designed to provide primary education for at-risk girls. By year's end, the program benefited nearly 223,000 girls and 100,000 boys.
Small enterprises preferred child labor because it was cheaper and provided practical training for the children, who subsequently had preference for future employment in the enterprise. If children employed in these businesses were registered with a Ministry of National Education training center, they were required to go to the center once a week for training and the centers were obliged by law to inspect their workplaces. According to data provided by the ministry, there were 307 centers located in 81 cities; these centers provided apprenticeship training in 133 occupations. The government identified the worst forms of child labor as children working in the streets, in industrial sectors where their health and safety were at risk, and as agricultural migrant workers. There were reports that children were trafficked for sexual exploitation.
There were no reliable statistics for the number of children working on the streets nationwide. The government's Social Services and Child Protection Institution operated 44 centers to assist such children.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage of 638 lira ($425) per month did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. All workers covered by the labor law are also covered by the law establishing a national minimum wage. This law was effectively enforced by the Ministry of Labor Inspection Board.
The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day, and limits overtime to three hours per day for up to 270 hours a year. Premium pay for overtime is mandated but the law allows for employers and employees to agree to a flextime schedule. The Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors, which covered approximately 12 percent of workers. Workers in other sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay, although by law they were entitled to it.
The law mandates occupational health and safety regulations; however, in practice the Ministry of Labor Inspection Board did not carry out effective inspection and enforcement programs. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although reports of them doing so were rare. Authorities effectively enforced this right.