2009 Human Rights Report: Turkey
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
March 11, 2010
2009 Human Rights Report: Armenia
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
March 11, 2010
Turkey, with a population of approximately 72 million, is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliamentary system and a president with limited powers. In a 2007 referendum a majority of voters approved the direct popular election of future presidents for a maximum of two five-year terms. Just prior to the referendum, the single-chamber parliament, the Turkish Grand National Assembly, elected Abdullah Gul as president. The country held parliamentary elections in 2007 that were 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. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
There were reports of a number of human rights problems and abuses in the country. 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. During the year human rights organizations reported cases of torture, beatings, and abuse by security forces. Prison conditions improved but 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 made statements that some observers believed influenced the independence of the judiciary. 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 and through the application of tax fines against media conglomerates. There were limitations on Internet freedom. Courts and an independent board ordered telecommunications providers to block access to websites on numerous occasions. Some religious groups were restricted from practicing their religion openly, owning property, and training leaders. Violence against women, including honor killings and rape, remained a widespread problem. Child marriage persisted, despite laws prohibiting it. Some cases of official corruption contributed to trafficking in persons for labor and sexual exploitation.
The government amended the penal code on June 26 to prohibit trials of civilians in military courts. There were also positive developments during the year with respect to freedom of expression and the use of Kurdish and other non-Turkish languages, including the following: a substantial decrease in the number of prosecutions and convictions based on article 301, which prohibits insults to the "Turkish state"; the formal launch of a 24-hour Kurdish-language state television station on January 1; broadcasts in Armenian on state television for half an hour twice a day on April 2; new regulations on November 13 allowing for 24-hour private television stations to broadcast in languages other than Turkish; new prison regulations in November allowing prisoners to speak languages other than Turkish with their visitors; and approval in September of a university department to teach the Kurdish language among other "living" languages.
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 organization (NGO) Human Rights Foundation (HRF) reported that security forces caused the deaths of seven persons during demonstrations. On February 15, Sinan Aydin died after exposure to tear gas during a demonstration in Diyarbakir. On April 4, police shot and killed Mahsum Karaoglan and Mustafa Dag during a demonstration in Halfeti, Sanliurfa. On December 6, university student Aydin Erdem was shot and killed while participating in a demonstration in Diyarbakir. Investigations continued in these cases at year's end.
Yahya Menekse died after being run over by an armored police vehicle during a demonstration in Cizre, Sirnak, in February 2008. There were no new developments in the case at year's end.
After a July 16 hearing, the case of the death of Mehmet Deniz during a clash between demonstrators and security forces at a demonstration to mark World Women's Day in 2008 continued at year's end. The prosecutor opened a case against a police officer for causing the death. The police claimed that Deniz was killed by a stone thrown by a demonstrator.
At year's end a criminal case had not been filed in the police shooting and killing of Zeki Erinc during Nevruz celebrations in 2008. The HRF reported that a criminal case could not be filed until the administrative case, which the organization noted was moving very slowly, had ended.
There were continuing reports that security forces shot and killed civilians who refused to obey a warning to stop. A joint report from the Human Rights Association (HRA) and HRF stated that 46 persons died specifically for refusing to stop, an increase over the previous year.
Human rights organizations continued to state that the government's failure to delineate clearly appropriate situations for the use of lethal force, in the revised Antiterror Law or other laws, contributed to cases of disproportionate use of force.
On May 28, police officer Mustafa Aktas was convicted and sentenced to five years' imprisonment for the 2008 killing of Gokhan Ergun for not obeying a warning to stop.
The HRF reported that there had been no investigation into the August 2008 death of driver Turan Ozdemir for refusing an order to stop.
On January 21, the government began its prosecution of 60 suspects, including wardens, police officers, and a prison director, in the death of Engin Ceber, who died of a brain hemorrhage in October 2008, reportedly as a result of a beating by security forces during his detention and later by prison officials in jail. Justice Ministry inspectors submitted a report to the court in November recommending eight wardens be expelled from public service and reprimands be issued to four prison administrators and 41 wardens. Six of the suspects were placed under arrest, and the case continued at year's end.
After an appeal of the Istanbul prosecutor's December 2008 decision to close the investigation of seven police officers suspected in the death of Mustafa Kurkcu in Umraniye prison in 2007 from cerebral hemorrhaging, the court reopened the case. The trial of nine police officers began on July 9. The police officers did not appear for trial at the first hearing and were brought to court by force to testify on October 20. The trial continued at year's end.
As of year's end no developments were reported in the case of Ejder Demir, an ethnic Kurd whom security forces shot and killed in 2007 in the Asagi Kockiran village in eastern Van Province. An NGO delegation that visited the town after his death reported claims that soldiers shot Demir in the back without warning; government officials maintained that Demir was trying to flee when shot. After a December hearing, the case continued at year's end.
On April 9, a Bakirkoy court convicted police officer Ali Mutlu for the 2007 death of Feyzullah Ete in Istanbul. Mutlu was given five years' imprisonment.
The HRF reported 33 deaths of prison inmates and five deaths in detention through December 1. According to the Ministry of Justice, 116 inmates died of sickness during the year and 34 committed suicide.
The Turkish General Staff reported there were no deaths of detainees or convicts in military prisons during the year.
In 2008 the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR) found 11 violations by the country of the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to right to life or involving the deprivation of life.
The case against an officer from the Beyoglu District of Istanbul for the 2007 killing of Nigerian refugee Festus Okey continued at year's end. Okey died in a police station during interrogation by the officer, who allegedly had a gun. The Beyoglu penal court was requesting information to confirm his identity from the government of Nigeria at year's end. Some human rights activists saw this as a delaying tactic by the courts.
According to the security forces (military, Jandarma, and the Turkish National Police (TNP), 36 civilians were killed and 115 were injured, 77 members of the security forces were killed and 385 were injured, and 105 terrorists were killed and five were injured in armed clashes related to the struggle against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) during the year.
Most of the clashes between terrorists and security forces occurred in the southeast. The numbers of civilian deaths and injuries decreased from 2008.
According to the HRF land mines and unattended explosives killed nine civilians and injured 26 during the year, a decline from the previous year.
On several occasions throughout the year government military aircraft attacked areas controlled by the PKK in northern Iraq.
Unlike in 2008, there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.
The HRF determined that human rights activist Hasan Onay, reported missing in 2008, had fled the country to live abroad.
At year's end there was no development in the 2007 case of Enver Elbat. Elbat's father reported that his son had been detained 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.
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 continued to report cases of torture and abuse in detention centers and prisons during the year. They alleged that torture and abuse had moved outside of detention centers and into more informal venues where it was harder to document. In a 2008 report, Amnesty International (AI) noted that investigations into human rights violations by police were flawed and that prosecutions remained insufficient. AI also noted that statements allegedly extracted under torture were admitted as evidence in court.
The HRF reported that courts investigated allegations of abuse and torture by security forces during the year; however, they rarely convicted or punished offenders. Authorities typically allowed officers accused of abuse to remain on duty during their trials.
In its October progress report, the European Commission reported that countercases for resisting arrest frequently initiated by security forces against persons who allege torture or abuse had a potentially deterrent effect on the filing of abuse complaints.
A 2008 report by the parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission found that, between 2003 and 2008, 2 percent of the 2,140 personnel who were investigated due to accusations of torture or mistreatment were given disciplinary sentences.
The TNP reported 11 cases of torture allegations (two were acquitted and nine were dropped by the judiciary for lack of evidence) and opened administrative and judicial investigations against 104 personnel (68 received no punishment and 36 cases continued at year's end). As of November, no cases of prosecution against alleged torture suspects resulted in conviction or firing.
According to a report by the Prime Ministry's Human Rights Presidency (HRP), three torture and 54 cruel treatment cases were reported in the first six months of the year.
According to the HRA there were 655 reports of torture in the first nine months of the year, an increase over the previous year. The HRF reported that, in the first eight months of year, 283 persons applied to the HRF's centers for assistance. Of these, 111 cases involved torture or abuse inflicted during the year; the rest involved alleged 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 an October 2008 report the NGO Societal and Legal Research Foundation (TOHAV) reported an increase in torture cases during 2008. Based on a study of 275 surveys from individuals who submitted credible reports of torture from 2006 through 2008, TOHAV found that 210 of the victims were ethnic Kurds, 55 ethnic Turks, and 10 ethnic Arabs. Fifteen of the victims claimed 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.
The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and domestic human rights observers reported in 2008 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 stated 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. The CPT visited during the year but had not published a report by year's end.
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. According to a number of human rights groups and press reports, authorities allegedly tortured some suspects to obtain confessions, while others such as transvestites were regularly subject to abuse by police on "moral" grounds.
At year's end the trial continued against police officer Gazi Ozuak from the Van Security Directorate on charges of torturing theft suspect Zeki Simsek in 2008. Simsek claimed that he had been tortured with nails and cigarettes during his interrogation and that the mistreatment was verified by a medical report by the Van State Hospital. While awaiting trial, Ozuak was promoted into the Ankara Antiterror Department.
On May 8, the Bakirkoy penal court continued the case against seven police officers for the 2007 shooting and paralysis of Ferhat Gercek while he was selling Yuruyus, a leftist newspaper. Gercek's trial for resisting arrest, which carried a possible punishment of up to 15 years and four months' imprisonment, continued at year's end.
No action had been taken at year's end in the 2008 case of Derya Bakir, who suffered fractures in both legs due to alleged cruel treatment by 20 guards while visiting her brother, held at the Ankara Sincan prison for being a member of a leftist organization.
At year's end no official action had been taken against officials for the 2008 beating with sticks and kicking of three prisoners in Bolu prison, Muzaffer Akengin, Deniz Guzel, and Naif Bal.
In 2008 the ECHR found 30 violations by the country of the prohibition against cruel and degrading treatment and three violations of the prohibition against torture as provided by the European Convention on Human Rights.
At year's end there was still no investigation into the 2007 criminal complaint filed by a Diyarbakir woman alleging that police tortured her while she was visiting her detained husband at a police station.
At year's end there was still no investigation into the 2007 alleged police beating in Istanbul of Sinan Tekpetek, a leader of 52 Percent, a group that protests the country's university entrance examination 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 many cases of prison guards beating inmates during the year.
After an investigation the government conducted decided no charges should be filed against officials who allegedly tortured two boys ages 17 and 18 while they were imprisoned for 10 days on allegations, later withdrawn, that they had committed rape in a boys' shelter in 2007.
The government conducted an investigation and decided no charges should be filed against a team of guards at Kirikkale prison who were alleged to have severely beaten and mistreated two prisoners after they were transferred to Kirikkale from Sincan prison in 2007.
In November the Malatya penal court sentenced nine women each to three years and one month in prison, and one woman for four years and two months in prison in the criminal trial of 12 orphanage employees accused of abusing children at the Malatya State Orphanage in 2005. Two other women were acquitted for lack of evidence. The Malatya penal court had previously sentenced eight orphanage employees to one year in prison for "neglecting their duties" but postponed execution of the sentence in March 2008. The investigations began in 2005 when the media showed footage of employees beating naked orphanage children, some of whom alleged they had been forced to eat excrement. A physical examination produced evidence that 21 of 46 children had been subjected to torture, including severe beatings and hot water burns.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison facilities remained inadequate although conditions generally improved during the year. Underfunding, overcrowding, and insufficient staff training were problems.
At year's end the Ministry of Justice reported the country had 367 prisons with a designed capacity of 105,726 holding a total of 114,502 inmates, 59,474 of whom were detainees awaiting trial. The Turkish General Staff reported 25 military prisons with a capacity of 5,300 held a total of 1,036 prisoners, 678 of whom were arrestees with trials in progress.
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 HRF reported that 672 arrestees or convicts could not receive proper medical treatment during the year because they were either not sent to a doctor or taken to a doctor in handcuffs, or because third parties were present during their examinations.
Foreigners who claimed asylum after being detained by security forces were held in "guest houses for foreigners" operated by the Foreigners' Department of the TNP. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), detained asylum seekers reported insufficient food and medical attention and overcrowded conditions.
Juveniles were held in separate wards from adults. Detainees and convicts occasionally were held together. Inmates convicted for nonviolent, speech-related offenses were sometimes held in high-security prisons.
The Justice Ministry reported that as of October 31, there were 2,622 children in prisons. A joint HRA/HRF report claimed that 177 of these were ethnic Kurdish children held under antiterror laws for throwing stones at police during pro-PKK protests in the southeast.
The government permitted prison visits by representatives of some international organizations, such as the CPT, which conducted a periodic visit to the country on June 4-17. Domestic human rights organizations and activists reported that prison-monitoring boards composed of government officials and private individuals were ineffective.
On November 17, five inmates were transferred to the Imrali prison, where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan had been the sole prisoner for the past 10 years. Ocalan was moved to a different cell a few inches smaller than his old one but with a toilet in an adjacent corner and an extra window. He was given access to the outdoors for exercise and a prison shop. He was allowed regular contact with the other prisoners for 10 hours each week.
In 2007 the Ministry of Justice issued a regulation that restricted the ability of members of parliament, except for those on the Human Rights Committee, 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 former 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 the joint control of the Ministry of Interior and the military, 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 have been accused repeatedly in past years 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.
During the year, the government made progress in reforming the village guard system as required by a 2007 law which, according to government officials, is intended to gradually phase out the system through retirement while providing social support for village guards. It had reduced the number of village guards to 48, 276, from 63,000 in previous years.
On May 4, a group of village guards attacked a wedding ceremony in Bilge, Mardin, killing 44 persons, including seven children, and injuring 10. While the motivation for the attack was reportedly personal, the attack was conducted with weapons provided to the assailants as village guards. Government officials immediately condemned the attack. Nine gunmen were arrested and two minors were tried separately. In June the nine gunmen were indicted for murder by the Mardin penal court. Each suspect faced life imprisonment for each count of murder. Later, for security reasons, the trial was moved to the Corum penal court. The trial continued at year's end.
The TNP and Jandarma received specialized training in a number of areas, including human rights and counterterrorism. A total of 14,413 TNP personnel received training on human rights. According to the government, the military emphasized human rights in training for officers and noncommissioned officers. A total of 32 hours of human rights training is given to officers, NCOs, and Jandarma cadets. In some cases NGOs were invited to provide input or training to security forces during the year.
The Jandarma reported that through November complaints were filed against 155 Jandarma personnel for excessive use of force and mistreatment. Of these, administrative action was taken against one, 47 were found to be "baseless," four were duplicate complaints, and 97 remained under review at year's end. A total of 118 Jandarma personnel were expelled for various reasons during the year.
The TNP reported that through November 63 judicial or administrative cases were opened against TNP personnel for excessive use of force and mistreatment. Investigations were dropped in 38 cases because there was "no need to punish" or "no need to reach a decision." Twenty-four cases continued at year's end.
On September 22, the Court of Appeals upheld the acquittal of a police officer who shot and killed a demonstrator who was throwing stones at a protest in Siirt in 2005. The court held that the officer used his weapon with "understandable fear" during a demonstration in which protestors had surrounded his vehicle and chanted terrorist propaganda.
The Court of Appeals rejected the request of the Ministry of Justice to reduce the sentences of four police officers who were each sentenced to eight years in prison in 2007 for the 1991 torture and killing of Hacettepe University student Birtan Altinbas.
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 he 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 that the government 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 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.
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 attorneys because the government was behind on compensation payments for such work.
The HRA claimed that 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 difficulties in helping families find out whether a relative had been detained because the government refused to release such information to the organizations.
In 2007 parliament amended the law significantly to expand the authority of security forces to search and detain a suspect. Under the amended law, police and Jandarma may compel citizens to declare their identities without any cause. The HRA stated that the expanded authority was contrary to legal and civil rights.
During the year police routinely detained demonstrators for a few hours at a time. Police detained several hundred members of the former DTP and its successor Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) on various occasions. Police continued to detain and harass members of human rights organizations, media personnel, and human rights monitors. Police continued to detain persons on suspicion of "membership in an illegal organization" and for "promoting terrorist propaganda."
Lengthy pretrial detention was generally 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 long periods, without trial but with the right to see the judge each month.
Throughout the year prosecutors in Istanbul continued to arrest and indict prominent military, business, and media personalities on charges of plotting to foment unrest and topple the elected government as members of a network known as "Ergenekon." Prosecutors in Istanbul submitted one indictment in 2008 that was later combined with the indictment following the 2006 shooting in the Danistay (Council of State) and two additional indictments during the year that were later combined. The indictments included allegations that the group plotted assassinations of public figures, including religious leaders, as well as planned beatings and bombings of prominent individuals. A total of 250 persons were indicted by year's end. Some opposition politicians, members of the press, and critics of the government considered many of the indictments to be politically motivated. Others claimed that the arrests had reduced the fear and pressure on journalists and human rights activists across the country by removing threats against them. Members of the government and members of the press supportive of the government claimed that criticism of the trial was intended to pressure the courts and change government policies. Critics of the government pointed out that dozens of defendants were held without charge for several months before the release of indictments, although this was a common practice in the country.
In December investigators were for the first time allowed to search military facilities for evidence in the Ergenekon investigation. High-level military figures including active colonels and retired generals testified in court. During the year, the Turkish General Staff (TGS) leadership generally cooperated with the Ergenekon investigation, although individual military members publicly expressed their misgivings about the proceedings.
In 2008 the ECHR found 64 violations by the country of the right to liberty and security as provided by the European Convention on Human Rights.
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 criticized the government.
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 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.
In 2008 the parliament passed an amendment to article 301 of the penal code criminalizing insults to the 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, prosecutors continued to conduct ideologically motivated investigations, such as those involving allegations of insulting the state. A separate law forbids insults to the country's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and was also used by prosecutors to conduct ideologically motivated investigations during the year. Observers reported that investigations based on both provisions decreased substantially from past years.
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.
The law provides that all judicial candidates pass a written and an oral examination administered by the Ministry of Justice and establishes a mechanism to allow private attorneys with five years' experience who are younger than 35 to enter the ministry's ranks. The Union of Turkish Bar Associations asserted that the oral examination would allow the Ministry of Justice to select candidates based on political considerations. At year's end the High Council continued to make judicial appointments from the pool of persons who had passed the exam and been trained by the ministry.
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 involving 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.
The Constitutional Court examines the constitutionality of the procedural aspects 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, under 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 military personnel. In June the parliament enacted a law forbidding civilians from being tried in military courts and allowing military officers to be tried at civilian courts for violations of civilian laws. The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) opened a case in the Constitutional Court in July to annul the law. The case continued at year's end.
In 2008 the ECHR found 75 violations by the country of the right to a fair trial as provided under the European Convention on Human Rights.
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 may 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 that 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 2008 AI report, criminal defendants faced numerous violations of their right to a fair trial during courtroom proceedings, especially in trials for violations of antiterror laws. The report also found that convictions under antiterror laws were often based on insufficient or unreliable evidence.
According to a 2007 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 coerced 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.
Some observers saw public comments in April by senior members of the armed forces on the Ergenekon case, and of support for the military personnel indicted and standing trial in the case, as applying pressure on the judiciary.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to appeal. There is no jury system; a judge or a panel of judges decides all cases. Courtroom proceedings are public for all cases except those involving minors as defendants. Court files, which contain charging documents, case summaries, judgments, and other court pleadings, are closed to anyone other than the parties to a case. This makes it difficult to obtain information on the progress of, or results in, court cases except through formal channels. 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 generally 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.
International human rights organizations and the EU stated that the courtroom structure and rules of criminal procedure gave an unfair advantage to the prosecution. During a trial the prosecutor may 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. 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.
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.
In 2008 the ECHR found 64 violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the country involving length of proceedings.
The law prohibits the use in court of evidence 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 exclusion of evidence was lawful. 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
The HRA asserted that there were several thousand political prisoners from all sides of the political spectrum 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, 2,869 convicts and 2,699 pretrial detainees were being held in prison on terrorism charges as of October 21.
International humanitarian organizations were allowed access to alleged political prisoners, provided they could obtain permission from the Ministry of Justice. In practice organizations rarely received 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.
In 2008 the ECHR found 12 violations of the right to an effective remedy as provided under the European Convention on Human Rights.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law allows for telephone tapping with a court order. There were occasional complaints by individuals and public figures, including higher court members and politicians, that their telephones were illegally tapped. Only the Turkish Telecommunication Agency was authorized to tap telephones when presented with a court order directed against alleged drug traffickers, organized crime members, and terrorists.
In November the Justice Ministry confirmed allegations that 56 judges' and prosecutors' telephones had been tapped as part of the Ergenekon investigation and asserted that all taps were carried out within the guidelines of the law. The ministry stated that 36 of those taps were terminated by November. Some observers reported that many of the judges and prosecutors whose telephones had been tapped were noted for their anti-AKP decisions, including one prosecutor who had opened an investigation against President Gul for embezzlement.
In 2008 the ECHR found 11 violations of the right to respect for private and family life as provided under the European Convention on Human Rights.
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 some cases. Some senior government officials made statements during the year strongly criticizing the press. The government levied a substantial tax fine against a media conglomerate during the year that some observers considered to be related to the political editorial line of the media conglomerate's print and broadcast outlets.
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 "Turkish state," 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.
Article 301 of the constitution criminalizes insults to the Turkish state. The article requires the approval of the Justice Minister for charges of violating article 301 to proceed to court. However, prosecutors continued to conduct ideologically motivated investigations, such as those involving allegations of insulting the Turkish state or Ataturk.
According to the Justice Ministry, the justice minister received 424 complaints concerning article 301 during the year and rejected 358 of them. Only four were given permission to proceed, a substantial decrease over the previous year. A total of 55 files remained under consideration at year's end. According to the HRF, 18 persons were prosecuted during the year under article 301, also a substantial decrease over the previous year.
Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of criminal suits or government investigations, 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 consideration by 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 investigation, although significantly less than in previous years. The TPA reported that serious restrictions on freedom of expression continued despite legal reforms related to the country's EU candidacy.
A group of intellectuals began an "I apologize to the Armenians" campaign in 2008 regarding the tragic events of 1915. More than 30,000 signatures were gathered for the campaign. The government initiated an investigation against the organizers of the campaign in January for violating article 301. The Court of Appeals was reviewing the case at year's end.
In 2008 the ECHR found 20 violations of freedom of expression as provided under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The TPA reported that it faced fewer 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 against authors and publishers filed by ideologically motivated attorneys.
According to a joint HRA/HRF report, 34 journalists were held on speech violations during the year. A total of 29 publications were temporarily banned, and 62 books were confiscated and became grounds for prosecutions during the year.
On December 29, the Diyarbakir penal court sentenced eleven persons, including local mayors, to 10 months' imprisonment for using "sayin" (an honorific title) when referring to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, which the court condemned as "praising a crime and a criminal."
In November the Izmir penal court convicted local mayoral candidates Cemal Coskun and Seyhmuz Seyhan for using the Kurdish language during their campaigns for the March 29 local elections. They were each sentenced to six months in jail, although the sentences were later converted into fines of 3,000 lira ($2,000).
In September a public prosecutor launched an investigation against actress Hulya Avsar and journalist Devrim Sevimay for an interview of the actress in which she stated that it would be difficult to convince the PKK to lay down its weapons. The prosecutor claimed that this was "inciting hatred and hostility amongst the public and humiliation of the public." In late October the prosecutor decided not to file charges.
On October 4, the Diyarbakir High Court convicted lawyer Eren Keskin, actor Murat Batgi, and author Edip Polat of "inciting hatred and hostility" for using the terms "Kurds" and "Kurdistan" in a speech at the Culture and Art Festival in Diyarbakir in 2006. Each was sentenced to one year in prison. The court stated that their speeches showed "evidence of clearly emerging and immediate danger."
In October the Ankara prosecutor opened an investigation of suspected violations of article 301 against the National Police Academy for a workshop conducted in August on sensitivity to Kurdish issues. The investigation continued at year's end.
An arrest warrant remained active for youth choir director Duygu Ozge Bayar for "promulgating propaganda on behalf of an illegal organization" after the choir sang a Kurdish folk song that is also the anthem of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government at the San Francisco International Music Festival in 2007. Bayar returned to the country after the concert but departed when the prosecution was opened. At year's end she remained out of the country.
In 2007 police detained Kirikkale University student 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. In October the local penal court sentenced Sahin to two months in jail. The sentence was later converted into a 1,720-lira ($1,150) fine.
Throughout the year police and the judiciary increased pressure on members of the pro-Kurdish former DTP and BDP. Human rights activists claimed that more than 1,000 cases had been opened against former DTP and BDP members during the year. Most were investigated and prosecuted for speaking in the Kurdish language or for making statements critical of the government. Many were also arrested for alleged ties with the KCK, the political branch of the terrorist PKK organization, including a group of more than 40 between December 25 and 31 that included elected mayors and BDP officials.
On April 21, the Diyarbakir criminal court sentenced two Kurdish politicians, Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir and former DTP leader Nejmet Atalay, to 10 months in prison for publicly spreading terrorist propaganda by referring to the PKK as "guerillas" instead of "terrorists" in a public speech. Baydemir continued to serve as mayor.
Baydemir continued to face more than 100 charges and investigations for use of the Kurdish language. At year's end he faced three cases for sending Kurdish language holiday cards in 2008. The Diyarbakir penal court acquitted Baydemir in September for the 2007 cases against him for referring to the PKK as the "armed Kurdish opposition."
In October the Ankara prosecutor opened an investigation into the DTP's national convention for alleged support of terrorism through speeches and slogans delivered at the convention. The investigation also examined alleged ties between the DTP and PKK. The closure of the DTP in December rendered moot any outstanding cases against the party (see section 3).
In October a Sanliurfa court sentenced seven DTP members to two years in prison for participating in an unauthorized rally in October 2008 to protest the prison conditions of Abdullah Ocalan.
On December 24, Muharrem Erbey, president of the HRA in Diyarbakir and vice president of the national HRA, was arrested for alleged ties with the KCK, the political wing of the PKK. His house, private office, and the HRA were searched, and police confiscated all the HRA computers, books at his house, and the hard disk of his private office computer. The Diyarbakir branch of the HRA applied to the police for the return of their computers, but they had not yet been returned at year's end. The HRA claimed that Erbey was arrested for his work at the HRA and as a human rights lawyer. At year's end, Erbey was being held in the Diyarbakir prison and had not been formally charged with a crime.
In July a Diyarbakir court sentenced Leyla Zana to one year and three months in prison for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization." Zana stated that "Abdullah Ocalan is the heart and brain of the Kurds," at a panel discussion in May 2008 at a London university. An appeal continued at year's end.
During the first half of the year, the government amended prison regulations to allow prisoners to speak in Kurdish to their relatives who visited them in prison. Human rights organizations described this development as positive and stated that there were few problems with the implementation of the new rule.
The country had an active print media independent of state control. Hundreds of private newspapers 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 November there were 210 local, 15 regional, and 22 officially registered national television stations and 929 local, 98 regional, and 35 national radio stations. In addition, 77 television channels operated on the cable network, and RTUK granted eight television enterprises and two radio enterprises satellite licenses and broadcast permits necessary for operation. 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 the media as a tool to build pressure against government policies.
Prosecutors harassed writers, journalists, and political figures by bringing dozens of cases to court under various laws that restricted media freedom; however, judges dismissed many of these charges. 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 October 7, the Court of Appeals held that individuals could sue and demand compensation from author Orhan Pamuk for his remark, "We killed 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians." No cases had opened by year's end.
The TGS did not admit media publications perceived to hold dissenting views into its media briefings. National publications could also be denied depending on their reporting. A journalist from the daily Evrensel, Sultan Ciftci, did not receive accreditation during the year to the Prime Ministry after being denied in 2008 as well. Other journalists received accreditation with no reported problems.
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, accused of killing prominent human rights activist Hrant Dink in 2007, continued 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 began in 2007; Samast reportedly admitted shooting Dink and identified the weapon he used. The investigation resulted in the arrest and indictment of 19 additional suspects, eight of whom remained in detention. In an October 12 hearing, Dink family lawyers requested documents from the "Ergenekon" trial, alleging that several suspects in that case had targeted Dink as a tool to destabilize the state. In September 2008 the family of Hrant Dink filed a complaint with 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 criticized Cerrah and Guler for not investigating warnings involving Dink that were received prior to the killing.
In October 2008 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 the 2007 killing of Dink, calling for the recognition of the tragic events of 1915 as "genocide." The case continued at year's end, although Demirer was convicted and sentenced to five months' imprisonment in a separate trial for speaking about Ibrahim Kaypakkaya, a former leader of the country's communist movement.
In January the state-owned TRT devoted one television and radio station to 24-hour Kurdish broadcasts without subtitles and with no time limit on news broadcasts. TRT officials indicated that there was no censorship of content on the station. On November 13, the government approved regulations to allow privately owned television and radio stations to broadcast in languages other than Turkish. Applications were approved for three dialects of Kurdish and Arabic stations. On April 2, broadcasts began in Armenian on state television for half an hour twice a day.
The TPA reported that the banning and recall of books remained a concern, although there were fewer bans than in the previous year. Several publications were recalled without a final court decision during the year. Writers and publishers were still prosecuted on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, antiterror, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. Printing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors at the time they are published. The TPA reported that publishers often avoided works with controversial content in order to stay out of court. According to the TPA, in 2008 and during the year, authorities investigated or opened court cases against 62 publications and 26 publishers. These cases resulted in four acquittals and 28 convictions; the other cases were in progress or pending at year's end. The TPA noted that publishers continued to be held liable for books whose authors were foreigners or living abroad.
In June authorities opened two cases against journalist Nedim Sener on charges of "publicizing confidential information" and "insulting government officials" in connection with a book he published, Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies, which explored the circumstances of the Dink killing. At year's end Sener faced a total of 28 years' imprisonment if convicted.
The case against Atilla Tuygan for translating two books dealing with Turkish-Armenian relations continued at year's end. The case was opened in 2007 after the books' publisher, Ragip Zarakolu, was acquitted, and the court ruled that Tuygan should be tried instead. In a second case, Zarakolu was convicted in June 2008 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 Court of Appeals had not ruled on the case 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 October 2, the media reported that police in Mardin confiscated Kurdish-language textbooks for a new "living languages" institute at the Artuklu University to check them for "terrorist propaganda." The police returned the books to the university after inspection.
Some members of the AKP 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 June an Ankara court ordered politician Yasar Nuri Ozturk to pay 7,500 lira (approx. $5,000) to Prime Minister Erdogan for insulting him on a television program on March 1.
In July an Ankara court forced CHP leader Deniz Baykal to pay 10,000 lira (approx. $6,700) in compensation to Prime Minister Erdogan for insulting him. Baykal called Erdogan a "bully" at a rally in Sinop on February 28.
The civil case against cartoonist Mehmet Cagcag for using Prime Minister Erdogan's image in a critical photomontage was denied by the court. The court ruled that the cartoon was protected freedom of expression.
On September 9, the Aydin Children's Court closed a case against a 13-year-old who had yelled, "God will punish you!" at Prime Minister Erdogan at a campaign rally in Aydin in March. The Aydin public prosecutor had demanded imprisonment from one to three years for the child for insulting the prime minister.
Several large holding companies that 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.
During the year the Ministry of Finance levied a total of 5.9 billion lira (approximately $3.9 billion) in tax fines against the Dogan Media Group, one of the largest media conglomerates in the country. These fines nearly equaled the total value of the company's assets. The fines raised some observers' concerns, because the Group's editorial line had been considered critical of the government and prime minister. In its October progress report, the European Commission stated that the fines "undermine the economic viability of the group and therefore affect the freedom of the press in practice." Other observers described the fine as having a chilling effect on journalists and reported that the government was using it to silence opposition. The government maintained that the fine, which observers alleged could cause the corporation to go out of business, was a legitimate exercise of the Finance Ministry's taxation authority and that it had no political motivation.
On June 18, the Constitutional Court ruled that the law that prohibited editors at media organizations from disclosing the identities of public personnel fighting terrorism was unconstitutional and struck it down.
During the year cases against the press under the Antiterror Law continued. The HRF reported that the law contains an overly broad definition of offenses that allows ideologically and politically motivated prosecutions. There are at least 550 cases against the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Ozgur Gundem under the Antiterror Law. There were some convictions, but most cases remained open at year's end.
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. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2008, approximately 33 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet.
The Internet law allows the government to ban a Web site if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing one of eight crimes: 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 (TP) 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 May 11, courts and prosecutors had issued 2,601 orders to ban Web sites in response to approximately 81,691 complaints, a significant increase over the approximately 1,475 bans ordered for 17,768 complaints in the previous year. According to the human rights Web site "Bianet," the TP stopped reporting statistics in May because they were getting too high.
In May 2008 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 blocked at year's end.
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, there was some self-censorship on sensitive topics.
The 2008 conviction of Gazi University professor Atilla Yayla under a law pertaining to the "protection of Ataturk" for saying in 2006 that Kemalism was "more regressive than progressive" 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 injured 269, and there were reports that police beat, abused, detained, or harassed some demonstrators during the year. The HRF reported that security forces detained 1,414 persons and arrested and charged 369 during demonstrations during the year.
The TNP reported that police detained 1,737 persons involved in the 14,310 demonstrations that took place through October 25. These detentions varied in length from several hours to several days.
The approximately 180 public events around the country celebrating the Nevruz holiday (the Kurdish and Persian New Year) in March were generally peaceful. The HRF reported no incidents during Nevruz celebrations in the year, compared to numerous deaths and injuries during the previous year.
The May 1 Labor Day celebrations were generally peaceful. Human rights organizations alleged that police beat some union activists, but no arrests were reported.
HRF lawyers indicated during the year that the 2006 case against 54 police officers for allegedly using excessive force during a 2005 International Women's Day demonstration in Istanbul was no longer being pursued.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association; however, several restrictions on this right continued 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 stated this placed an undue burden on their operations.
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.
In 2008 the ECHR found five violations of the right of assembly and association under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Unlike in 2008, no organizations were closed by the government or courts.
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) 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 all who requested services equally.
Academics estimated the Alevi population at 15 to 20 million, including ethnic Turks and Kurds. 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 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, Kusadasi and Tunceli municipalities ruled that Alevi cem houses could receive free water and electricity from the municipality like other recognized places of worship, but they did not have the authority to grant formal "temple status" to cem houses.
During the year the government took steps to recognize and address the concerns of the Alevi population. The government held quarterly Alevi workshops aimed at addressing the concerns of the Alevi population. Some Alevi groups complained that these workshops did not address the needs of all Alevi groups, but only the ones close to the government.
Mystical Sufi and other religious-social orders (tarikats) and lodges (tekkes and zaviyes) are officially prohibited; however, tarikats, tekkes, and zaviyes 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 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 religious property. The GDF recognized 161 "minority community foundations," including Greek Orthodox foundations with 74 sites, Armenian Orthodox foundations with 48 sites, and Jewish foundations with 12 sites, as well as Syrian Christian, Chaldean, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian, Armenian Catholic, Protestant, and Maronite foundations. The GDF also regulated Muslim charitable religious foundations, including schools, hospitals, and orphanages, as well as nonreligious foundations.
In 2007 the Jehovah's Witnesses were officially registered 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. In the early part of the year, court decisions based on zoning laws against the use of two Jehovah's Witnesses places of worship (kingdom halls) were rescinded in the appeals process. However, two other kingdom halls continued to appeal court decisions restricting worship due to zoning laws. At year's end members of Jehovah's Witnesses had three applications pending with the ECHR that alleged government mistreatment pertaining to places of worship and conscientious objection to military service. Two Jehovah's Witnesses were in jail at year's end for refusing to perform mandatory military service.
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, and have expressed their concerns to the government. The General Directorate of Populations allowed persons to leave the religion section of their identity cards blank or change the religious designation by written application. However, the government continued to restrict applicants' choice of religion to a strict list.
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, and the Jandarma monitored missionary activity throughout the year.
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 unconfirmed reports that officials in some governmental ministries faced discrimination because they were not considered by their supervisors to be sufficiently observant of Islamic religious practices.
According to the military, officers and noncommissioned officers were periodically dismissed for ignoring repeated warnings from superior officers and for maintaining ties to what the military considered to be Islamic fundamentalist organizations. The government reported that there were five military dismissals during the year that 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, the ecumenical patriarch appointed 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 2,500 Greek Orthodox persons in the country, the community was becoming too small to maintain the institution. Prime Minister Erdogan has stated that the Greek Orthodox patriarch's use of the title "ecumenical" should not be a matter on which the state should rule.
On August 15, Prime Minister Erdogan and members of his cabinet hosted a meeting for religious leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Jewish communities on Buyukada, an island near Istanbul, to address minority religious rights.
Religious groups generally faced administrative challenges when employing foreign religious personnel, as did other entities when employing foreigners. In December 2008 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. While police and prosecutors did not take steps to prevent or punish such gatherings, landlords were hesitant to rent to groups without confirmation that they would not be harassed by the police.
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 27,000 square feet 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 due to restrictive zoning laws.
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, to avoid the seminary being administered by the state, chose not to fulfill a government requirement for all private institutions of higher learning to nationalize. Under existing restrictions, religious communities other than Sunni Muslims cannot train new clergy in the country for eventual leadership in a manner acceptable to these communities. 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.
No law explicitly prohibits proselytizing or religious conversions; however, many prosecutors and police regarded proselytizing and religious activism with suspicion.
Several practicing foreign Christians who 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 the Jandarma, and threats to themselves and their families. These persons reported that they worshipped in their homes but did not proselytize by distributing Bibles, going door to door, or undertaking similar activities.
Authorities continued to enforce a ban in place since 1997 on wearing headscarves at universities. 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.
The law establishes eight years of compulsory secular education, after which students may pursue study at general state schools or vocational high schools, which include imam hatip (Islamic preacher) high schools. Graduates of vocational schools, as well as general state schools, faced an automatic minimal reduction in their university entrance examination grades if they applied for university programs outside their field of high school specialization. This reduction made it more difficult for imam hatip graduates to enroll 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. Students were permitted to enroll in summer Koran classes provided by the Diyanet after completing the fifth grade (about age 11). Individuals who have completed the eighth grade or reached 16 years of age can attend yearlong Koran courses provided by the Diyanet. Unofficial clandestine Koran courses also existed outside the Diyanet's control.
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 and Syrian Orthodox, faced difficulties in obtaining exemptions, particularly if their identity 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.
Many Alevis alleged discrimination in the government's failure to include any of their doctrines or beliefs in religion courses. After the ECHR ruled in 2007 in favor of an Alevi parent who in 2004 filed a suit claiming the mandatory religion courses violated religious freedom, the government added10 chapters of an overview of the Alevi belief system to the textbook for religious and moral instruction. Most Alevi organizations contended this addition was insufficient and lobbied instead for the abolishment of compulsory religious courses.
The "officially recognized" minorities of Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious groups may operate schools under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. Other Muslim and non-Muslim minorities are not permitted to run schools of their own.
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 in 2008 the GDF approved 365 applications by non-Muslim foundations to acquire legal ownership of properties. A February 2008 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 expropriated when the associated foundations were taken under government control. These conditions applied to the majority of expropriated Greek Orthodox properties. The government extended a provisional article allowing foundations to apply for expropriated properties through August. The government was considering 1,200 applications at year's end.
On January 29, the Department of the Treasury initiated a case against the Syriac Mor Gabriel Monastery in Midyat claiming 12 parcels of land inside and outside the monastery walls. The Midyat court decided in favor of the monastery on June 24. The department's appeal to the Supreme Court was sent back to the Midyat court for more information. On June 24, the monastery lost a court case brought against it by the Department of Forestry that claimed ownership of 68 acres of land inside the monastery walls, and 15 acres adjacent to the outer wall. In its defense the monastery presented tax records for the property dating back to 1937 as well as ownership documents dating back to 1935. An appeal filed by the monastery to the Supreme Court was sent back to the Midyat court in December for more information.
In September 2008 a cadastre court upheld the results of a May 2008 cadastral regional land survey that reclaimed all but 30 percent of the monastery's land. Also in September 2008, three village muhtars (the lowest level elected official with no political affiliation and limited local authority) in Midyat filed a criminal complaint against the monastery alleging it illegally appropriated territory by building a wall. A cadastre court ruled in favor of the monastery on May 22. Official papers from the 1950s documented the provincial administrative board's approval of the monastery's borders. The monastery did not have legal status and was represented by a foundation established during the Ottoman Empire. The muhtars appealed to the Supreme Court, and the case was pending at year's end.
After a December 16 ECHR decision against the government on Armenian property cases, the government paid the settlement but did not restore the properties.
In July 2008 the ECHR ruled that the country had violated the Ecumenical Patriarchate's property rights to a former orphanage on Buyukada Island. However, a domestic court case continued at year's end to determine the correct foundation owner.
The law has no provisions to accommodate those who conscientiously object to military service. In December, Enver Aydemir was arrested for refusing to perform military service because he stated it would conflict with his Islamic beliefs. Aydemir did not consider himself a conscientious objector.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
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.
Reports of attacks on persons practicing Christian faiths dropped. Authorities took measures during the year to implement a 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 December 4, three men threatened a priest at the Diyarbakir Syriac Orthodox Mother Mary Church with death if he did not demolish the bell tower associated with the church within the week. The priest reported the situation to the police, who arrested the men six days later. The priest subsequently withdrew his complaint against them.
On August 3, a Christian was held hostage at knifepoint by Yasin Karasu in Kadikoy, Istanbul, until police intervened. Karasu called the hostage a "missionary dog" and accused him of breaking up the country. Karasu was held in prison at year's end.
In 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.
The trial of 11 individuals, including five 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. On December 25, the prosecutor and plaintiffs requested that the prosecutor for the Ergenekon trial probe the links between the Malatya murders and the alleged Ergenekon plan to overthrow the government. Istanbul prosecutors stated in December that they were unable to find a connection between the two cases.
In 2007 security officials thwarted a planned attack on a priest at St. Paul's Church in Antalya. The officials had been investigating a suspect for his ties to other crimes when they intercepted 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. However, there was no indication that authorities would file charges against him for the planned attack on the priest.
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 than in previous years when attempting to return to their villages. Representatives of one Syriac community claimed that 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. Previously, local villagers, particularly village guards, often occupied the homes of Syriacs who fled and refused to leave when the Syriacs attempted to return.
A variety of newspapers and television shows continued to feature anti-Christian and anti-Jewish messages, and anti-Semitic literature was common in bookstores. In October the state-run television channel began broadcasting the series "Ayrilik" ("Separation"), in which Israeli soldiers were portrayed murdering children in the Palestinian territories. A trailer of the series was also advertised in metro stations in Istanbul. After complaints, the government worked with the producers of the series to remove the offensive content.
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. Following Israel's military action in Gaza that began in December 2008, some newspaper columnists made anti-Semitic statements, and billboards around Istanbul carried images of bloody baby shoes and anti-Semitic statements. Some businesses in Eskisehir posted signs reading, "Dogs are welcome, but Jews and Armenians are not allowed entry."
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution 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 2008 the Constitutional Court annulled the legislative arrangement authorizing the Council of Ministers to implement "compulsory settlement" at 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. During the year there were no reports of villages being evacuated for security. Conversely, there were reports of persons returning to villages near Bitlis, Sanliurfa, and Mardin.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not employ it.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
There are 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. According to the TNP, 187,861 citizens returned voluntarily to their villages during the year in the southeast.
Academic observers reported the number of displaced to be much higher, ranging from 953,680 to 1,301,200 persons between 1986 and 2005. They stated the reason for the large discrepancy between government and NGO figures was that the government included only 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. Other factors contributing to displacement that the violence in the southeast exacerbated included rural-to-urban economic migration, large-scale development projects, 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 2007 parliament extended the duration of the law so that applicants could apply for compensation through May. NGO observers noted that the law was being implemented in a way contrary to the government's stated purpose and principles of fair and appropriate redress. Rulings by provincial commissions charged with the law's implementation were described as inadequate and hindering those IDPs who would like to return to their preconflict homes, and IDPs had no avenue of appeal. Local NGOs and regional bar associations maintained that the law included unreasonable documentation requirements and awarded levels of compensation far below standards established by the ECHR. The government denied it implemented the law unfairly.
The law compensates only losses suffered after 1987, leaving out victims who suffered losses before that year. The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) reported that many victims who fled the region because of the deteriorating economic and security situation were unable to receive compensation because they could not demonstrate a direct link between their losses and the actions of either the PKK or security forces. Human Rights Watch(HRW) also noted that the government refused to compensate those villagers in the southeast region displaced prior to 1987.
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 following the military's declaration of a "special security zone" in the area. The villagers and their belongings were forcibly removed, and their access to crops and services in the village was blocked. There were some reports from 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 TNP reported it had provided compensation of 349,982,716 lira (approximately $233,000,000) during the year related to losses stemming from the fight against PKK terrorists.
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 country is a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. However, the country ratified the 1967 protocol subject to a geographic limitation and therefore accepts its obligations only with respect to refugees from Europe. An administrative regulation provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has not established a formal system or legislation for providing protection to refugees. During the year the Interior Ministry conducted a parallel refugee status determination process subsequent to the UNHCR's determinations, affirming the latter's decisions in all but three cases out of a total of approximately 6,000. The individuals in those three cases were allowed to depart the country.
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 ($185) that regulations require refugees to pay every six months in the city where they have been assigned to live by the government. 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. There is no penalty for living outside of the assigned city, as long as the fees are paid there. In some cases families have been charged thousands of dollars in residence fees and late fines before being allowed to depart the country. In one case a family with eight members was asked to pay a $50,000 exit fine, calculated according to a fee schedule set by the Ministry of Interior.
In most cases the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In the first nine months of the year, 214 persons of interest to the UNHCR were deported from the country and 135 had not registered with the UNHCR. This was a significant decrease from the previous year, when the number deported was 790. The UNHCR sometimes had difficulty gaining access to interview potential refugees if they had already been detained or arrested by security forces for illegal entry into the country.
The government detained refugees and asylum seekers who entered the country illegally or from a country other than their country of origin. A total of 901 persons were detained in the first nine months of the year; 100 were registered with the UNHCR. Detainees could be held for months or years. Approximately 20 Iranians who entered the country from Iraq had cases pending in the ECHR at year's end.
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.
Illegal migrants detained 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 provides for 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.
The UNHCR reported successful interventions in most cases where asylum seekers arrived lawfully in the country after transiting one or more other countries. However, UNHCR access to persons in detention who wished to apply for asylum, to ship stowaways who wished to apply for asylum, and to persons trying to seek asylum while they were at the international areas of the country's airports remained problems.
The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, including individuals of non-European origin. According to the Ministry of Interior, during the year the government provided temporary protection to 8,478 foreigners referred by the 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 the UNHCR or resettlement agencies.
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 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (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.
In its observation report following the 2007 elections, the OSCE noted that, despite a comprehensive legal framework for elections, a number of laws that created the potential for uncertainty and scope for arbitrary interpretation constrained political campaigning and freedom of expression in a broader context. The OSCE also noted the positive efforts made to enhance the participation of citizens of Kurdish origin in political life. However, the election law continues to prohibit the use of languages other than Turkish in an 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 an October report, the European Commission noted that the military "continued to exercise significant political influence via formal and informal mechanisms."
Municipal elections were held in March and were considered generally free and fair.
Political parties and candidates could freely declare their candidacy and run for election. The Court of Appeals chief prosecutor could seek to close political parties for unconstitutional activities by bringing a case before the Constitutional Court. In October the European Commission noted that the closure procedures initiated in 2007 against the DTP illustrated that legal provisions on political parties "form a system which, as a whole, is incompatible" with the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights.
On December 11, the Constitutional Court voted unanimously to close the DTP for "being a center of activities against the unity of the state and the nation." The court's decision stated that it closed the party because of DTP members' involvement in activities that "supported the armed attacks" of the terrorist PKK. The court also found that the DTP was in "touch and solidarity" with the PKK. The closure resulted in the banning of 37 DTP members from politics for five years, including two members of parliament.
During the year police raided dozens of DTP offices, particularly in the southeast, and detained hundreds of DTP officials and members. Prosecutors also opened numerous investigations and trials against DTP members. Police raids on DTP offices in Diyarbakir province resulted in the detention of approximately 54 DTP members. Between December 24 and 31, more than 40 members of the DTP successor BDP, including local elected mayors, were arrested and charged with ties to the KCK.
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 49 women in the 550-seat parliament and two female ministers in the 27-member cabinet.
More than 100 members of parliament and senior government officials, including at least three ministers, were of Kurdish origin.
Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption remained a problem.
Government officials are required by law to declare their property every five years; this requirement was generally fulfilled. The Prime Ministry's Inspection Board, which advises the Corruption Investigations Committee, is responsible for investigating major corruption cases. Nearly every state agency has its own inspector corps responsible for investigating internal corruption. The parliament can establish investigative commissions to examine corruption allegations concerning cabinet ministers or the prime minister. A majority vote is needed to send these cases to the courts for further action.
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 5 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, although cooperation increased during the year. 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 29 branches nationwide and claimed a membership of approximately 10,000. The HRF, established by the HRA, operated torture rehabilitation centers in Ankara, Izmir, Istanbul, Diyarbakir, and Adana as well as a "mobile office" in the southeastern region. It also 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.
In December 2008 HRA Adana secretary general Ethem Acikalin stood trial in an Adana court where he faced two years in prison for propagandizing for an illegal organization. Acikalin was charged after chanting slogans during a 2007 press meeting commemorating the death of 28 inmates during a military operation in 2000. The trial continued at year's end. On August 14, police raided DTP's provincial office in Adana. Acikalin went to the DTP office as an observer joined by the HRA accountant. Police allegedly broke the accountant's arm, and charges were brought against Acikalin for resisting police. The trial had not begun by year's end. On October 7, the Adana penal court convicted and sentenced to 10 months in prison Acikalin for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization." Acikalin participated in a press conference to discuss the killing of Kevser Mizrak during a police raid in Ankara in January 2008. Acikalin was convicted earlier in the year for remarks he made at a rally to protest conditions in prisons. He appealed that case, which was ongoing at year's end. On October 9, in another case, Acikalin was convicted to three years in prison for statements he made regarding children who had been tried under antiterror legislation. Numerous other court cases were outstanding against Acikalin at year's end.
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.
In 2007 the government initiated court proceedings to close the 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 February the Istanbul Administrative Court ordered the Istanbul district governor's office to unfreeze three AI bank accounts frozen since early 2007. The governor's office appealed the decision to the Council of State; the appeal continued, but the money was unfrozen at year's end. The case originated when the Istanbul governor's office froze without notice the accounts, which were worth approximately 75,000 lira ($62,600) and belonged to the AI branch in the country. In May 2007 the Beyoglu district governor's office issued a decision that the NGO had participated in "unauthorized fund raising" but did not specify the actions that had allegedly violated the law. In a June 2007 public statement, AI stated that it did not seek or accept money from governments or political parties for its work. The statement noted the organization's concern that the move was "government harassment intended to impede legitimate fundraising activities."
The government generally cooperated with international organizations such as the CPT, the UNHCR, and the IOM; however, some international human rights workers reported that the government purposefully harassed them or raised artificial bureaucratic obstacles to prevent their work during the year.
The Prime Ministry's HRP was authorized to monitor the implementation of legislation relating to human rights and to 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.
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 their constituent subprovinces. These bodies served as a forum for human rights consultations among NGOs, professional organizations, and the government. They had the authority to investigate complaints and to refer them to the prosecutor's office. However, many councils failed to hold regular meetings or effectively to fulfill their mandates. The HRA generally refused to participate on the councils, maintaining that they lacked authority and independence.
In December 2008 the Constitutional Court annulled the Ombudsman Law, citing its incompatibility with the constitution; its decision went into effect on April 4. The decision followed an application to the court by then-president Ahmet Necdet Sezer in 2006.
Section 6 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 prohibitions effectively.
The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. That victims often waited days or weeks to report incidents for fear of embarrassment or reprisals 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. In April the government created a program to train judicial personnel on the prevention of violence against women. From May to October, the government conducted seven seminars to train more than 90 judges and 90 prosecutors. Domestic human rights organizations reported these laws were partially but increasingly effective; more women called the police emergency hotline to report domestic violence and went to police stations to file abuse reports.
In 2007 the government established a hotline to prevent the exploitation of women, children, persons with disabilities, and senior citizens. From the beginning of the year until October 31, the hotline received 80,995 calls: 5,328 were from women exposed to violence asking to be put into shelters, and 5,739 regarded negligence and exploitation of women.
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. The Institution for Social Services and Orphanages operated 29 women's shelters with a total capacity of 650 for female victims of domestic violence and rape. The municipalities operated 19 women's shelters with a capacity of 609. The government reported that provincial government offices, municipalities, and NGOs operated 54 shelters and that one private foundation operated a shelter. Observers noted an inadequate number of shelters in towns with populations of more than 50,000.
Persons convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment. The TNP reported 43 honor killings and three attempted honor killings through August. Most of these were in conservative 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 pressured girls to commit suicide in order to preserve the family's honor. Government officials worked with advocacy groups 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 63 women from the eastern and southeastern parts of the country contacted it to report that their family had threatened them with honor killings. Of these, 17 were between 13 and 18 years old, 29 were between 19 and 30 years old, and 17 were between 31 and 44 years old. The father or husband decided the fate of the woman in the vast majority of the cases. Increased education levels correlated with a drop in the rate of such crimes. KA-MER complained that, while in the past the police had shared statistics on suicides in such situations, the police did not share that information during the year.
In April, 24-year-old Leyla Gok was beaten to death in Siirt's Eruh district, apparently because of her alleged affair 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.
In January the Van penal court sentenced five members of the same family, including an older brother, father, mother, and two uncles, to life imprisonment for the 2006 murder of 15-year-old Naile Erdas, who was killed after giving birth to a child conceived during a rape. Another uncle was sentenced to 16 years and eight months.
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 both laws were rarely enforced.
On September 16, the Bursa penal court sentenced Huseyin Uzmez, a journalist, to 15 years and nine months in prison for sexually harassing a minor 14-year-old girl and disturbing her mental health.
Couples and individuals in the country have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, and have the information and means to do so free from discrimination. Women and men were given equal access to diagnostic services and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
A 2008 survey of health and demographics by the Health Ministry showed an improvement in mother and child health indicators over the previous five years, although regional disparities existed.
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. In March the parliament established the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men to monitor developments on gender equality, give opinions on draft laws, and propose steps to align legislation and practice with international agreements. It also examined complaints of allegations of inequality between women and men and gender-based discrimination.
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 levels 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 European Commission's report in October stated that men involved in manufacturing work earned twice as much as women in the same field.
According to the European Commission's report in October, a legislative amendment granted public contractors the right to paid maternity leave at the same rate as public servants.
There is universal birth registration in the country, but parents were generally discouraged from giving their children non-Turkish names. However, late in the year several parents were allowed to register Kurdish names for their children.
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. One in 10 girls reportedly did not attend compulsory primary school.
Child abuse was a problem. There were honor killings of girls by immediate family members, sometimes by juvenile male relatives. There were reports that children were trafficked for sexual exploitation.
In November the Malatya penal court sentenced nine women to three years and one month each in prison, and one woman for four years and two months in the criminal trial opened against 12 orphanage employees accused of abusing children at the Malatya State Orphanage in 2005. Two other women were acquitted for lack of evidence. The Malatya penal court had previously sentenced eight orphanage employees to one year in prison for "neglecting their duties" but postponed execution of the sentence in March 2008.
Child marriage occurred, particularly in poor, rural regions; however, women's rights activists claimed that underage marriage became less common in the country in recent years.
The law defines 17 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.
The minimum age of consent in the country is 15. The law provides for imprisonment of six months to two years for statutory rape; the sentence is doubled if the offender is more than five years older than the victim.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons; however, there were reports that persons were trafficked to and within the country for sexual exploitation and labor.
The country was a destination point for women and children trafficked primarily for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. The TNP identified 78 trafficking victims during the year. The TNP stated that no male victims were identified or assisted during the year. Source countries for identified trafficking victims included Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Romania, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. 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. In fewer cases others were known to have arrived in the country to work as domestic servants and were exploited in that industry or trafficked into the commercial sex industry. In some cases traffickers reportedly continued to use physical force and threats to family members to force women into prostitution.
Penalties for trafficking in persons are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with prescribed penalties for other grave crimes, such as sexual assault. Under the penal code, the penalties for trafficking include eight to 12 years' imprisonment and heavy fines.
During the first 10 months of the year, the TNP reported that it had captured 271 trafficking suspects. A total of 198 were arrested, 57 were released pending trial, 15 fled, and one was in jail for an unrelated crime.
During the year the TNP initiated an investigation against six of its personnel for alleged involvement in trafficking. The investigations continued at year's end.
During the year the media occasionally alleged that police and other government officials participated in trafficking. According to press reports, authorities carried out operations during the year and detained some individuals, including military and police officers, who were involved in employing foreign women as prostitutes.
An ambassadorial-level official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs served as national coordinator of the government's Task Force on Human Trafficking which also included representatives from the Ministries of Health, Interior, Justice, Finance, Labor, and the Prime Ministry as well as from NGOs, the IOM, and municipalities.
The government actively participated in international antitrafficking investigations and met regularly with neighboring countries and regional groups promoting regional cooperation in antitrafficking law enforcement. The government has signed bilateral antitrafficking cooperation memorandums of understanding and protocols with regional source countries, including Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan.
NGOs operated three shelters for trafficking victims in the country, located in Ankara, Istanbul, and Antalya. The Antalya shelter opened in June. The shelters in Ankara and Antalya received free rent from the municipalities, and the Ministry of Health provided free medical care to victims in the shelters. The Istanbul municipality stopped funding the shelter there in June 2008, but core services were not affected. Government financial support for these protection mechanisms was inconsistent. During the year the Istanbul shelter assisted 44 victims; through December the Ankara shelter assisted 37 victims.
The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations and prosecutions; however, most chose to return to their countries of origin and declined to participate in the prosecutions, most often due to fear of authorities or of retaliation by the alleged trafficker. During the year police began taping interviews with trafficked victims to use as evidence if the victim returned to their country of origin before trials commenced.
The Ministry of Justice through local bar associations provided free legal services to foreign victims choosing to remain in the country and to 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 75 trafficking victims during the year, two of whom were men that IOM stated were trafficked for labor in a factory.
The IOM operated a toll-free hotline for trafficking victims that was answered in Russian, Romanian/Moldovan, English, and Turkish and could receive international calls. Since 2005, 165 victims have been removed from trafficking situations through the assistance of the hotline.
In July the government began a new international antitrafficking public awareness campaign with Russia and Moldova that used television and radio advertisements to promote trafficking awareness and the trafficking-victim hotline.
Antitrafficking training courses continued to be held in the country throughout the year. TNP officers received training in six cities. Law enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors participated in "train the trainers" courses that focused on countertrafficking skills, such as victim identification and interviewing.
The Department of State'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, and access in most cities was limited. The Presidency Administration for Disabled People under the Prime Ministry is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
According to the European Commission, mental health hospitals and rehabilitation centers did not provide sufficient medical care or treatment. In November the Initiative for Human Rights in Mental Health reported on research conducted in 12 mental health care centers between June 2007 and October 2008 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, to improve hygienic conditions, to vary treatment beyond only antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants, and to allow for greater freedom of movement.
In November 2008 a clandestinely filmed documentary on the state of public facilities for children in the country was broadcast 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. Prosecutors opened an investigation into Ferguson's activities, accusing her of breaking privacy laws when she clandestinely filmed the children. Press reports in September indicated that the government requested the United Kingdom to extradite Ferguson to the country to stand trial. There was no movement on the case by year's end.
The law provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not recognize 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.
In March 2008 the NGO Minority Rights Group International reported that millions of persons who belonged to ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities faced systematic repression and that many minorities 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, such as Alevis, Yezidis, Assyrians, Kurds, Jafaris, Circassians, 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.
In January the government initiated regular, 24-hour Kurdish broadcasts on "Shesh TV" after a brief pilot period the month prior and lifted restrictions on use of Kurdish by inmates in prison. In November, RTUK began allowing private television stations to broadcast in languages other than Turkish.
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, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, and the Edirne Roma Culture Research and Solidarity Association conducted a program to train the Romani community on civil society organization and activism. Literacy courses for Romani women offered by the Roma Culture and Solidarity Association of Izmir continued. Associations celebrated International Roma Day in Ankara.
The Roma living in the Sulukule neighborhood of Istanbul faced the destruction of their homes and were relocated outside of the city due to an urban renewal project sponsored by the municipality.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While the law does not explicitly discriminate against homosexuals, organizations working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals claimed that references in the law relating to "the morals of society" and "unnatural sexual behavior" were sometimes used as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers. The law also states that "no association may be founded for purposes against law and morality." This article was applied in attempts to shut down or limit the activities of NGOs working on LGBT matters.
On October 16, the Diyanet released a decision declaring that homosexuality is "a behavior disorder and has been spreading in a scary way within society...homosexuality cannot be accepted." The decision went on to state that homosexuality "is against human nature, and it should be corrected without targeting homosexuals."
On June 28, a LGBT pride parade and celebration occurred in Istanbul. Police provided protection to the celebrations, and no incidents of violence were reported. The event had heavy participation and coverage by European observers. According to NGOs, LGBT events with foreign participation generally occurred without incident while those without foreigners had much higher levels of police interference.
Openly gay men were not allowed to perform military service for "health reasons" due to their sexual orientation; those requesting military exemption for reasons of sexual orientation must undergo an invasive burden of proof. LGBT groups complained that gay men were required to show photos of themselves in overt sexual positions and to undergo thorough medical evaluations to prove their homosexuality to military officials.
There were active LGBT organizations in at least five cities in the country: Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Eskisehir, and Diyarbakir. Other unofficial groups existed in smaller cities. All groups complained of harassment by police and government authorities. Most had problems registering as an official organization or maintaining their registration once granted. In May protesters stoned an Ankara-based group during a press conference on LGBT matters. When the police arrived, instead of protecting the group, they told the group members that they "should have known better" and demanded that they end their press conference and leave. None of the stone throwers was arrested.
On October 16, the Izmir prosecutor filed a case at the behest of the Izmir governor to close Black Pink Triangle (BPT), an LGBT rights organization in Izmir, on charges of forming an organization that was "contrary to public morality." BPT claimed that their charter was identical to the charters of similar organizations in Ankara and Istanbul. The trial had not begun by year's end.
In 2007 Bilgi University students established the country's first gay and lesbian university club. Approximately 15 parents lodged complaints with the university's 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.
LGBT groups claimed that transgender individuals were significantly persecuted during the year. Although police arrested many for unauthorized prostitution, NGOs claimed that during the year there was a significant rise in prosecutions for "offending public morals." One group reported that many transgender individuals were fined for frequenting stores or walking on city streets, officially for "disturbing the environment" or "disrupting traffic." Police claimed they were acting on complaints they had received. Transgender individuals filed a case in Istanbul court against the police in October for harassment, but there was no movement on the case by year's end.
The HRF and LGBT organizations reported that the former police chief in Izmir had instituted a "point system" whereby officers were rewarded for fining transgender individuals. After the same police chief took command in Istanbul, there was reportedly a large increase in the number of detentions and fines for "offending public morals." Similar cases were reported in Ankara and other municipalities as well. Many observers noted that this practice had contributed to an increase in the levels of abuse of transgender individuals by security forces. There was no government response to these allegations by year's end.
On March 10, prominent transgender rights activist Ebru Soykan was stabbed numerous times and killed in her home in Istanbul. Police arrested Birol Can Korkmaz for the murder. Soykan had made numerous complaints to the police and the prosecutor that Korkmaz had beaten her on several occasions and asked for protection. The criminal case was ongoing at year's end.
On May 20, Halil Ibrahim Dincdag, a soccer referee, lost his job because of his self-identification as gay. He had been hired and had a long career as a referee despite his not having done his military service. According to the national soccer league's regulations, anyone who fails to complete his military service for health reasons is unfit to perform as a referee. Since Dincdag was precluded from military service for being gay, he was declared unfit to act as a referee and was fired.
On August 9, the trial began for Yahya Yildiz, accused of killing his son, Ahmet Yildiz, in July 2008 in Istanbul. The case has been described as a gay "honor killing"; Yildiz allegedly killed his son because he had a boyfriend. Ahmet Yildiz had represented the country in an international gay gathering in San Francisco in 2007.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
NGOs complained that the National AIDS Commission did not have adequate funding or staffing to deal with HIV/AIDS during the year. The EU reported in 2007 an estimated 2,500 persons with HIV/AIDS in the country. The Positive Life Association (PLA) reported a rapid increase of new cases of HIV/AIDS in the country, much higher than the worldwide average, although statistics were unavailable.
The Court of Appeals confirmed a labor court decision in December that a worker had been fired wrongly for testing positive for HIV. The PLA complained that the media and medical professionals did not respect the privacy of individuals with HIV/AIDS and often reported their names in the media.
Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides most but not all workers with the right to associate and to form unions subject to diverse restrictions; most workers exercised this right in practice. The government maintained a number of restrictions on the right of association. Certain public sector employees are excluded from organizing.
A minimum of seven persons may establish unions 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 in 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 to record the proceedings; these requirements were usually enforced.
Although official government statistics issued in July indicated that 60 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.
The law prohibits strikes by civil servants; public workers engaged in safeguarding life and property; and workers in the coal mining and petroleum industries, sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education. In these sectors labor disputes were resolved through binding arbitration. 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.
The Ministry of Labor reported that through September 30, there were 13 strikes involving 34 workplaces.
On December 15, workers from the former TEKEL state monopoly for tobacco and alcohol held a peaceful demonstration in Ankara to protest the change in labor conditions after privatization of the industry. Ali Can Aykel, a member of the Mus branch of the Tekgida-Is union, was allegedly beaten so severely by police that he faced paralysis and was taken to the hospital. At year's end no investigation had begun into the incident.
At a May Day union demonstration in Istanbul the police used force against protesters. The peaceful demonstration was to commemorate the 1977 killing of 37 workers in Istanbul. Although the KESK, DISK, and Turk-Is labor confederations had requested to hold the demonstration in Taksim Square, where the 1977 attack had occurred, the government denied the request. The demonstrators gathered there anyway, and the police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Subsequently, the DISK headquarters, where several protesters had gathered, was blocked and inundated with tear gas. There were additional reports of mistreatment by the police following the arrest of union leaders.
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 (ITUC) claimed that the law resulted in workers in many sectors not being covered by collective agreements.
On November 25, 2.5 million civil servants held a nationwide strike to demand the right to strike. The unions sought to compel the government to enforce the November 2008 ECHR decision declaring that civil servants have the right to strike. The government maintained its position that the strike was illegal and initiated investigations and temporary suspensions for some of the protestors.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, such discrimination occurred occasionally in practice. If a court ruled that a worker was unfairly dismissed and should either be reinstated or compensated, the employer generally paid compensation to the employee along with a fine. ITUC reported that private sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers in order to discourage union activity.
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 (see section 6). Internal trafficking of citizens for both legal and illegal prostitution was also reported.
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 them. There were four child victims documented in 2008, with the number of Uzbek and Turkmen victims increasing. 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. Some parents forced their children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging.
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-age 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. These figures represented a decrease over previous years. The study found that 84.7 percent of children ages 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 were rarely 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 52.4 percent of employed children working in rural areas, compared with 47.7 percent working in urban areas. Many children worked in areas not covered by labor laws, such as agricultural workplaces with fewer than 50 workers or the informal economy. To combat this problem, the Ministry of National Education conducted a program in cooperation with the UN Children's Fund designed to provide primary education for at-risk girls. By year's end the program resulted in the primary-school enrollment of nearly 74,500 additional girls and 52,800 additional 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 obligated by law to inspect their workplaces. According to data provided by the ministry, there were 311 centers located in 81 cities; these centers provided apprenticeship training in 133 occupations. The government identified the worst forms of child labor as 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.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's 2008 report on the worst forms of child labor, approximately 50,000 children worked on streets in 10 provinces. The government's Social Services and Child Protection Institution operated 37 centers to assist such children.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage of 693 lira ($465) 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 Turk-Is labor confederation reported that the minimum wage was insufficient, determining that a monthly minimum of 2,588 lira ($1,725) per household was needed to stay out of poverty and to meet a family's minimum basic needs.
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.
In December an explosion killed 10 workers at a privately owned mine near Mustafakemalpasa, in Bursa province. Following the incident, the government closed down the mine. Mining accidents reportedly occurred often due to safety violations, outdated equipment, and inadequate safety inspections.
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.
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. The significantly flawed February 2008 presidential election and violent break-up of ensuing protests that resulted in 10 deaths continued to fuel a political crisis that remained largely unresolved during the year and resulted in numerous human rights abuses. In April 2008 Serzh Sargsian of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) was sworn in as president, replacing Robert Kocharian. In the National Assembly, the RPA continued to dominate the ruling coalition, which decreased from four parties to three on April 27, when the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) resigned from the coalition citing differences over the conduct of foreign policy. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, although some members of the security forces continued to commit human rights abuses with impunity while under the direction of civilian leadership. . . .
Authorities restricted the right of citizens to freely change their government in mayoral elections in Yerevan. During the year authorities subjected citizens, particularly those considered by the government to be political opponents, to arbitrary arrest, detention, and imprisonment for their political activities; lengthy pretrial detention also continued to be a problem. Authorities continued to use harassment and intrusive application of bureaucratic measures to intimidate and retaliate against political opponents. Authorities used force to disperse political demonstrations and constrain citizens seeking to publicize them. Police beat pretrial detainees and failed to provide due process in some cases. The National Security Service (NSS) and police acted with impunity in committing alleged human rights abuses. In spite of renovations and new construction, prison conditions remained cramped and unhealthy. Authorities denied citizens the right to a fair trial. News outlets, especially in the broadcast media, practiced a high degree of self-censorship, and authorities continued to restrict media pluralism, including through a moratorium on renewal of broadcasting licenses. There were multiple attacks against journalists, and the government rarely identified or prosecuted perpetrators. Authorities restricted freedom of assembly, rejecting numerous applications filed by political opponents to hold demonstrations at requested venues, and often prevented spontaneous assembly by citizens. Corruption remained widespread, and authorities did not make determined efforts to combat it. Authorities and laws restricted religious freedom. Violence against women and spousal abuse, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against persons with disabilities and homosexual individuals 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
The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, a military officer was arrested for causing the September 2 death of a conscript soldier.
During the year authorities opened two sets of criminal proceedings against eight police officers for criminal offenses allegedly committed during the March 2008 clashes between security forces, looters, and protesters disputing the February 2008 presidential election results. The clashes resulted in the deaths of eight civilians and two police officers.
According to official information, on August 28-29, authorities opened criminal proceedings against four police officers who were accused of improperly using teargas against demonstrators in the March 2008 events. The four officers allegedly fired teargas grenades at demonstrators from dangerously close distances, resulting in the deaths of three civilians and the injury of three others.
On January 23, Samvel Nikoyan, head of the ad hoc parliamentary commission investigating the March 2008 postelection violence, called on the government to open criminal proceedings against the four police officers for mishandling riot equipment that resulted in three deaths. On June 24, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) issued a resolution expressing concern about the lack of concrete results of the prosecutor general's investigation into the deaths and called for the investigation to be satisfactorily concluded without delay. Relatives of some of the persons killed in the clashes criticized the official investigation and the leniency of charges against the officers. At year's end the criminal proceedings were still in the investigation stage, and no police officer had been prosecuted for mishandling equipment.
On September 16-17, approximately 16 months after its establishment, the ad hoc parliamentary commission released its findings on the March 2008 postelection events and 10 resulting deaths. The report stated that the commission was unable to shed more light onto the circumstances of the deaths and urged law enforcement authorities to do more to identify, track down, and prosecute individuals responsible for the deaths. Relatives of the civilian victims protested the commission's findings and demonstrated before the parliament for a full, objective accounting of the deaths.
The report blamed authorities, the opposition, and the media alike for escalating the election-related tensions that preceded the clashes. The report criticized electronic media for biased coverage in the period prior to the election, which added to the public's distrust of authorities. But the report assigned most of the blame for the violent unrest on the opposition, accusing presidential candidate and former president Levon Ter-Petrossian of poisoning the preelection period by sowing "hostility and intolerance" and planting "doubts about the legitimacy of the elections" before the campaign began. It also stated that the postelection protests by Ter-Petrossian supporters destabilized the country and disrupted public order. The report failed to shed light onto the circumstances of the deaths of the 10 citizens killed in the clashes. The opposition reacted harshly to the report's findings, accusing authorities of using it to cover up their responsibility for the violence and fatalities that occurred.
On December 21, while commending the commission for certain recommendations and analysis, the PACE Monitoring Committee lamented what it described as the commission's apparent aim "to avoid too overtly discrediting the official version of events or too harshly criticizing the authorities on their handling of them," noting such self-censorship undermined the credibility of the inquiry. PACE also characterized the report for its "one-sided, bordering on biased description of events" leading to the March 1-2 violence and "practically total lack of discussion and analysis of developments" that followed the violence, "such as the arrest and prosecution of a large number of opposition supporters." PACE also deemed unsatisfactory "the lack of any concrete results from the inquiry into the 10 fatalities" that occurred during the March 1-2 events.
The government reported that, during the first 11 months of the year, there were 42 deaths registered in the army. Official statistics varied on the number of soldiers who died in noncombat conditions due to alleged abuse and mistreatment, with the Ministry of Defense reporting seven and the military prosecutor reporting two deaths in this manner during the first 11 months of the year. The two sources also reported different statistics on the number of suicides and "induced suicides," with the Ministry of Defense reporting 11 suicides (two of which were "induced") and the military prosecutor reporting six (with two "induced"). It was unclear whether violence or hazing played a role in any of the remaining causes of death, such as "negligence" or "violations of breach of procedures of soldiers' relations."
On September 2, Aram Mkrtchian, an 18-year-old conscript, died in a hospital from beatings by his battalion commander, Captain Andok Galstian, at a military post in the Vayots Dzor region. According to reports, Galstian severely beat Mkrtchian several times during the morning hours of August 28. The conscript was subsequently taken in grave condition to the military unit's first aid center and was hospitalized only several hours after losing consciousness. The media quoted Mkrtchian's cousin as stating that, after being beaten, Mkrtchian was left without aid for approximately four hours and that experts told the cousin that it would have been possible to save his life if he had been transported to the hospital in time. Forensics showed that Mkrtchian had multiple wounds over his entire body. Andok Galstian was arrested on charges of abuse of power causing grave consequences due to carelessness, punishable by three to eight years in prison. The deputy commander of the military unit, Major Mamikon Vardanian, was charged with insulting a soldier in the same criminal case, which continued at year's end.
In June 2008 families of soldiers who died during military service between 2005 and 2008 issued a statement accusing authorities of systematically conducting false investigations into the deaths of soldiers and destroying or tampering with evidence in order to disguise homicides as accidents, suicides, or the results of sniper attacks.
In June 2008 a trial began regarding the 2007 death of Tigran Ohanjanian, a soldier serving in the Karjaghbuir military unit in Vardenis. His death was officially attributed to accidental electrocution, and two fellow soldiers, Rustam Asatrian and Karen Tovmasian, were charged with negligence. The family believed, however, that Ohanjanian was killed. According to an August 26 report by the online Hetq news agency, an expert examination showed that the voltage in the military unit was not strong enough to kill. The trial continued at year's end and according to Ohanjanian's family was marred with numerous procedural violations aimed at concealing the true cause of their son's death and those responsible for it.
On February 23, Captain Viktor Aslanyan was convicted and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for inducing the 2007 suicide of Hovhannes Meltonian, who served under Aslanyan's command in the Koghb military unit in the Tavush region.
On April 7, Avetis Avetisyan was convicted in connection with the May 2008 death of Narek Galstian, who was reportedly found dead in a gasoline tank operated by his military unit. Avetisyan was convicted of official forgery and breach of guarding or patrolling regulations and sentenced to a fine and one year of imprisonment. On August 9, an appeals court ruled that Avetisyan qualified for a general amnesty declared on June 19 and ordered his release. The concerns of the Galstian family, who maintained their son was murdered, remained unaddressed.
On September 1, Henrikh Grigoryan was convicted and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for the 2007 murder of Gegham Sergoyan, a soldier under his command. Grigoryan was also convicted of abuse of authority.
Ethnic Armenian separatists, with Armenia's support, continued to control most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. Land mines placed along the 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 three military personnel were killed and two injured by landmine explosions. There was one report of a civilian incurring injuries caused by land mines.
According to official information, during the first 11 months of the year shootings along the militarized line of contact separating the sides as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resulted in 26 casualties on the Armenian side, including the death of six military personnel and the wounding of 18 military personnel and two civilians.
On the evening of February 3, Colonel Gevorg Mherian, a deputy chief of the national police, was shot and killed outside the entrance to his home in central Yerevan. A former presidential anticorruption adviser promoted into his new job by President Sargsian in July 2008, Mherian at the time of his death was reportedly still actively involved in high-level anticorruption efforts. On February 5, President Sargsian convened a meeting regarding the killing with the chief of police, the head of the National Security Service, the prosecutor general, and other law enforcement officials. He called Mherian's death an assault on the country's law enforcement system and alluded to Mherian's recent anticorruption activities as a possible factor in the crime. At year's end the killer had not been identified and the investigation continued.
There were no developments reported in the cases of the 2007 killing of Albert Ghazarian, the chief prosecutor of the Lori region, or the 2007 attack on Gyumri mayor Vartan Ghukasian and his entourage that resulted in the deaths of three bodyguards and a driver.
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 many individuals transferred to prisons from police detention facilities alleged torture, abuse, or intimidation while in police custody and that the main purpose of the torture and physical abuse was to extort confessions.
During 2008 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued judgments in which it found three violations by the country of the prohibition on cruel or degrading treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights.
There were no updates in investigating the alleged torture of former deputy prosecutor Gagik Jhangirian and his brother Vardan during their February 2008 arrest and detention (see section 1, Political Prisoners and Detainees).
Throughout the year numerous witnesses called to testify against opposition figures arrested in connection with the March 2008 presidential elections and ensuing violence reported to observers, the media, and courts that they had been tortured or intimidated by law enforcement bodies into providing false testimony against these figures.
On May 6, Yasha Melkonian, a witness in the criminal case against then-member of parliament (MP) and opposition supporter Sasun Mikaelian, recanted at a court hearing his pretrial testimony against Mikaelian, stating that he had provided the written testimony under physical duress by investigators. Melkonian also stated that, before he was taken to the Prosecutor's Office, he was beaten by masked men at the Hrazdan police station and that the beating was overseen by Sergey Markosian, the head of Hrazdan police investigation department. On May 8, the Special Investigative Service (SIS) launched a criminal case into Melkonian's allegations; however, according to the Prosecutor Ggeneral's Office, Melkonian subsequently recanted his allegations, and the SIS case was dismissed.
According to media reports, on May 19, Henrik Hartenian retracted his pretrial testimony in 2008 against Miasnik Malkhasian, a member of parliament and one of the seven well-known opposition leaders arrested after the March 2008 violence and charged with attempting to stage a coup and organizing mass riots accompanied by murder. Hartenian told a Yerevan court that he had provided the false testimony after he was beaten and detained by police. Hartenian reportedly stated that an investigator threatened his life if he did not provide the false testimony that police wanted. Hartenian also claimed that police in his home town of Ashtarak had recently harassed him and his family to ensure he did not retract his testimony.
According to media reports, on May 19, Gagik Avdalian, another witness in the case against Miasnik Malkhasian, told a Yerevan court that he falsely incriminated Malkhasian after being severely beaten by masked men while in police custody in March 2008. Moments before he was due to testify, Avdalian claimed he was forcibly taken to the Inspectorate General of Criminal Investigations at the national police; Avdalian claimed that the head of the unit there, Colonel Hovannes Tamamian, promised to free his brother, who was imprisoned for a criminal offense, if he maintained his initial testimony against Malkhasian.
Similar allegations of torture and degrading treatment by the authorities in order to coerce testimony against opposition figures, as well as subsequent harassment to ensure that they did not retract their initial testimony, were made by Mushegh Antonian, Rafael Balbabian, Aristakes Vardanian, and others.
On May 29 the Prosecutor General's Office distributed a press release stating that five criminal cases had been opened in connection with allegations that law enforcement officers and others intimidated witnesses during the criminal trials of three then-members of parliament--Hakob Hakobian, Myasnik Malkhasian, and Sasun Mikaelian--plus Grigor Voskerchian, Alexander Arzumanian, and Suren Sirunian. Four of the five cases were opened as a result of the allegations of mistreatment made by the witnesses, which included that of Yasha Melkonian (mentioned above). The fifth case was opened after some witnesses in cases against opposition figures reportedly approached law enforcement agencies and courts for protection after unidentified individuals allegedly pressured them to retract their initial testimony against opposition supporters. The opposition denied the claims directed against them. According to the Prosecutor General's Office, it dismissed the case of witness Gevorg Muradyan after determining there had been no wrongdoing by investigators. In the case of the witness Edik Khachatryan, the Prosecutor General's Office said Khachatryan recanted his allegations of abuse. The Prosecutor General's Office dropped the allegations of intimidation and abuse by witness Arsen Mkrtchian because of a lack of proof, and by Yasha Melkonian because he reportedly recanted the allegations. The Prosecutor General's Office did not provide information on other cases of witnesses who alleged that they had been coerced or threatened into providing false testimony against opposition members.
On November 20, the SIS announced that it had charged the former police chief of Gyurmi with abuse of power "accompanied by the use of violence" for allegedly beating and illegally keeping a citizen in custody in July who had come to him with a complaint. The former police chief, Shirak Shahnazarian, was removed from his office in early November for unspecified reasons.
In April 2008 Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, published a report that expressed concern over police mistreatment of persons during detention, which appeared to be widespread and aimed at extracting confessions.
On September 8, the Group of Public Observers--also known as the Civil Society Monitoring Board (CSMB)--released its annual report for 2008 on conditions inside the country's prisons. According to the report, while prisoner mistreatment reportedly has declined since 2001, violence including torture continued to be applied as punishment for noncompliance and escape attempts. The report singled out a particular trend of violence, largely unreported, that appeared to occur in connection with deployments of the Rapid Response Division (RRD) of the Justice Ministry's Penitentiary Department to penitentiaries.
According to a CSMB report issued in December 2008, six of its members visited the Nubarashen prison and the Hospital for Convicts following reports of abuse of incarcerated opposition figures. During the visit, they learned that the RRD had carried out a search at the prison during which violent incidents towards inmates occurred in various cells, including degrading treatment, slapping, and insults. During a search of opposition figure Grigor Voskerchian's cell, Voskerchian was reportedly slapped and kicked when members of the RRD discovered his opposition political affiliation.
According to the report, the main violence during the RRD's visit to Nubarashen prison occurred in cell 36 in building 3, where 13 convicts were being held. According to various sources, there was a clash during the search that resulted in injury to Zorik Arzumanian, the RRD's leader. Subsequently, RRD members allegedly assaulted all of the convicts in the cell for an extended period. The convicts sustained broken noses, lacerations, and bruises on their faces, heads, backs, legs, and arms. The CSMB concluded that the RRD members had gravely violated the principle of proportionate use of force and had abused their official position. In view of the length and scale of the operation, the CSMB considered the violence tantamount to torture.
The CSMB filed an urgent report with the Ministry of Justice concerning the RRD visit to Nubarashen prison, which the ministry referred to the prosecutors for further investigation. The Ministry of Justice also opened an internal investigation into the matter. On January 9, based on its internal investigation, the Ministry of Justice reprimanded RRD Captain Artur Yeghiazarian for conduct unbecoming an officer for assaulting Grigor Voskerchian. According to the Ministry of Justice, on June 18 Artur Tonoyan, an inmate in cell 36 when the alleged RRD violence occurred, was convicted to five years in prison for using violence against a representative of authorities.
In June the Helsinki Citizens Assembly of Vanadzor NGO (HCAV) released a report on incidents of police torture and violence inflicted on citizens in the Lori region from late 2008 through May. No criminal investigations were opened into any of the nine cases presented by HCAV of alleged illegal police actions, which included illegal deprivation of freedom, humiliating treatment, torture, psychological pressure, and threats.
According to the HCAV report, on January 10 Suren Ayvazian and Harutyun Galstian, two minors, were taken to the Bazoum police department of Vanadzor without a stated reason. At the police station, police allegedly subjected Ayvazian to humiliating treatment, slapped him multiple times, and threatened to place him on an electric stove unless he provided false testimony about Galstian. Ayvazian stated that he witnessed police officers beating Galstian and another young man in a different room. Following the HCAV report, an internal investigation was opened which concluded that the reported events had not occurred; police also stated that the boys had denied the allegations.
According to the same HCAV report, on February 9, Vanadzor resident Artur Vardumian was taken to a police station under suspicion of criminal activity and was reportedly beaten by several officers. His injuries were recorded in the Vanadzor prison registry after his transfer from the police station. The official response to the inquiry from HCAV was that Vardumian had inflicted the numerous injuries upon himself while hitting his head on a table and wall during his detention.
On April 11, the office of the ombudsman reported a case of abuse that allegedly occurred on April 10 at the police station of the Arabkir community of Yerevan involving five detained individuals. The abuse included beatings, withholding of medical aid, illegal deprivation of liberty, humiliating treatment, and denial of food and sleep. The ombudsman's application to the SIS to conduct an inquiry into this case was not acted on by year's end.
On April 16, the SIS terminated the investigation into the suspicious 2007 death in police custody of the restaurant owner Levon Gulian, citing lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. On December 2, a first instance court rejected the appeal of the family against the termination of the case, and the family took the case to the appeals court, where it was pending at year's end. The SIS, which took over the initial investigation from the Prosecutor General's Office in 2007, had previously closed the criminal case in March 2008, claiming 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 at the time that the investigation was neither credible nor transparent and that Gulian had died as a result of police abuse. On May 12, the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights released a joint statement with the human rights NGO Armenian Civil Society Institute that expressed deep concern about the yet-unsolved death of Gulian.
There were no developments in the allegations of torture and abuse reported by Karen Dodoyan and Ashot Ghukasian, witnesses in the 2007 murder case of former Lori prosecutor Albert Ghazarian. There were also no further developments in the 2007 cases of alleged abuse of a detainee at Nubarashen prison nor of Artavazd Simonian.
Customs within the military, the impunity of military commanders, corruption, and substandard living conditions in the armed forces continued to contribute to mistreatment and injuries in the armed force that were 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. Human rights monitors and the ombudsman reported that soldiers were conscripted into army service despite having serious disqualifying health conditions. According to the military prosecutor, during the first 11 months of the year, 38 military personnel were convicted of hazing and related violations and 45 more cases were under trial.
On May 27, the ombudsman released an ad hoc report on human rights violations in the military in 2008. The report singled out misconduct and hazing of conscripts by their commanding officers and fellow soldiers and a lack of accountability for such actions. The report also highlighted the failure to register hazing offenses committed in the armed forces. According to the report, only 15 to 20 percent of hazing incidents were officially registered. The report cited 171 cases of beatings and hazing over the first nine months of 2008, 38 of which were related to beatings of conscripts by commissioned officers. The report also discussed the arbitrary application of humiliating and degrading treatment to servicemen in the course of disciplinary actions and noted the continued recruitment of persons with preexisting health conditions that make them unfit for military service.
On June 16, the Ministry of Defense announced that it had established a special task force to develop recommendations for improving disciplinary regulations that would bring the country into conformity with international standards. At year's end no recommendations had been made.
In May 2008 Ashot Voskanian was drafted into the army despite a serious preexisting medical condition affecting his legs. According to reports, almost immediately after Voskanian began service, he required crutches and later underwent several surgeries due to the worsening condition of his legs. Voskanian's parents made numerous, unsuccessful attempts to exempt him from service. After numerous media reports and interventions by human rights activists, the minister of defense met with Voskanian on July 7, following which he was hospitalized once again, his future service depending on the final outcome of the treatment. According to official information Voskanian underwent a medical examination on October 8 and was found fit for noncombat service and returned to service.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
According to a September 8 report by the CSMB, the country made progress during the year to reform penitentiaries and detention centers and bring them into compliance with international human rights standards. Despite this progress, which came about mainly through the renovation of older facilities or the construction of newer ones, the group stated in its report that improvements in prison facilities and treatment of detainees were still needed.
According to the report, shortcomings included continued overcrowding of cells, inadequate conditions for personal hygiene, insufficient heating, insufficient medical staff, exercise time that was lower than legally prescribed, and food quality that remained poor. The report singled out continuing violence against inmates by the RRD and found the decision-making process for early release of convicts to be subjective and controversial.
On March 25, several human rights NGOs released a statement expressing concerns about the activities of the commission on early release. In particular the NGOs expressed their concern about the absence of strict criteria for the commission's decision making, the lack of an appeal mechanism, and the fact that most members of the commission were representatives of law enforcement structures.
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.
Corruption in prisons continued to be a problem, exacerbated by low salaries for prison administration employees, as well as poor and sometimes dangerous working conditions. 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.
The NGO Helsinki Committee reported an account of a former prisoner at Nubarashen prison who claimed that the prison was ruled by a clandestine organized criminal system, with rampant corruption affecting the prisoners and involving the administration; secrecy, blackmail, gambling, torture, psychological pressure, intimidation, and inducing inmates to commit suicide were prevalent practices. The account alleged that bribes had to be paid for legally prescribed privileges, such as visits, telephone calls, and receipt of packages.
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.
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 continued to arbitrarily detain individuals due to their opposition political affiliations or political activities.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The national police are responsible for internal security, while the 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 law enforcement bodies did little to investigate allegations of abuse. As a result, impunity remained a serious problem.
Corruption remained a significant problem in the police and security forces. In spite of efforts to further reduce bribe-taking by traffic police, citizens continued to report being solicited to pay bribes to the police, although less than in previous years. There was no dedicated mechanism for investigating police abuse. By law citizens may sue police in court. According to official information, during the year the police conducted 32 internal investigations into citizens' complaints of police misconduct and brutality against detained or arrested persons, witnesses, or citizens. Twenty-eight of the cases were considered as not substantiated by proof; in two cases six police officers received a strict reprimand; and the remaining two cases were suspended until the SIS could review the case materials.
During the year the SIS conducted 77 investigations into alleged crimes by police officers, with 16 of these related to official abuse of authority; 11 to exceeding of authority; 10 to bribe taking; 11 to inflicting bodily harm of various degrees; five to fraud; four to hooliganism; three to divulging the data of inquiry or investigation; two each to theft, illegal weapons possession, and improper safekeeping of weapons; and one each to murder, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, negligence in keeping a weapon, illegal turnover of narcotics for the purpose of sale, illegal turnover of narcotics without the purpose of sale, giving a bribe, official forgery, official negligence, forcing testimony, and improper handling of weapons. By the end of the year, 33 of the 77 cases against 40 persons had been sent to court, 16 of the 77 cases were dropped, six were suspended, three combined with other ongoing criminal cases, four were sent to a different body, and 15 were ongoing.
During the year the SIS investigated 24 cases against employees of various prisons, including 13 for distribution of illicit narcotics, three for inflicting bodily harm on civilians, two for exceeding official authority, two for abuse of official authority, and one each for providing improper medical aid, taking a bribe, official negligence and assisting a prison escape. Ten of these cases resulted in convictions.
In 2007 the Prosecutor General's Office opened a criminal case for exceeding official authority against the deputy director of Vardashen prison, Gagik Hovhannisian, and two members of the prison administration, Arsen Grigorian and Levon Hovakimian, for abuse of power and using violence against an inmate. On January 12, Hovhannissian was convicted and sentenced to two years' imprisonment; Grigorian and Hovakimian were convicted and given two-year suspended sentences.
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.
The SIS was located in the building of the Prosecutor General's Office and headed by the former head of the prosecutor's investigative department and continued to function as the de facto investigative body of the Prosecutor General's Office, reversing the effects and purpose of earlier reforms to improve checks and balances in the judicial system.
In March 2008 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. In November 2008 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 Procedures and Treatment While in 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. At times police arrested individuals and held them for up to 72 hours on the pretext that they were material witnesses to a crime (not suspects); observers contended that the police would avoid labeling them as suspects so that their subsequent rights as suspects/defendants would not be triggered.
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, 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. The practice of detaining individuals as "material witnesses" before being designated as suspects resulted in the questioning of individuals without the benefit of a defense attorney.
Local and international human rights groups reported procedural and other violations during the arrest and detention of persons during the year.
On January 27, PACE issued a resolution in which it regretted that only limited progress had been made by authorities with regard to the release of persons deprived of their liberty in connection with the events of March 2008. Many of these individuals were detained on seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges. At the time, authorities justified the arrests as necessary to prevent attempts to initiate mass disorders and usurp power by extraconstitutional means. While the majority of these detainees were released without charge after several hours' detention, dozens of opposition supporters were detained for up to 16 months, through the end of June, either after being convicted of crimes or pending the conclusion of their trials. PACE noted that a significant number of prosecutions and convictions of opposition supporters were based solely on police testimony, without substantial corroborating evidence.
On June 5, police detained and arrested Arshaluis Hakobian, a member of the local NGO Helsinki Association, for allegedly assaulting a police officer while being delivered a summons to appear in connection with the official complaint of electoral fraud that he filed as an accredited election observer during the May 31 Yerevan mayoral election. On October 16, November 20, and December 21, the judge postponed the court hearings on the case in response to the prosecution's requests for more time to conduct an investigation into the actions of the police officers who detained and arrested Hakobian. Hakobian stated that the police pressured him to sign the summons for him to appear in connection with his electoral fraud complaint and beat him on the way to and at the police station. Court hearings had yet to resume at year's end (see section 5).
On July 5, police arrested the youth opposition activist Tigran Arakelian and charged him with "hooliganism." Arakelian's arrest followed reported July 1 clashes between plainclothes police officers and youth activists from the opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) in downtown Yerevan, where the latter were distributing leaflets announcing the holding of an ANC rally on July 2. Arakelian was held in pretrial detention until October 8, when authorities released him due to his worsening medical condition, which Arakelian alleged was the result of head injuries inflicted by police. On December 15, the criminal case against Arakelian and two other youth activists also charged in connection with the July 1 incident was dropped due to a lack of evidence (see section 2.b.).
Lengthy pretrial or preventive detention remained a problem. In practice 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 their case is sent to the court. Although the law requires a well-reasoned decision to justify grounds for an extension of custody, judges routinely prolonged custody on seemingly unclear grounds. According to official information, during the year the average prison population comprised 3,728 inmates, of which pretrial detainees totaled 422 persons, and 305 were detainees whose trials were in progress.
In July 2008 the ombudsman 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 ombudsman found that authorities presented insufficient accounts of alleged crimes to the court, that judges did not--as required by law--substantiate their conclusions that a detainee posed a flight risk, and that judges failed to consider alternatives to detention, such as release on bond.
The government declared a general amnesty on June 19 that resulted in the early release of 329 people, including 30 of the approximately 44 opposition supporters still in prison as of the date of the amnesty. Most individuals were released in June and July, after the amnesty, with the most prominent opposition supporters released after the conclusion of their trials. Individuals were ineligible for the amnesty while they were still under investigation, if the articles they were charged with could result in a sentencing not covered by the amnesty, had been charged or convicted of certain crimes, or sentenced to prison terms exceeding five years. Five of the persons who qualified for the amnesty included progovernment loyalists convicted of vote fraud during Yerevan's May 31 mayoral election, and one was a member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) who admitted shooting to death a fellow RPA member prior to the election but whose crime was downgraded to causing death by negligence and illegal weapon possession
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, courts remained regularly subject to political pressure from the executive branch, and judicial corruption was a serious problem.
Following the abolishment of "specialized courts" in January, the court system was organized into basic trial courts, an administrative court, civil and criminal appellate courts, the Court of Cassation, and the Constitutional Court.
The review courts are considered final courts for examination of a case's merits. The Court of Cassation has discretionary review authority as a highest judicial body over nonconstitutional matters. The 2008 judicial code assigned new roles to the Court of Cassation, including the provision of uniform application of law, its correct interpretation, and support in the development of legislation. 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.
Citizens have the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court, with 283 persons lodging appeals during the year.
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 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 late 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.
During 2008 the ECHR issued judgments in which it found four violations by the country of the right to a fair trial as provided under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The law generally requires that trials be public but 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--public defender--upon request; however, this obligation was frequently not honored in regions outside of Yerevan, where there often were not enough defense lawyers. Reportedly, defendants would at times refuse their public defenders because of the perception that the 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.
According to court statistics, the courts rendered only seven acquittals out of a total of 2,407 verdicts handed down during the year, for an acquittal rate of approximately 0.3 percent.
There continued to be reports of prosecutors and police using 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.
Courts at all levels did not give proper consideration to claims by defendants or witnesses that they had undergone torture in the course of the investigation. Judges often did not respond to such claims, gave them little credence, or rejected the claims outright and issued guilty verdicts in cases where witnesses had alleged torture.
On December 10, the UN Development Program, in close collaboration with the Office of the Ombudsman, published the results of its research on the implementation by courts of the UN Convention against Torture. The research concluded that often, when there were objective indications that a party to the trial had been subjected to torture, the courts did not raise the issue for discussion. In rare instances, when it was officially recognized that evidence had been obtained as a result of an act of torture, evidence was still admitted.
On January 19, a Yerevan court sentenced an 18-year-old soldier, Karen Hayrapetian, to one year in prison for perjury in retracting the incriminating testimony he gave in June 2008 against the opposition MP Myasnik Malkhasian and his driver Arman Shahinian. Malkhasian and Shahinian were arrested following the postelection violence in March 2008. Based on Hayapetian's original testimony, Shahinian was sentenced to 18 months in prison for allegedly assaulting a police officer during the clashes. The verdict was primarily based on a pretrial deposition by Hayrapetian, which he subsequently claimed police had tricked him into signing shortly before being drafted into the army in June 2008. The court trying Shahinian ignored Hayrapetian's claims and found Shahinian guilty based on the deposition. In October 2008 authorities began prosecuting Hayrapetian for perjury; Hayrapetian responded by disputing authorities' use of his false testimony, arguing he could not have witnessed the postelection violence because he was not in Yerevan the day the alleged assault took place, a claim backed by 20 of the residents of his village.
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 that was persuasively disavowed by the reputed witnesses in open court. According to local judicial observers, it was common for witnesses in criminal cases to disavow their prior statements to the police, either because witnesses feared retribution from the defendant or because their initial statements were made under police pressure. As this was common in criminal cases, the courts routinely relied on a witness's initial statement to find an accused person to be guilty.
During the year many advocates complained that trials for criminal cases were a formality, with verdicts decided by judges before the trials started. Defense attorneys claimed that this put them in a difficult situation in which they were present at the trial but not able to defend their client. In protest, some defense attorneys left courtrooms to illustrate that the trial could go on without them. At year's end there were criminal cases pending against attorneys Artur Grigorian, Diana Grigorian, Ara Zakarian, and Mushegh Shushanian for showing disrespect towards the court by leaving during the proceedings. These four advocates were active in the defense of individuals detained in connection with the disputed March 2008 election and its aftermath. According to reports, a court official offered to close the cases, which were launched on September 3, without a formal acquittal, but the attorneys refused the offer.
In response to such cases, the ombudsman in June responded to a request from the Chamber of Advocates (defense bar) by applying to the Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the statute on disrespectful treatment of a court, as it applies only to witnesses, victims, and defense attorneys but not to prosecutors. Some local judicial observers interpreted the investigation into the defense attorneys' actions as a punitive measure to control zealous defense advocates and make an example of them. In November 2008, in reaction to the prosecutions, approximately 20 lawyers came out publicly in defense of their colleagues and refused to provide civil or criminal legal services to judges, prosecutors, investigators, or members of their families. At year's end the criminal proceedings against the four defense attorneys were still underway, and the Constitutional Court had yet to rule on the constitutionality of the statute.
In practice the vast majority of criminal cases that were sent to trial resulted in convictions. Observers reported this was because many judges felt it was their job to work with the prosecutors and return guilty verdicts. Furthermore, many judges feared they would face retribution should they return an acquittal on a sensitive case that was important to authorities. Notwithstanding that many weak cases resulted in convictions, the high conviction rate could also be attributed to police investigators weeding out weak cases and not sending them to court.
On December 25, the ombudsman issued a public ad hoc report, "Ensuring Right to a Fair Trial in the Republic of Armenia," that assessed the country's administration of justice. The report concluded that violations of the right to a fair trial were systematic and stemmed from the fact that courts continue to be influenced by, and side with, the prosecution of cases by the state. The ombudsman noted that the violations of the right to a fair trial distorted the role of the courts as an impartial arbiter, keeping public confidence in administration of justice very low.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Of the hundreds of persons detained around the time of the March 2008 political events and violence, approximately 150 were held for a significant period and more than 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 continued to deny 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.
At year's end approximately 13 individuals jailed in connection with the 2008 presidential election and postelection unrest remained incarcerated, either in pretrial detention or postconviction incarceration. Most of these prisoners were supporters or members of the political opposition that disputed the outcome of the February 2008 presidential election and/or participated in postelection demonstrations. The opposition ANC claimed that in addition to these individuals, a fourteenth person was also arrested and convicted for politically motivated reasons stemming from his participation in postelection protests.
According to the political opposition, as of year's end, there were 15 persons in custody whom the opposition deemed "political prisoners," including 14 persons detained in connection with the February 2008 presidential election or postelection unrest, and the remaining person serving a sentence handed down in a previous year.
On January 27, PACE issued a resolution criticizing authorities for limited progress in responding to its demands in 2008 concerning the release of opposition supporters who had been detained in connection with the events of March 2008. PACE criticized the arrest and continued detention of these supporters on "seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges" and urged authorities to release all persons who did not personally commit any violent acts or serious offences. In the resolution PACE also noted that "a significant number of prosecution cases and convictions were based solely on police testimony, without substantial corroborating evidence. In the majority of these trials, the sole witnesses or alleged victims were police officers, whose testimony was often inconsistent. In some instances the same police officers were involved as witnesses in several different cases against different opposition supporters." PACE's resolution also noted that authorities had not "availed themselves of the possibility to use all other legal means available to them, such as amnesty, pardons, or the dropping of charges" to release persons detained in connection with the events in March 2008 who did not commit acts of violence.
On June 24, PACE issued another resolution that welcomed amendments made to two articles of the criminal code and their impact on the then-ongoing court cases of persons detained in connection with the March 2008 events; however, PACE criticized authorities for not applying the amendments to "the cases of persons charged, or convicted, solely on the basis of police testimony, without substantial corroborating evidence." PACE also noted President Sargsian's June 16 proposal of a general amnesty, adopted on June 19 by the National Assembly, which provided for the early release of persons detained in connection with the March 2008 events who either were not charged with violent crimes or were not sentenced to prison terms exceeding five years.
The June 19 general amnesty resulted in the early release of an estimated 30 of the approximately 44 opposition supporters still in prison. Most were released in June and July, with the most prominent opposition supporters released after the conclusion of their trials. At year's end approximately 13 opposition supporters remained in detention or prison, technically ineligible for the amnesty either because they were still under investigation, charged under articles that could result in a sentencing not covered by the amnesty, or had been charged or convicted of certain crimes, or sentenced to prison terms exceeding five years. Opposition supporters constituted a small fraction of the 329 prisoners released under the amnesty.
On March 23, Gagik Jhangirian, a dismissed deputy prosecutor general who had publicly stated his support for opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian during the February 2008 presidential election, was sentenced to three years in prison for resisting police. He was subsequently released on June 23, qualifying for early release under the general amnesty of June 19. Jhangirian appealed his conviction on the grounds that it had been unlawful and unsubstantiated by evidence, but an appeals court on May 20 upheld the original ruling. Jhangirian had been relieved of his duties shortly after the disputed presidential election by then-president Kocharian, and he and his brother were stopped in their vehicle and arrested. Jhangirian was convicted of resisting police even though a senior police officer admitted in court in February that Jhangirian did not offer any resistance during his arrest.
On April 1, after the National Assembly enacted amendments to the criminal code on March 18, prosecutors dropped the charge of attempting to usurp state power, i.e., staging a coup, against seven of the most prominent opposition supporters. Prosecutors left in place lesser charges of inciting mass disorder; the original charge of organizing mass disturbances had carried an aggravating factor of being "accompanied by murder," which was removed with the amendments. By dropping this aggravating factor in the case of the seven opposition supporters, authorities effectively rescinded their original claim that the seven were responsible for the deaths of 10 individuals killed as a result of the March 2008 clashes, a claim for which no evidence had been produced. The seven opposition supporters included Alexander Arzumanian, a former foreign minister who served as Ter-Petrossian's campaign manager in the February 2008 presidential election, MP Hakob Hakobian, and opposition members Grigor Voskerchian, Suren Sirunian, and Shant Harutiunian--all of whom were originally charged with inciting mass disorder leading to deaths and usurpation of state authority extraconstitutionally. In addition to these charges, the charges against the remaining two defendants, MPs 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).
On May 13, approximately 13 months after his arrest in April 2008, Shant Harutiunian was freed after the court determined that he was not of sound mind during the postelection clashes. The court dropped both of the prosecution's charges against Harutiunian, organizing mass disturbances accompanied with murder and attempting to usurp state power extraconstitutionally. The ruling came after a court-ordered medical and psychological evaluation. Harutiunian complained to media after his release that authorities invented his alleged mental condition as a pretext to keep him from appearing in open court, which he contended would have embarrassed authorities.
On June 22, four of the seven--Alexander Arzumanian, Suren Sirunian, Hakob Hakobian, and Myasnik Malkhasian--were freed at the conclusion of their trials and after receiving convictions that qualified them for early release under terms of the amnesty. All received five-year sentences but Sirunian, who was given a four-year sentence. Sasun Mikaelian, the other member of parliament on trial, was sentenced to eight years in prison for illegal weapons possession and causing mass disorder, thus making him ineligible for amnesty. Grigor Voskerchian, the remaining prominent opposition supporter from the "trial of the seven," was released on July 10 after being convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, thus qualifying for amnesty. The majority of the seven had served 16 months in jail.
On December 11, a Yerevan court convicted and sentenced to three years Arshak Banuchian, an opposition supporter and the former deputy director of the Matenadaran ancient manuscripts museum, for embezzlement and tax evasion. Banuchian rejected the verdict, denied the alleged crimes, and denounced the case against him as politically motivated retaliation for his support of the opposition ANC. Banuchian qualified, however, for the general amnesty declared on June 19. Banuchian had originally been arrested after the March 2008 postelection unrest, charged like other opposition supporters with inciting and participating in mass disorders.
According to official information, as of December 30, 94 cases against 117 persons had gone to court in connection with the March 2008 events. Courts had rendered verdicts in cases against 116 persons. Of the 116 persons tried, 38 persons received suspended sentences, five were fined, 65 were given prison sentences from six months to nine years, six were acquitted, one case was dropped due to an amicable settlement with the defendant, and one case was dropped after a court found the defendant not of sound mind while committing the alleged crime. According to official information, of 116 persons convicted, 28 were granted pardons. On June 19, when the amnesty was announced, there were 28 persons connected with the March 2008 events who were still in prison at the time, of which 19 were released. According to the opposition ANC, as of June 19, 24 opposition supporters remained in detention or prison as a result of March 2008-related charges or convictions, with 16 of these being subsequently released as a result of the amnesty. In addition, the ANC declared that as of June 19, 20 of their supporters remained in detention or prison as a result of charges or convictions stemming from the 2008 presidential campaign or election itself, with 14 of these being subsequently released as a result of the amnesty.
At year's end charges remained in place against Nikol Pashinian, editor in chief of a leading opposition daily, and MP Khachatur Sukiasian, a prominent businessman. Both remained accused of organizing mass disorders during the March 2008 postelection unrest, with Pashinian additionally charged with resisting "representatives of state authorities" for an alleged altercation with police in 2007 while publicizing an upcoming presidential campaign rally by Levon Ter-Petrossian.
In March 2008 police arrested on tax evasion charges Anush Ghavalian, a waitress at a restaurant owned by businessman and MP Khachatur Sukiasian, a prominent backer of Levon Ter-Petrossian's 2008 presidential bid. Ghavalian and her supporters claimed her arrest was intended to pressure her to provide evidence against the director of the restaurant, Gevorg Safarian, who was detained in 2007 in a crackdown against the Sukiasian family businesses immediately after Sukiasian publicly backed Ter-Petrossian's presidential bid.
On April 7, Safarian was convicted for evasion of taxes and obligatory payments, and Ghavalian for complicity in a criminal act. They received three-year and four-year suspended sentences, respectively, and were released as a result of the June 19 amnesty. During their trial their first defense attorneys were subjected to a criminal investigation for their conduct; the three lawyers, Ara Zakarian, Artur Grigorian, and Diana Grigorian, resigned in protest from the trial after they discovered that an important court document had allegedly been forged by the judge presiding over the case. The attorneys unsuccessfully sought to have the actions of the judge investigated. The judge denied all defense motions to verify the accuracy of the document, and the attorneys walked out of the courtroom in protest. The three attorneys were subsequently charged in late July with "disrespectful treatment of the institution of a court," an offense that could carry a one-month jail sentence and result in the loss of their licenses to practice law. Police investigated the conduct of the attorneys, but there was no investigation into the conduct of the judge. Formal court proceedings against the three lawyers began on September 3 and continued at year's end. After the walk-out by the three attorneys, Safarian and Ghavalian went to trial with substitute attorneys.
During the year authorities attempted to confiscate and sell one of the companies of opposition supporter and MP Khachatur Sukiasian. In late 2008 authorities seized the assets of his Bjni mineral water company to collect a 4.5 billion dram ($14 million) fine, ostensibly for tax fraud and misappropriation of state-owned water resources; local observers viewed the exorbitant fine as punishment of Sukiasian for supporting Ter-Petrossian's 2008 presidential bid. Authorities put the company's assets up for auction in December 2008 but failed to find a buyer. They then put the assets up for auction again on February 5 and found a buyer, progovernment MP and businessman Ruben Hayrapetian. On March 19, the Administrative Court reversed the auction of Bjni, ruling that the company had to pass through bankruptcy proceedings before its assets could be auctioned. The company was finally sold, on December 24, again to Ruben Hayrapetian, for 4.3 billion drams (approximately $11.4 million). Throughout the year Sukiasian's representatives insisted that the original penalties had no merit and constituted heavy-handed retaliation against Sukiasian for his support of Ter-Petrossian in 2008.
After 17 months as a fugitive, Sukiasian surrendered to authorities on September 1 and was immediately taken into custody. On September 4, Sukiasian was released from custody pending the investigation into his criminal charges, which he considered politically motivated. Along with the members of parliament, Sukiasian had originally been charged with organizing mass disorder accompanied with murder and attempting to seize power extraconstitutionally in March 2008; in April, however, his charges were reduced to organizing mass disorder without any aggravating factor. On September 7, he relinquished his seat in the National Assembly in protest of the chamber's stripping his parliamentary immunity as well as the immunity of the three other members who supported Ter-Petrossian's presidential bid. At year's end the SIS investigation into Sukiasian's alleged crime continued, and Sukiasian remained at liberty.
On August 4, Arman Babajanian, editor of the opposition newspaper Yerevan Zhamanak, was released from prison where he was serving a sentence for ? 2006 conviction on charges of forgery and evasion of military service. At the time local observers interpreted the sentence as overly harsh punishment for the crimes and an example of selective prosecution of government critics.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
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 Ombudsman's Office as well as to the Constitutional Court, in the latter case to challenge the constitutionality 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 the ECHR delivered a verdict in the Minasian and Semerjian v. Armenia case, ruling that the state had violated the property rights of both citizens when expropriating their property. However, the court did not rule on the compensation, instead giving the parties three months from the date of the judgment, September 23, to reach agreement on the amount of the compensation. At year's end an agreement on the compensation had not been reached.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
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, and searches without warrants and other appropriate procedures took place as well.
According to the political opposition and local human rights observers, police in 2008 conducted wide-scale searches in the homes of opposition supporters, election proxies, and campaign staff both before and after the February 2008 presidential election. These searches were reportedly carried out with procedural violations, intimidation, and threats.
There was no progress in the July 2008 complaint filed by Artak Zeynalian, member of the opposition Republic Party, who alleged police employees had called the cell phones of Ter-Petrossian supporters, various opposition party leaders, and media representatives to verify their phone numbers. Zeynalian had filed the complaint with the police to identify and punish those responsible for the calls; he also filed a subsequent complaint to the courts. Zeynalian submitted the case to the ECHR on July 7.
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 always respect these rights in practice. There continued to be incidents of violence, intimidation, and self-censorship against and in the press throughout the year. The media, in particular television, continued to lack diversity of opinion and objective reporting. September 2008 amendments to the Law on Television and Radio imposed a de facto two-year moratorium on the issuance of new television and radio broadcasting licenses, hindering prospects for greater media pluralism.
Individuals could generally criticize the government publicly and privately without fear of retaliation; however, media outlets feared reprisal for reporting that was critical of the government. These reprisals included the threat of losing a broadcast license or of a selective tax investigation, as well as loss of revenue when advertisers learn that an outlet is in disfavor with the government. This fear of retribution led to a high degree of self-censorship.
Most newspapers were privately owned, with the exception of government-sponsored Hayastani Hanrapetutiun and its Russian-language version, Respublika Armenii. The print media generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction but remained influenced by economic or political interest groups or individuals.
Greater plurality of opinion existed in online publications, although the readership of online media remained limited, especially outside Yerevan.
Newspaper circulation remained very limited, as was the audience for the country's 20 radio stations, of which three were public stations and two broadcast from abroad. According to official information, 82 television stations, of which three were public and four broadcast from abroad, operated during the year. All but the three public television stations were privately owned, and half of all of the television stations operating in the country were small broadcasters based in outlying regions. Only the state-owned Public Television (H1) had nationwide coverage, although several stations were able to broadcast to 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 continued to prompt 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.
Unlike the February 2008 presidential elections, when state-controlled and progovernment media showed a distinct bias in favor of the official candidate and eventual winner, then-prime minister Serzh Sargsian, media outlets were more neutral in their coverage of the campaign for Yerevan's city council and mayoral elections on May 31. According to the monitoring of media coverage of the election campaign conducted by the Yerevan Press Club (YPC), 96 percent of all references to the political parties/bloc contesting the election were neutral during the election campaign. Nevertheless, the YPC stated in its media monitoring report that certain television channels gave clear preference to one or another candidate and party.
After the August 31 joint announcement by the foreign ministries of Armenia, Turkey, and Switzerland on two protocols to establish and develop relations between Turkey and Armenia, local electronic and print media extensively covered the public debate on the protocols, permitting the expression of wide-ranging viewpoints that were both in favor and in opposition to the documents.
During the year journalists continued to be targets of violent attacks. In his July 2 report, Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, criticized the attacks on journalists in Armenia and called on authorities to conduct swift investigations into and hold accountable those responsible for the attacks. According to Haraszti and other media observers, the government's failure to prosecute alleged attackers fostered an atmosphere of impunity and served to provoke further attacks against journalists. On May 25, during a celebration marking the fifth anniversary of the establishment of his institution, the ombudsman Armen Harutiunian stated that journalists were the least protected "layer" in Armenia and that there was no tolerance or respect for freedom of speech.
On March 13, security guards at the Yerevan State Linguistic University (Brusov) severely beat photojournalist Gagik Shamshian after he entered the state university without authorization. Shamshian was subsequently hospitalized with severe injuries to the groin and internal bleeding. Brusov's provost issued a statement in which he expressed regret for the journalist's injuries but nevertheless maintained that Shamshian had provoked the incident. The ombudsman decried the beating, citing a "climate of intolerance in Armenian society" that encouraged impunity with respect to attacks against journalists. On March 14, police launched a criminal investigation into the incident. According to official information, Shamshian entered the university without authorization, refused to obey the demands of a university guard, and did not identify himself as a journalist. In spite of Shamshian's claims that he had presented credentials, the investigative body found that university security guards did not attempt to hinder his journalistic activities; they found one of the guards guilty, however, of attacking Shamshian but suspended the case in light of the guard's eligibility for the June 19 general amnesty.
On April 17, a court of first instance found Shamshian guilty of contempt of court for an incident that reportedly occurred during one of the March 2008-related trials held in August 2008 and fined him 350,000 drams (approximately $950). On May 14, a separate court convicted Gohar Vizirian, a reporter for the opposition Chorrord Ishkhanutyun newspaper, for contempt of court during the same August 2008 trial and fined her the same amount. According to media reports, the verdicts were based solely on the testimony of marshals of the court present at the trial. Under the terms of a general amnesty adopted by the National Assembly on June 19, the fines against both reporters were dismissed.
Violent attacks occurred in the period prior to Yerevan's May 31 municipal election. In a statement issued on April 9, several media outlets condemned the attack by police officers against the A1Plus journalist David Jalalian while he was covering an opposition gathering in downtown Yerevan on April 8. The independent A1Plus online news agency reported that Robert Melkonian, the head of the police patrol service, personally initiated the attack, which other police officers subsequently joined. Jalalian's photographs published following the attack showed that he suffered injuries to his abdominal area, and he was hospitalized after the attack. On April 14, the investigative Hetq online news agency reported that, according to the police, Jalalian had provided testimony that he was not beaten but was pushed by police and fell on his back. The news report also claimed that two police officers visited Jalalian at his home and threatened him after the attack.
On April 30, Argishti Kivirian, an attorney and the editor of two online media outlets, survived an apparent murder attempt when three unknown assailants attacked him with wooden batons and tried to shoot him in the entryway of his apartment building as he returned home from work in the early morning. Kivirian was hospitalized in grave condition with severe injuries and cuts on his head and body and was placed in intensive care. The bullet casings visible in photographs reportedly taken immediately after the attack by the photojournalist Gagik Shamshian disappeared following the arrival of police at the scene. The police initially launched a criminal case on charges of "infliction of light damage to health" but after a public outcry upgraded the charges to "attempted murder by a group of people." On July 8, the National Security Service that carried out the investigation arrested two of the attackers, Gurgen Kilikian and Vladik Merabian, charging them with attempted murder. At year's end they remained in custody pending the investigation, and authorities were reportedly searching for additional suspects.
In the early hours of May 7, Nver Mnatsakanian, a news anchor and talk show host for the private Shant TV television station, was attacked and beaten by unknown assailants on his way home from work. He suffered injuries to his head, foot, and hand and required treatment in a hospital. Mnatsakanian claimed that the attack was linked with his professional activity but did not attribute the attack to anyone in particular. Some media reports speculated that an influential businessman and MP ordered the attack in retaliation for an unflattering interview Mnatsakanian conducted with him prior to the attack. On August 21, police chief Major General Alik Sargsian announced that two young men had turned themselves in and been charged in connection with the case. According to Sargsian, the two men claimed that they had mistakenly attacked Mnatsakanian for another intended target, a claim that Mnatsakanian publicly dismissed as "ridiculous." According to official information, the subsequent investigation showed that the two individuals had no involvement in the attack, and they were released. Accordingly, on September 7, police suspended the case since the perpetrators remained unknown and at large.
Instances of violence against journalists and obstruction of their activities occurred during Yerevan's May 31 municipal elections. On election day, violence and abuse directed at journalists often occurred in the presence of police and election officials, who did not intervene to either prevent or stop it. Reporter Armine Avetian from the pro-opposition 168 Zham newspaper was assaulted by unidentified individuals in a voting precinct in Yerevan's Malatia-Sebastia District in the presence of election officials and police. Her colleague, Lilit Tadevosian from the Tert.am online news agency, was also accosted. Nelly Grigorian, a reporter for the independent Aravot daily, was also assaulted in a voting precinct in Malatia-Sebastia and had her camera confiscated as she tried to photograph a violent altercation initiated by local persons against the female proxy of the opposition Armenian National Congress bloc contesting the election.
In a voting precinct located in the Kentron District of Yerevan, MP Levon Sargsian of the ruling Republican Party and his bodyguards allegedly assaulted Gohar Vezirian from the opposition Chorrord Ishkhanutyun daily newspaper and Tatev Mesropian from the opposition Hayk newspaper and reportedly also confiscated the audio recorder of Marine Kharatian, a reporter for the opposition 168 Zham newspaper. According to official information, on May 1 a criminal case of hooliganism was launched in response to the media report that Sargsian's guards attacked Vezirian; according to law enforcement authorities, the guards claimed that Vezirian had made "hooligan" statements towards them. The disposition of this case remained unknown at year's end, and no official information on the alleged attack by the bodyguards was provided. Also, at year's end no criminal charges had been leveled against the guards, and there were no known investigations launched into the other cited attacks on reporters (see section 3).
On June 23, Karen Harutyunian was convicted to five years in prison for his role in the violent November 2008 attack on the investigative journalist Edik Baghdasarian. Known for his reports exposing corruption, Baghdasarian suffered serious head injuries during the attack and was hospitalized for several days. Police failed to apprehend the two other perpetrators of the attack and suspended the case on October 19. Baghdasarian suspected that Vardan Ayvazian, a member of parliament and former minister of nature protection, was behind the attack, since Baghdasarian had published numerous articles alleging illegal activities by Ayvazian when he was minister of nature protection.
There was no progress in the investigation of the January and March 2008 attacks against the Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists Club (AJC). The AJC received threatening telephone calls, and their office was targeted with arson in January 2008 by unknown individuals. In March 2008 a fire bomb destroyed the AJC president's car. Nobody was injured in the attack.
There was no progress during the year in resolving numerous cases of intimidation and violence against journalists and damage of their property during the February 2008 presidential election. Likewise, no progress was made in the numerous cases of widespread harassment and intimidation of reporters during the February/March 2008 postelection protests. No one was prosecuted in connection with these incidents, except in one case of a voting precinct chairperson who was fined for restricting the rights of observers and one journalist at the polling place.
On July 1, Nikol Pashinian, the editor in chief of the pro-opposition Haykakan Zhamanak daily and a leading opposition figure who went into hiding shortly after a state of emergency was imposed in March 2008, surrendered to authorities. Similar to other leading opposition supporters, Pashinian had been originally charged with attempting to usurp power and inciting mass disorders accompanied by murder, only later to see the coup charges dropped. He was also charged for resisting representatives of state authority stemming from a 2007 clash in Yerevan between police and a small opposition crowd that was publicizing the first campaign rally for opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian in Yerevan. After his voluntary surrender, Pashinian appealed to authorities to remain at liberty while his case was pending; authorities rejected the appeal, and he was remanded into two months of pretrial detention. On August 27, authorities renewed the pretrial detention, and Pashinian remained in detention until year's end. In an October 2 letter to President Sargsian, the World Press Freedom Committee registered its concern about Pashinian's treatment, questioning why he was being punished for exercising his right to free expression during a peaceful political rally. During this rally, which was preceded in the morning by the use of force by hundreds of security forces to disperse approximately 2,000 peaceful protesters from Freedom (Opera) Square, Pashinian alternately urged protesters to remain peaceful and to collect debris to protect themselves against an attack by security forces. The court case against Pashinian began on October 20, at which Pashinian denounced the trial against him as "the continuation of political repressions" he said authorities initiated against the opposition in late 2007 for their support of Ter-Petrossian. On December 22, state prosecutors demanded that Pashinian be sentenced to eight years for his crimes, a sentence that would disqualify Pashinian from a general amnesty that was declared on June 19. Pashinian's trial continued at year's end.
According to the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, in mid-July the Yerkir Media television station, affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun political party (which was part of the ruling coalition for the last decade, through the end of April when it left the coalition over foreign policy differences), refused to broadcast the documentary "Armenia Minus A1Plus" and organize a talk show around the movie. The documentary was the work of director Tigran Khzmalian, a prominent opposition supporter. According to local observers, the move was an act of self-censorship taken by Yerkir to avoid problems with authorities.
During the year the GALA television station based in Gyumri continued to operate and broadcast in spite of continuing legal disputes with authorities that began in late 2007 when GALA aired a speech by former president Levon Ter-Petrossian before he announced his candidacy for the 2008 presidential election. The showing of the speech prompted an aggressive tax audit that resulted in GALA having to pay 26 million drams ($85,000) in back taxes, fines, and late fees in March 2008. On March 13, GALA applied to the ECHR to dispute the penalties leveled against them.
The independent A1Plus television news company remained without a broadcasting license or frequency at year's end for the seventh year in a row, but it continued to operate as an online news agency. A1Plus had applied for a broadcast license 12 times since 2002, when it was removed from the air after not being granted a new license; authorities rejected the company's applications without official explanation. In June 2008 the ECHR ruled that the country 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 A1Plus. 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 $42,900) to A1Plus' parent company, Meltex, Ltd. In December 2008 A1Plus applied to the Cassation Court to revise its former decisions to comply with the ECHR judgments. In February the Cassation Court refused to reopen the A1Plus case, following which the company subsequently applied to the Constitutional Court. The application was admitted, and the trial was scheduled to begin on December 15; on the day it was set to start, however, the trial was postponed until early 2010.
On February 29, the Armenia-based NGO Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech issued a report stating that, while the increasing frequency of attacks on mass media coincided with the aggravated political situation in the country, 2008 was nevertheless unprecedented, both in terms of the number of violations of the rights of journalists and media outlets as well as the imposition of censorship on mass media. The media NGO registered 18 cases of violent attacks on journalists in 2008.
On April 28, the National Assembly enacted changes to the law regulating the media, some of which responded to longstanding concerns over executive branch interference in the media. According to the Yerevan-based Internews media organization, however, the changes failed to ensure the independence of regulatory bodies long sought by independent domestic media and were made with little public discussion. A July 2 report by the OSCE representative on freedom of media nevertheless acknowledged positive changes regarding the criteria to grant a broadcasting license, sponsorship of television and radio programs, and preventive measures before suspending broadcasters. However, the report expressed lingering concerns that presidential selection of some candidates to national media regulatory bodies would constrain freedom of expression and noted that financing of public broadcasting and regulatory bodies would depend on the political will of the parliamentary majority. The report concluded that the changes in the law were incompatible with the notion of the "independent public broadcaster" and "independent regulator."
On December 9, the National Assembly elected four new members to the National Commission on TV and Radio (NCTR), which is responsible for regulating television and radio broadcasting and granting or revoking broadcasting licenses. Opposition parliamentarian Stepan Safarian complained after the vote that "not all candidates clearly meet the requirements laid out by the law" and that virtually no prominent media experts or civil society representatives took part in the selection process.
In September 2008, with essentially no prior notification or public discussion, the National Assembly amended the Law on Television and Radio to impose a moratorium on the issuance of new television broadcasting licenses until July 2010. 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 gave existing stations the right to extend their licenses to January 2011. Authorities insisted at the time that the moratorium was necessitated by their plans for converting the country's broadcasting format from analog to digital by 2015. Through the end of the year, the government did not conduct any new tenders for television or radio broadcast licenses. Authorities had initially stated that there were no frequencies available for new licenses. However, on June 30, Ishkhan Zakarian, the head of the Control Chamber of Armenia, denied that there were no more television frequencies available for broadcasting, refuting earlier government claims.
On September 2, various regional television stations and media watchdogs wrote to the ombudsman expressing their concern about the unclear situation created after the moratorium was imposed, particularly the fact that the government had yet to issue the concept paper or launch public discussions on the introduction of digital broadcasting that it had stated it would do by June. Much of the concern was based on fear that regional television stations would be unable to prepare technically or financially for the new broadcasting requirements if the stations were not provided sufficient time to prepare prior to the tenders. Stations were also concerned that digitalization could force them off the air if they were unable to swiftly make conversions once tenders were announced. On September 18, the ombudsman wrote to Nerses Yeritsian, the minister of economy, asking for clarifications about these problems. Subsequently, on October 22, the National Assembly's Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport held hearings on the issue of the country's conversion to digital broadcasting. Minister Yeritsian presented the draft of the concept at the hearing, which the government adopted on November 12. Local observers expressed concerns about the concept, saying that it did not answer any of the concerns voiced by television companies and did not show that the government was ready to cope with the technical challenges of conversion or prepared to address the financial challenges that conversion would present to media companies and the general population. Media watchdogs observed that the draft concept did not contain clear measures to prevent antimonopolistic activities.
On August 20, Hovik Abrahamian, the speaker of the National Assembly, established new procedures for accrediting journalists covering the chamber's activities. According to some journalists, the new procedures were excessively restrictive and hindered their reporting on the National Assembly.
During the year authorities did not bring charges against any media outlet or state body for violating the law during coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign. In March 2008 the Constitutional Court ruled that the Central Electoral Commission neglected to exert "effective control over preelection promotion" and that the NCTR displayed a "formalistic approach" to complying with the law with respect to the biased and distorted media coverage of the opposition during the campaign. 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.
On August 4, Arman Babajanian, the editor of the opposition newspaper Yerevan Zhamanak, was released from prison where he was serving a sentence for ? 2006 conviction on charges of forgery and evasion of military service. At the time, local observers interpreted the charges against Babajanian as overly harsh punishment and an example of selective prosecution against critics of the government. During the year Babajanian was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which remained untreated. Following significant public and international pressure, and after his health had abruptly worsened and he was losing his sight due to the illness, Babajanian was released. At the time of his release, Babajanian had served almost his entire sentence, despite previous attempts to gain his early release on grounds of good behavior. Local observers considered the government's denial of requests for early parole politically motivated.
During the year there were no reported cases of the government deliberately blocking independent and pro-opposition news Web sites, as it had done during the March 2008 state of emergency. Some individuals and groups reported suspected government interception of e-mail or Internet chat conversations, although they were unable to provide evidence to substantiate their suspicions.
Internet cafes were widely available in the cities, although local Internet service provider connections were often extremely slow, thus limiting their effectiveness. Some Internet cafes also operated outside urban areas. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2008, approximately 6 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were a few anecdotal reports during the year of schoolteachers and university students being dismissed due to their political views. According to religious minority groups, teachers belonging to a minority faith were dismissed from work for their religious views. There were also reports that individuals applying for public school teacher positions were routinely denied if their affiliation with a minority religious group was known.
On February 25, the media reported that the administration of the Yerevan State Engineering University cancelled a prearranged concert of the Hima Band, a musical group of the pro-opposition Hima youth movement that conducted numerous protest actions to dispute of the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, authorities restricted this right in practice, particularly the assembly of individuals considered by the government to be political opponents.
Prior to the enactment of a state of emergency in early March 2008, 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 response to postelection protests disputing the result of the February 2008 presidential election, then-president Robert Kocharian issued a state of emergency decree in March 2008 for the city of Yerevan, which prohibited any type of public gathering. The prohibition was rigorously enforced by police. During the state of emergency, the National Assembly changed the Law on Conducting Meetings, Assemblies, Rallies, and Demonstrations to impose measures that significantly limited persons' rights to peaceful assembly. Although further amendments to the law in June 2008 relaxed the strict provisions that gave authorities broad discretionary powers to prohibit political rallies and protests, in practice authorities continued to restrict freedom of assembly through an arbitrary interpretation of the law and, on many occasions, denied opposition applications to hold rallies at requested venues. Authorities also restricted spontaneous, smaller-sized gatherings that did not require prior notification.
According to the local NGO Helsinki Committee of Armenia human rights, there were numerous instances of restricting freedom of assembly during the first six months of the year. Many of these involved authorities denying requests to hold rallies or demonstrations and marches in venues initially requested by organizers. Many of these requests were submitted by the political opposition.
The Helsinki Committee of Armenia also reported that during the year it was difficult for organizers of rallies to inform the public about upcoming demonstrations, since television stations generally refused to accept even paid announcements of demonstrations. As a result, demonstration organizers usually tried to inform the public through independent or opposition media and through hand-to-hand dissemination of flyers and leaflets.
On February 19, police prevented a youth organization called Special Regiment from holding a protest demonstration to mark the anniversary of the disputed 2008 presidential election. Representatives of other opposition youth groups participated in the protest, which organizers planned to hold outside the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). According to media reports, police did not allow the demonstrators to approach the CEC building and dispersed the demonstration, with police officers reportedly confiscating demonstrators' placards.
On March 1, the ANC and Heritage party held a rally on the grounds of the Matenadaran manuscript museum to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the violence following 2008 presidential election. Municipal authorities initially prohibited the rally and a march through downtown Yerevan that was planned after it, posting their decisions on the city's Web site and suggesting organizers hold the rally at an alternative venue. Organizers disputed the prohibition, claiming that authorities had not responded to their notification to hold the rally and march within the 72-hour timeline provided by the law, which stipulates that, in the absence of a response in this time period, rallies may proceed as planned. On February 17, the Council of Europe expressed concern over the rally's prohibition and called on authorities to fully respect the principle of freedom of assembly and not place undue restrictions on peaceful opposition rallies. Following negotiations between ANC officials and police on March 1, police permitted the rally and march, and both proceeded peacefully. However, there were a number of credible reports of police efforts to prevent protesters from the regions from traveling to the capital. Diplomatic observers noted a number of police checkpoints along major highways, and there were reports of pressure on bus and taxi drivers not to transport anyone to Yerevan on March 1.
Police regularly used force to break up the daily gatherings of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian in downtown Yerevan. On April 10, police detained Vahagn Gevorgian, an 18-year-old activist from the youth movement HIMA (NOW) and son of the acting editor in chief of the pro-opposition Haykakan Zhamanak daily newspaper, Hayk Gevorgian. Vahagn Gevorgian had been participating in the regular evening "political promenades" on Northern Avenue, a major pedestrian thoroughfare adjacent to Freedom Square, as well as the site of protests in February 2008. After his arrest Gevorgian was charged with insulting and assaulting one of the police officers involved in breaking up the promenades. Gevorgian denied the charges and claimed that video footage taken by opposition activists during the promenade disproved police claims. The court refused to examine the footage, however, and instead based its verdict on police testimony. On September 12, Gevorgian was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 80,000 drams (approximately $210); Gevorgian avoided jail, however, under the terms of the June 19 general amnesty adopted by the National Assembly.
On April 21, the ombudsman issued a statement disputing the police's explanation for prohibiting the evening "political promenades" in downtown Yerevan. In 2008 police had periodically used force to disperse the assembled crowds and temporarily detained dozens of protesters, a practice that continued during the year. The ombudsman rejected the police rationale that the "promenades" were disrupting local commerce, stating that complaints from businesses were insufficient grounds for prohibiting gatherings. The ombudsman told the media that the police actions, some of which involved brief detentions of opposition activists, contravened the law on rallies and demonstrations. Police began disrupting the "promenades" on April 8, dispatching scores of officers and sometimes using force. In some instances diplomatic observers witnessed police officers pushing activists hundreds of yards away from the avenue. The police actions also resulted in citizens' access to the pedestrian area being restricted or cut off during evening hours.
On May 1, the eve of the start of the official campaign for Yerevan's municipal elections, the ANC held its second rally of the year, which authorities sanctioned but subjected to a heavy security presence. Authorities refused organizers' request to hold a postrally march through downtown Yerevan. In spite of the prohibition, police permitted the march. Both the rally and march proceeded peacefully. There were a number of credible reports of police efforts to prevent protesters from traveling to the capital, and the opposition complained of police roadblocks on major highways. According to media reports on May 2, roads leading into Yerevan the day before had been blocked, and public transportation temporarily halted until after the rally. Police denied that the roadblocks had been posted to restrict travel to Yerevan, claiming that they were conducting routine searches for illegal weapons. The roadblocks were instituted after police had announced a month-long special campaign against illegal weapons, which correlated almost exactly with the month-long period of the campaign for Yerevan's municipal elections. Some local observers viewed the weapons search as a pretext for suppressing the opposition's election campaign.
On May 10 and 11, a group of unidentified persons assaulted several ANC members in the Avan District of Yerevan as they were distributing materials related to the Yerevan municipal elections. The three ANC members, Ofelia Margarian, Astghik Aghekian, and Amalia Poghosian, were subsequently hospitalized after sustaining bodily injuries. On May 11 police launched a criminal case into the attack, which they subsequently ended on August 26 after failing to identify the perpetrators.
On June 1, the day after the disputed Yerevan municipal elections, the ANC held a rally that authorities sanctioned. There were credible reports of police roadblocks ahead of the rally on major highways leading into Yerevan. Diplomatic observers confirmed the roadblocks and police actively stopping buses, minibuses, and private vehicles. A media report cited one police officer as denying that transport to Yerevan was only restricted ahead of opposition protests, citing the special operation to search for weapons and drugs. There were no reports of police roadblocks on days when no opposition rallies were planned.
On July 1, plainclothes police officers clashed with ANC youth activists on Abovian Street in downtown Yerevan when the latter were distributing leaflets announcing the holding of an ANC rally on July 2. Several youths were injured and required hospitalization. The youth claimed they were punched, kicked, and pistol-whipped by police. Police claimed that the officers themselves came under attack during the incident, when they tried to stop an alleged brawl involving 40-50 youths. Police stated that three officers were injured during the incident.
One youth, Tigran Arakelian, was arrested on July 5 and subsequently charged on July 8 with hooliganism and resisting officials in connection with the July 1 incident. In early September Arakelian began a hunger strike while in a prison hospital to demand his release. He was transferred to the hospital on July 15 after complaining of serious health problems, which he alleged were a result of head injuries inflicted by police. On September 7, Arakelian claimed his continued detention in spite of his deteriorating health was proof that he was being persecuted for his political views. On August 31, Arakelian's pretrial detention was extended after his initial two-month pretrial detention was about to expire. On September 28, police brought additional charges of assaulting a public official against Arakelian, which increased his possible prison sentence, if convicted, from five years to 10 years. On October 8, authorities released Arakelian from detention, citing that most of the investigation into his case had been completed and that Arakelian would not obstruct the inquiry if freed. The Prosecutor General's Office also cited Arakelian's need for medical treatment as a reason for his release. On July 11 and July 13, respectively, two other youths, Sahak Muradian and Herbert Gevorgian, were also similarly charged in connection with the July 1 incident. On December 15, the criminal case against all three youth activists was dropped due to a lack of evidence. According to official information, the three police officers involved in the July 1 incident were not charged for the physical injuries they caused to the youths because their actions were determined to be within the scope of the law.
At times during the year the government continued to restrict citizens' rights to hold closed-door meetings, a practice started after the postelection events in 2008. In December 2008 a group of local NGOs issued a statement stating that civil society groups had repeatedly been denied the right to conduct meetings or events on social or political problems. According to the NGOs, some hotels had stated that they were instructed by authorities not to rent halls for any event that might be considered political and to check with designated officials on a case-by-case basis. These claims were corroborated by employees of several hotels. The alleged restriction on closed-door meetings continued during the year. On March 9, the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation – Armenia (OSIAFA) stated that on March 6, a local hotel suddenly reversed its written decision to rent OSIAFA space for a planned human rights conference. The conference eventually took place at a local university and included representatives of the government, civil society, and international organizations. On another occasion a local hotel twice rejected meeting space requests by OSIAFA for the holding of a roundtable discussion it planned to discuss a European Commission report. Three hotels also rejected OSIAFA's request for meeting space for a planned one-day conference on the theme of strategic litigation.
There were other numerous instances in which authorities restricted freedom of assembly.
According to official information, on August 20-25, the Prosecutor General's Office charged four police officers with "exceeding official authority" for their alleged assaults on citizens in March 2008, when security forces forcibly dispersed demonstrators from Freedom Square. Many of the demonstrators fled the square and regrouped in other downtown areas, with police in some instances chasing and pursuing demonstrators long distances as they fled. Two of the four officers were charged for applying force and hitting citizens with rubber clubs at Republic Square, approximately four blocks away from Freedom Square. On December 25, a Yerevan court convicted the two officers of "using disproportionate force" and sentenced them to two years' imprisonment. The court also ruled that the policemen qualified for the general amnesty declared on June 19 and would not be imprisoned but prohibited them from working for law enforcement or other state bodies for a year. The two other officers were charged after video records presented during the ad hoc parliamentary commission's inquiry into the events showed them assaulting citizens at the open-air market on Mashtots Avenue, also approximately four long blocks from Freedom Square. The Prosecutor General's Office began a search for the citizens assaulted by the police officers to ascertain whether the assaults occurred. Although the citizens assaulted in either case were never found, on December 17 a Yerevan court convicted the two officers of "using disproportionate force" and sentenced them to three years' imprisonment. The court ruled, however, that the policemen qualified for the general amnesty declared on June 19 and would not be imprisoned but prohibited them from working for law enforcement or other state bodies for a year.
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 organizations. 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.
The law prohibits but does not define "soul-hunting," a nonlegal term perceived locally to describe both proselytizing and forced conversion. The prohibition applies to all groups, including the Armenian Apostolic Church. Although the law prohibits foreign funding of foreign-based denominations, the authorities did not enforce the ban. Most registered religious groups reported no significant legal impediments to their activities during the reporting period.
Although the law provides for alternative service for conscientious objectors, the military services themselves administer the alternative service, and members of Jehovah's Witnesses continued to refuse the alternative program for that reason. According to lawyers for Jehovah's Witnesses, as of year's end, 76 of the group's members were serving prison sentences for evading alternative service.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
According to observers, the general population expressed negative attitudes about minority religious groups. According to local experts, however, these attitudes did not affect personal and neighborly relationships, but rather constituted a general perception of minority religious groups as undermining the social fabric of the state. Minority religious groups at times continued to be targets of hostile sermons by Armenian Apostolic Church clerics, and members of minority religious groups experienced societal discrimination and intolerance, including in the workplace. Television outlets disparagingly labeled denominations other than the Armenian church as "sects" in their broadcasting and aired negative programs about them.
The size of the country's Jewish population was estimated at between 500 and 1,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic violence or vandalism during the year.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/.
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 authorities cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
During the year there were numerous credible reports that citizens residing outside of Yerevan were restricted from travelling to attend opposition rallies held in the capital.
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 within one day of application for approximately 1,000 drams (approximately $3) for each year of validity. In October 2008 the government abolished the practice for emigrants to deregister themselves from the civil registry, which had widely been viewed as an onerous process that was subject to extensive corruption.
The law does not prohibit forced exile, but there were no reports that the government used it.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
During the country's war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, authorities evacuated approximately 65,000 households from the border region, but most IDPs later 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. Other IDPs chose not to return due to socioeconomic hardships or fear of land mines. A 2005 mapping study conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council, together with the Migration Agency under the Ministry of Territorial Administration, found that 8,399 IDPs resided in the country. There were no further studies to estimate current numbers of IDPs. In September 2008 the authorities approved a program to assist in the resettlement of 626 families that were displaced during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; however, there was no funding provided to implement the program, according to government officials.
Protection of Refugees
The country is a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Its laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
A new Law on Refugees and Asylum entered into force on January 24. It incorporates the basic principles of refugee protection established by the 1951 convention, as well as all specific developments that took place in this field after the ratification of the convention. It harmonizes most aspects of admission and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in conformity with international standards, ensuring respect for the right to asylum and addressing national security concerns.
In practice authorities provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Authorities also provided temporary protection during the year. According to the Migration Service, a total of 66 persons applied for asylum during the year. During the year the government granted temporary asylum to 33 persons and refugee status to one person.
There was an established procedure for granting asylum that 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 authorities 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. Refugees faced the same social and economic hardships that confronted the general population.
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.
Elections and Political Participation
In accordance with changes made to the constitution in 2005, on May 31 the country conducted its first election of the Yerevan City Council (65 members) and the first, albeit indirect, election of the mayor of Yerevan (since independence in 1991, the president of the republic had appointed the mayors of the capital). According to the electoral code, the candidate heading the election list of the political party that wins at least 40 percent of the seats in the new city council automatically becomes mayor. Six parties and one bloc contested the proportional representation-based election on May 31, including the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), the ruling coalition partner Prosperous Armenia (PA), the ruling coalition partner Rule of Law (OY), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnakstutiun, the ANC bloc, the People's Party, and the Socialistic Labor Party of Armenia.
The conduct of the election was significantly flawed. Problems included favorable treatment of the ruling coalition parties and candidates; unbalanced election commissions in favor of ruling parties; instances of ballot stuffing; reports of vote buying; attempts to bribe observers; busing into Yerevan of non-Yerevan residents to vote; voter intimidation; violence against and intimidation of reporters, observers, and opposition proxies; restriction of individual civil and political rights; management of the work at polling stations by unauthorized individuals or candidates' proxies; cases of open and multiple voting; and suspiciously high turnout figures in some polling stations.
Prior to the election, President Sargsian on March 4 invoked his then-existing executive branch powers and replaced the incumbent mayor of Yerevan with Gagik Beglarian, an RPA party official and then-prefect of Yerevan's Kentron District. By selecting Beglarian to top the party's election list a few days earlier, the RPA effectively appeared to give its candidate for mayor the advantage of incumbency. Local political observers interpreted the president's preelection campaign appointment of Beglarian as a ploy to give Beglarian an advantage in the election, in light of well-established practices whereby incumbents use administrative resources at their disposal to support their campaigns.
In its preliminary June 2 statement on the election, the local NGO It's Your Choice (IYC), the largest election observation organization in the country, noted that "administrative resources were largely used during the campaign." The IYC found that "the campaign of the incumbent mayor of Yerevan Beglarian was accompanied by widespread, active, and quick asphalting, garbage removal, and street lighting in all the communities of Yerevan. By doing this during the official campaign the candidates offered services to the voters." Prior to the start of the election campaign, the PA party provided free medical services to some in the general population. In an interview to the pro-opposition 168 Zham newspaper, PA's mayoral candidate, Minister of Health Care Harutyun Kushkian, downplayed the allegations, stating that such services have become a tradition and are conducted periodically, regardless of elections.
Violence marred the election campaign, both before its official start on May 2 and after, with confrontations between progovernment and pro-opposition forces, as well as armed clashes between progovernment forces themselves.
Some local observers viewed the attacks against journalists Argishti Kivirian on April 30 and Nver Mnatsakanian on May 6 as connected with the Yerevan election, since Kivirian had published articles with pro-opposition views and Mnatsakanian had conducted what some viewers called an unflattering interview with an influential businessman active in the election campaign (see section 2.a.).
On May 10 and 11, unidentified men assaulted female opposition supporters as they were distributing campaign materials in the Avan District of Yerevan, whose elected head at the time was an RPA party candidate who was elected deputy mayor after the election. A criminal case was launched into the assault but subsequently suspended due to a lack of evidence.
Based on its monitoring of media coverage of the election campaign, the YPC reported on June 1 that 96 percent of all references to the parties and bloc contesting the election were neutral during this period. The YPC noted that "in this regard, the elections to (the) Yerevan Council of Elders were quite different from the presidential elections of 2008." Nevertheless, the YPC noted that certain television channels showed clear preferences toward certain candidates and parties and that the paid broadcast time for the election campaign was fully used only by progovernmental parties, which the YPC indicated was reflective of excessive tariffs for political advertising that precluded a level playing field.
On April 21, the ANC filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court arguing that individuals should not be included on voter lists during local elections if they could not demonstrate at least one year of residential registration in their claimed locality. On May 8, the Constitutional Court essentially agreed with the ANC's argument. The ruling resulted in the invalidation of a clause invoked by the CEC on February 28 that, based on the CEC's interpretation of the election code, allowed the inclusion of individuals on voter lists without one year of residential registration at their claimed locality. The ANC had filed the appeal based on allegations that ruling parties had attempted to register non-Yerevan residents for the May municipal election.
Since 2007 approximately 70 citizens who used to live in homes appropriated by government in 2002 to make space for the construction of upscale apartments and office buildings on Northern Avenue in downtown Yerevan have claimed that they have been unable to vote in elections because of problems encountered in registering at temporary addresses. Although the law allows these citizens to reregister in their temporary locality and be included in voters lists, many of them claimed that they were unable to do so due to resistance by landlords who leased them apartments or by relatives who hosted them, since neither group wanted them officially registered at their addresses for fear of their own property rights being infringed.
Despite multiple changes to the electoral code in recent years, there were important shortcomings in election administration that diminished the integrity of the electoral process. Among other deficiencies, progovernmental appointees--as in previous national and local elections--held the key leadership positions in an overwhelming majority of Yerevan's 439 local election commissions (voting precincts) that administered voting during the municipal election, threatening the independence and impartiality of the election and vote count process.
In the beginning of May, the opposition Heritage party, which did not participate in the election but had the right, by virtue of its representation in the National Assembly, to a seat on all election commissions, declared that its member on the territorial election commission (TEC) overseeing 28 local election commissions (voting precincts) in the Malatia-Sebastia District and five in the adjoining district of Shengavit had cooperated with progovernmental parties without the Heritage party's authorization. This development led Heritage officials to complain that its TEC member had been either pressured or bought off to allow the progovernmental parties to take over the seats belonging to Heritage in the TEC's 33 local election commissions.
During the election and vote count, widespread voting irregularities were observed and reported in Yerevan's Malatia-Sebastia District, a district perennially marred by pervasive cases, both observed and reported, of election fraud. Voting irregularities were also observed and reported in other Yerevan districts.
Some local NGOs that observed the election assessed its conduct as flawed. The IYC, which deployed observers to all of Yerevan's 439 voting precincts, noted in a preliminary June 2 statement that the election failed to restore the confidence of voters in election processes. Among other violations, the IYC reported observing instances of open voting; intimidation and limitation of the rights of proxies, monitors, and mass media representatives; and the presence of unauthorized persons in voting precincts. According to other local observers, unauthorized individuals and proxies representing progovernmental parties appeared to be managing the electoral process in many of the voting precincts.
The report issued by the local affiliate of the Transparency International (TI) anticorruption NGO cited numerous cases of voting irregularities. According to TI, in the TEC with jurisdiction over Malatia-Sebastia and a part of the Shengavit districts, their observers faced intimidation and pressure to leave in 16 of the TEC's 33 local voting precincts and attempts to be bribed in four of the voting precincts. TI's observers also noted the presence of unauthorized individuals in 12 precincts, cases of ballot stuffing in 13 precincts, and open, multiple, directed, or substitutive voting in 17 precincts.
During election day and the vote count, some online media outlets reported numerous alleged violations. Cases of campaigning on election day, which is prohibited by law, were reported by local observers, media, and the opposition. Among other cases, the investigative online news agency Hetq reported open voting and campaigning for the ruling RPA.
There were reports of election day violence. The ombudsman criticized reported assaults of journalists as "a phenomenon that has become regular during every election." The ombudsman also stated that "assaults against Armine Avetian from the pro-opposition 168 Zham newspaper and election observer from Transparency International Sona Ayvazian that took place on May 31 in the Malatia-Sebastia voting station were conducted in the presence of the head of the electoral commission and police officers." On the whole, observers and individuals who witnessed voting irregularities noted that police were passive in preventing violations and violence in and around polling stations.
At a voting precinct in the Kentron District of Yerevan, RPA MP Levon Sargsian and his bodyguards reportedly assaulted Gohar Vezirian from the pro-opposition Chorrord Ishkhanutyun newspaper and Tatev Mesropian from the opposition Hayk newspaper. The bodyguards also reportedly confiscated the voice recorder of the journalist Marine Kharatian from the opposition 168 Zham newspaper. According to official information, on June 1 a criminal case of hooliganism was launched in response to the media report that Sargsian's guards attacked Vezirian; according to law enforcement authorities, the guards claimed that Vezirian had made "hooligan" statements towards them. The disposition of this case remained unknown at year's end, and no official information on the alleged attack by the bodyguards was provided. At year's end no criminal charges had been leveled against the guards, and there were no known investigations launched into the other cited attacks on reporters (see section 2).
According to the Prosecutor General's Office, three cases were launched during the year in regard to the election-related violence. Of those cases, one was dropped and two were suspended.
While the IYC reported an improvement in the accuracy of the voters list maintained by the Passport and Visa Department , many domestic observers expressed concern about the thousands of registered voters who no longer physically resided in Armenia and did not cast votes in elections. There were reports that the names of these physically absent, registered voters were fraudulently used for substitute voting.
Voting by military personnel during the election also proved controversial. According to a CEC decision, conscripts were barred from casting votes in the election. In spite of the decision, the ANC publicized some lists of names of conscripts that it alleged the Ministry of Defense had produced in order to organize the voting of conscripts in the election. The authorities rejected the allegations.
The only international organization accredited to observe the election, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, deployed 12 observers to monitor the vote. While the congress gave a generally positive assessment of the election at a press conference held on June 1, the head of its delegation stated that "our satisfaction in seeing the citizens electing their City Council has been tempered by deficiencies in the conduct of the vote."
According to the CEC, recount requests were filed regarding the results of 11 polling stations. Some recounts showed significant discrepancies and mistakes, and the results of six polling stations were invalidated. Additionally, eight criminal cases were opened into alleged or reported vote fraud, with five individuals charged and convicted to varying prison terms. All of these individuals were subsequently released, however, as the result of amnesty adopted by the National Assembly on June 19.
Election commissions reportedly refused to register election-related complaints in many instances and, in some cases, rejected requests without sufficient cause. The ANC claimed to have filed 18 election-related appeals to the Administrative Court responsible for adjudicating such complaints; of the 18, the ANC won only one appeal. The court ruled against the majority of the appeals and allegedly did not accept some. Local observers interpreted the rulings as politically motivated.
On June 6, the CEC officially reported the final results of the election, with 35 seats on the new city council going to the ruling RPA, 17 to its ruling coalition partner Prosperous Armenia, and 13 going to the ANC led by former president Levon Ter-Petrossian. Two CEC members representing the opposition Heritage and Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (ARF) parties refused to sign the CEC's final election protocol. On June 8, the RPA's Gagik Beglarian was officially reinstalled as Yerevan's mayor.
On June 1, the ANC said it would boycott the city council after what Ter-Petrossian called "the ugliest election in Armenia's history." The opposition Heritage party, which did not contest the election, largely shared ANC's assessment and described the election as "disgraceful." The ARF also described the election as flawed and refused to recognize the legitimacy of the official results, noting that such elections risked becoming "a mere procedure for reproducing the authorities."
Dominated by government loyalists, the CEC assessed the election as largely free and fair, claiming that it had investigated and found most of the opposition allegations of vote fraud to be unsubstantiated. The Prosecutor General's Office also claimed to have investigated and found as unsubstantiated some of the charges of vote fraud leveled by the opposition. While many of the progovernment officials who commented on the election acknowledged deficiencies in its conduct, none said they were significant enough to affect the final outcome of the election.
On December 27, four youth activists were accosted and beaten by more than 20 assailants in downtown Yerevan while distributing election-related materials on behalf of Nikol Pashinian, an opposition candidate in the National Assembly by-election scheduled for January 2010. Assailants reportedly used metal objects during the beating, and several of the youth activists incurred serious injuries that required hospitalization. Opposition officials alleged that supporters of another by-election candidate, Ara Simonian of the progovernment National Unity party, and the ruling Republican Party carried out the attack. Simonian denied the allegations. The police launched a criminal case of battery on December 29 that was underway at year's end.
There were 12 women 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. The new Yerevan City Council included six women; however, none of the 12 communities of Yerevan were headed by women.
Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively or evenly, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The authorities did not take any substantive measures to curb systematic corruption, although junior and mid-level officials were periodically prosecuted during the year for petty corruption, usually accepting bribes for services.
The World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem. The World Bank managing director, in an October visit, publicly expressed concerns over the need to address corruption in government institutions.
Beginning in January, all public officials and their family members, as well as citizens with annual incomes exceeding eight million drams (approximately $21,000), were subject to financial disclosure laws, according to which they had to file their asset declarations no later than April 15; however, to what extent officials and individuals with high incomes complied with the law remained unclear. According to local observers, the authorities lacked the will and technical capacity to verify the accuracy of the declarations, which were not fully accessible to the public, or to take action against persons who concealed their incomes.
Government programs to curb corruption continued to produce little tangible results. The activities of the governmental Anticorruption Strategy Monitoring Commission and Anticorruption Council continued to be viewed with skepticism. On October 6, the government approved the 2009-12 anticorruption strategy following two years of wide-ranging discussions in Yerevan and the regions and the posting of the strategy on the government's Web site. Local observers remained skeptical, however, that the newly adopted strategy contained adequate measures to genuinely strengthen anticorruption institutions and that indicators for monitoring implementation of the strategy were sufficient.
Civic groups working to address corruption stated that authorities continued to ignore media reports implicating government officials in corrupt practices. According to Transparency International's 2009 Global Corruption Barometer carried out between October 2008 and February, 43 percent of the individuals it surveyed in the country reported giving bribes during 2008. Respondents identified the police as the institution that demanded most bribes.
During the year authorities confiscated a company owned by MP and opposition supporter Khachatur Sukiasian. In 2008 authorities had seized the assets of his Bjni mineral water company to collect a 4.5 billion dram ($12 million) fine, ostensibly for tax fraud and misappropriation of state-owned water resources; local observers viewed the action as retaliation for Sukiasian's support of Levon Ter-Petrossian's 2008 presidential bid. The company was ultimately sold on December 24 to a progovernment businessman (see section 1).
In a February 26 interview, Vahram Nercissiants, a top economic adviser to President Sargsian, stated that the holding of top governmental offices by affluent businessmen is unconstitutional. Nercissiants stated that although the constitution prohibits businessmen from holding public office, many state officials circumvented the law by registering their companies under the names of relatives while continuing to manage them personally. The adviser also noted that when affluent businessmen hold public office, their loyalties often shifted from serving the government to serving their private interests and that the country's business environment was adversely affected when such individuals used government office to set unequal business conditions and unfairly push competitors out of the market.
On March 13, an adviser to the minister for emergency situations was arrested for alleged fraud and bribery. The SIS stated that the official, Sanatruk Sahakian, was suspected of receiving a large bribe from the family of a young man seeking to enroll at the country's police academy. According to the SIS, Sahakian had convinced the family that he could arrange the young man's enrollment in exchange for the bribe. On November 9, Sahakian was convicted and sentenced to four years' imprisonment for fraud and attempted official forgery. The sentence was subsequently reduced by one-third to two years and eight months as a result of the June 19 general amnesty.
On April 16, President Sargsian urged the police to put an end to a spate of high-profile shootouts and illegal possession of weapons and ammunition that appeared connected to Yerevan's approaching municipal elections on May 31. Expressing serious concern at the shootings, the president stated he would toughen the response of law enforcement agencies in such instances, cautioning that authorities would take strict measures even if a relative of an official was involved.
In a number of high-profile cases of alleged or reported violence during the year that involved relatives or members of the ruling party, no investigation or criminal proceedings were conducted, prompting local observers to question whether these individuals used their political connections to the ruling party and authorities to avoid legal prosecution.
According to media reports, on June 30, Ishkhan Zakarian, chairman of the Control Chamber, an official auditing body that monitor's government budgetary activity, reported irregularities in the prices of public land sold to private individuals in the Armavir region. Zakarian stated that the Control Chamber discovered instances of land sales considerably below actual market value. Zakarian indentified one initial sale of 10 acres that went for 35,000 drams (approximately $94) per acre; this land was then sold two days later for 3,900,000 drams (approximately $10,500). Zakarian also reported the sale of land in Parakar village at below-market prices for the construction of casinos and furniture shops. The Control Chamber also stated that it had discovered irregularities in expenditures allegedly allotted to town planning in Armavir that amounted to 86 million drams (approximately $232,000).
On October 7, Zakarian presented to the National Assembly the Control Chamber's 2008 report, in which the chamber registered financial violations and wasteful spending by government agencies during the year that totaled almost 8 billion drams (approximately $21 million), of which approximately 6 billion drams ($16 million) could be recovered. At year's end official sources did not provide information as to the progress of these cases involving wasteful spending.
During the year the Control Chamber published similar findings on gross violations and financial abuse in numerous state bodies; as in previous years, however, these cases were rarely prosecuted. According to the local affiliate of Transparency International, the government ministers and regional governors implicated by these reports simply returned some of the money to the budget and continued to work without any legal action being taken against them.
According to official statistics, authorities investigated 451 corruption cases during year. In the first nine months of the year, courts convicted 146 persons, including 63 officials. The majority of officials investigated or convicted worked in the police or the Ministry of Justice, and most of the officials were section heads or other low-level officials.
According to a May 25 media report, the local NGO Achilles Society for the Defense of Drivers' Rights identified corruption as permeating all departments of the traffic police. According to the NGO, bribes solicited by the traffic police ranged from 5,000 to 50,000 drams (approximately $13 to $130).
While the law provides for public access to government information, in practice many government bodies and officials were reluctant to provide such access. During the year the government still had not adopted the 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 July 6, in response to a claim lodged by the local NGO Freedom of Information Center, the Administrative Court for the first time imposed an administrative penalty of 50,000 drams (approximately $130) on a regional official for failing to provide information to the NGO in accordance with the law.
According to the account of a former prisoner reported by the NGO Helsinki Committee, Nubarashen prison was ruled by a clandestine organized criminal system, with rampant corruption involving prison administration; blackmail, and gambling.
In April 2008 the 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 main 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 5 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, freely investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.
During the year independent local human rights organizations and local affiliates of international organizations operated in the country. The authorities generally did not deny requests to meet with domestic NGO monitors and followed some NGO recommendations, particularly those related to social welfare, education, and local matters. Authorities were usually unresponsive, however, to NGO allegations of mistreatment and abuse committed by law enforcement bodies. Authorities' general response in such instances was that they had investigated the allegations but could not corroborate them.
Since January a supervisory public council comprised of public figures reportedly served as a police watchdog. According to the September 2008 announcement of the council, the body's purpose was to help improve the transparency of police conduct and prevent human rights abuses. There were few reports during the year on the council's operations or its impact on the police. According to official information, the council dealt with such problems as the carrying of weapons, traffic regulations, loud honking by cars, fireworks regulations, and aggressive content in television shows.
On August 15, police charged Mariam Sukhudian, a youth environmental activist, with false reporting of a crime after she publicly reported instances of sexual and other abuse at a state-run boarding school for children with special needs in 2008. The activist and local human rights monitors criticized the charges as trumped-up retaliation for Sukhudian's bringing the abuses to light and called for an impartial investigation into the conditions at all state-run special needs schools. On October 21, police informed Sukhudian that the charges against her had been downgraded to slander, punishable by fine. At year's end the investigation of the criminal charges against Sukhudian continued.
On June 5, police detained and arrested Arshaluis Hakobian, a member of the local NGO Helsinki Association, for allegedly assaulting a police officer while being delivered a summons to appear in connection with the official complaint of electoral fraud that Hakobian filed during the May 31 municipal elections. According to reports, during the elections Hakobian, an accredited election observer, was evicted along with a colleague from a polling station in Yerevan's fraud-rife district of Malatia-Sebastia, barred from reentry, and threatened with physical harm. He subsequently filed the complaint with the SIS. Police claimed Hakobian assaulted them as they were delivering a summons for him to appear before the SIS investigating the complaint. According to Hakobian, the police officers who visited his house on June 5 were aggravated by his refusal to sign the summons, which Hakobian claimed was illegitimate. Hakobian stated police pressured him to sign the summons, beat him on the way to and at the police station, and denied him access to a lawyer during the initial hours of his detention.
On June 11, CSMB members visited Hakobian in prison and reported numerous injuries on his body (legs, hands, back, and head). The police reportedly registered Hakobian's injuries in a medical folder upon his arrival at the prison. The government claimed to have investigated the claims of mistreatment and denied it occurred. On June 15, the Geneva-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders issued a statement of concern over the "arbitrary arrest" of Hakobian and condemned police mistreatment against him, which the organization charged was punishment for Hakobian's human rights activities.
After being charged on June 5 with assaulting a public official, Hakobian was remanded into custody for a two-month pretrial detention period. On August 5, authorities extended his pretrial detention for one month. On September 15, his case got underway. On October 16, the authorities released Hakobian from detention following a motion by the prosecutor requesting the court to postpone further judicial proceedings by one month; the prosecutor justified his motion by stating that the prosecution needed additional time to "change or complement" the original charges. The court granted the request and ordered Hakobian's immediate release from detention on the condition that Hakobian not leave the country while the case continued. On November 20 and December 21, the judge postponed the proceedings into the case in response to the prosecution's requests for more time to conduct an investigation into the actions of the police officers who detained and arrested Hakobian. On November 28, the SIS launched an investigation into the alleged abuse by the police officers that was subsequently dismissed on December 29 due to lack of evidence, and the proceedings against Hakobian had yet to be resumed by year's end.
On May 21, police dismissed charges against Tigran Urikhanian for criminally assaulting Mikael Danielian, the head of the local Helsinki Association NGO, in May 2008. Urikhanian, a marginal progovernment figure, and two accomplices reportedly carried out the assault. Despite numerous witnesses to the attack, police chose not to recognize Danielian as a victim and characterized the incident as hooliganism. Throughout the investigation, however, police could not corroborate the hooliganism charges with supporting facts. While police assessed Urikhanian's actions as exceeding "legitimate self defense," they concluded that they did not constitute a crime since Danielian's injuries were not grave. Police did not press charges against the other two assailants, claiming that they had "repented" for their actions. Police also chose not to include in their case materials the testimony of Artur Sakunts, director of the human rights NGO Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor, who witnessed the attack. According to Danielian, throughout the investigation, the police investigator threatened him with possible arrest on charges of hooliganism if he did not reconcile with the offenders. Danielian appealed the decision to dismiss the criminal case in both the court of first instance and the court of appeals; on both occasions, the courts ruled against his appeals.
There were no developments in the investigation of the assaults against youth activists Arsen Kharatian in May 2008 and Narek Hovakimian in June 2008.
The government generally cooperated with international NGOs, permitting them to visit the country and issue reports.
A human rights defender (ombudsman) operated in the country, with a mandate to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms from abuse by the national, regional, and local governments and their officials. During the year the ombudsman issued regular and ad hoc reports on various human rights problems in the country. The government was generally not responsive to these reports and did not answer questions raised in the ombudsman's April 2008 ad hoc report on the March 2008 postelection violence. During the first half of the year, the Ombudsman's Office received complaints from 2,602 citizens; the office resolved 42 of these complaints, with 94 persons reportedly receiving redress for their grievances.
On September 16-17, approximately 16 months after its establishment, an ad hoc parliamentary commission released its findings on the March 2008 postelection events and 10 resulting deaths. The report stated the commission was unable to shed more light onto the circumstances of the deaths and urged law enforcement authorities to do more to identify, track down, and prosecute individuals responsible for the deaths. Relatives of the civilian victims protested the commission's findings and demonstrated before the parliament for a full, objective accounting of the deaths.
Before the release of the report, President Sargsian on June 6 disbanded the bipartisan fact-finding group of experts he established in October 2008 to assist the ad hoc parliamentary commission in its inquiry. According to local observers, the disbanding of the fact-finding group was connected to the leaking of sensitive reports that assigned culpability to authorities for some of the 10 deaths. PACE regretted the disbanding of the fact-finding group due to "the insurmountable tensions between its members and the politicizing of its work by members of both sides"; declared that an independent, impartial, and credible investigation into the March 2008 events was still necessary; and stated that the final report by the ad hoc parliamentary commission would "determine whether the criteria of impartiality and credibility have been met and whether further investigations are necessary."
On December 21, the PACE Monitoring Committee criticized the commission's self-censorship for not sufficiently challenging the official version of events. It also deplored the report's one-sided description of events and lack of discussion on the postelection arrest and prosecution of a large number of opposition supporters.
The very low profile on human rights problems of the Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Issues of the National Assembly led the local human rights community to view the committee with deep skepticism.
Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status; however, the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions.
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 23 criminal cases against 26 persons on cases of rape and attempted rape; however, social stigma continued to contribute to the underreporting of those crimes. Authorities convicted 10 of these 26 individuals for rape or attempted rape; the investigations into the remaining cases were continuing at year's end. According to official information, none of these reported cases constituted marital rape.
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 presumed to be widespread. In a 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.
There is one NGO-operated shelter in the country, which offers refuge and assistance, including psychological and legal counseling, to victims of domestic violence. The NGO also operates a hotline that offers assistance to victims of domestic violence.
Police reported investigating 241 cases of domestic violence during the year, including 132 cases of battery and 100 cases of infliction of willful damage to health. The remaining cases included a murder attempt or threat thereof, hooliganism, and insults. The Prosecutor General's Office reported registering two instances of murder and two instances of attempted murder by spouses.
While prostitution constitutes an administrative offense punishable by a fine, operating a brothel and engaging in other forms of pimping are crimes punishable by one to 10 years' imprisonment. According to media reports, fewer than 5,000 women were involved in prostitution in the country, of whom approximately 1,500 were in Yerevan. Local observers claim that police and other security forces tolerated prostitution.
The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although it addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior. While there was no public data on the extent of the problem, local observers believed sexual harassment directed against women in the workplace to be widespread.
According to law, couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. In practice, however, especially in more traditional families, such decisions were often made by the male spouse and his parents. Access to and information about contraception was low, especially in rural areas. Skilled attendance during childbirth was more accessible in large towns and population centers. Women were diagnosed and treated for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, equally with men.
There were reports that women, especially those in rural or remote areas, faced insufficient access to adequate general and reproductive health-care services. Observers noted that various efforts made to improve reproductive health care had not been effective.
International and local observers recommended during the year that the government continue to take measures to improve women's access to health care in general, and to reproductive health-care services in particular. During the year observers called on authorities to increase efforts to improve the availability of sexual and reproductive health services (including family planning), to mobilize resources for that purpose, and to monitor the actual access to those services by women. Further recommendations were made that the government widely promote family planning and reproductive health education to girls and boys with special attention to the prevention of pregnancies of underage girls, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS.
Men and women enjoy equal legal status, although gender and age discrimination were continuing problems in the public and private sectors. Women generally did not enjoy the same professional opportunities or wages as men and often were relegated to more menial or low-paying jobs. Women remained underrepresented in leadership positions in all branches of the government, national as well as regional and local.
Citizenship is derived from one's parents. 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. During the year, however, international donors worked with the authorities to address the situation with some success.
Severe disparities remained in both primary and secondary education in the country because of gender, regional location, and income. Numbers of dropouts after basic education remained substantial, especially among poor students.
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.
Statutory rape, defined in the law as sexual acts with a person less than 16 years of age, is punishable with a fine and imprisonment up to two years. Child pornography is punishable with a maximum imprisonment of six years.
At year's end a court case continued against the former deputy head of Special School No. 18, a facility for children with antisocial behavior, who allegedly forced two students to beg and sexually assaulted another student.
In November 2008 Armenian Public Television broadcast reports containing allegations of sexual and other abuse of students at Special School No. 11, a school for children with special needs, by the school's administration and staff. The alleged abuse came to light when a group of youth activists served as volunteers in the school. In their work and interaction with children, the volunteers observed and heard about multiple problems and abuses at that school, including poor food quality, poor sanitary conditions, exploitation of children by the school's director and staff for their household chores, severe punishments and beatings, and several instances of sexual abuse by a teacher. On August 15, the authorities opened criminal proceedings for false crime reporting, which police downgraded to slander charges on October 21, against the leader of the youth group who publicized the abuses, Mariam Sukhudian. On August 26, the Prosecutor General's Office stated its investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse proved them invalid. At year's end the investigation of the criminal charges against Sukhudian continued.
In February and March the human rights NGO Armenian Helsinki Committee monitored 12 special-education schools and four boarding institutions to assess the provision of care and protection of children enrolled in the establishments. The study, published in the Ditord (Observer) human rights journal, revealed frequent physical and psychological violence against children at the institutions. Many children indicated they had been slapped or beaten, shut in a classroom, or prevented from going home, among other forms of punishment. According to the study, some teachers admitted resorting to violence. The study also noted that most of the institutions lacked proper central heating and adequate sanitary and hygiene conditions.
The committee also studied children's rights in the 12 general education schools in the Syunik region during the February and March period. The study found various forms of physical or psychological violence regularly used as a means of punishing children. Violence often took the form of beating, slapping, pulling ears, and humiliating treatment. There was also unequal treatment of students at schools, depending on teachers' relations with students, whether students pursued private classes with a teacher, and whether students had influential parents. The Helsinki Committee conducted a similar study in 2007 and 2008 in 39 general education schools throughout seven regions of Armenia, collecting data. The results of the two studies were substantively the same.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons; however, there were reported cases of persons trafficked into, from and within the country.
The country is primarily a source for women and girls trafficked to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. NGOs reported that women were also trafficked to Turkey for the purpose of forced labor. Men and women were trafficked to Russia for the purpose of forced labor. During the year there were court cases involving internal trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation and forced begging and trafficking of Russian women to the country for labor exploitation. According to official data, at least 60 persons were identified as victims of trafficking.
Individual or small organized groups of traffickers using developed networks in source and destination countries typically recruited victims among the most socially vulnerable in the population, especially persons in the rural areas, through promises of high-paying jobs in the destination countries. In the case of trafficking for sexual exploitation, traffickers typically, but not always, targeted women already engaged in prostitution. The majority but not all of these 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, traffickers deprived victims of their travel documents, confined them in hotel rooms, and told them they must "repay" their expenses. Traffickers reportedly encouraged victims to become recruiters, promising them future proceeds earned by new victims or by promising them money they had already earned but been deprived of by their traffickers.
Amendments to the criminal code in November increased the criminal punishments envisaged by one of the two existing statutes pertaining to trafficking (increasing the punishments in one to match punishments in the other). As a result, both antitrafficking statutes envisage punishments for convicted traffickers from five to 15 years, depending on the aggravating circumstances. Changes to both statutes also stipulated confiscation of the trafficker's assets as a form of punishment, and exempted trafficking victims from criminal prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit as a result of their victimization, provided the victims supported the investigation of these crimes.
According to government figures, law enforcement agencies investigated 15 trafficking cases during the year, and the courts convicted 11 persons under the trafficking statute, compared with four persons in 2008.
On April 20, for the first time ever, a Yerevan court convicted four women of trafficking as an organized criminal group; their sentences ranged between one and 13 years in prison, the longest prison sentence ever handed down for trafficking in the country.
On December 18, a Yerevan court convicted another trafficker to 13 years in prison for exploiting women as prostitutes in the UAE.
In contrast with previous years, during the year courts delivered longer prison sentences to convicted traffickers, with none of the sentences being suspended. On April 2, a Yerevan court sentenced a male trafficker to seven years in prison for forcing five children into begging.
During the year the trial of two Russian traffickers who exploited victims as exotic dancers in local nightclubs continued. In cooperation with Russian law enforcement, police identified 11 more victims in this case (all of whom were already in Russia), bringing the total number of victims of the alleged traffickers to 24. The written testimonies of the newly discovered victims were used in court proceedings. The trial continued at year's end.
The Ministerial Council to Combat Trafficking in Persons, chaired by the deputy prime minister, was responsible for implementing, coordinating, and monitoring the government's antitrafficking efforts. In 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 National Security Service, and the Prosecutor General's Office were responsible for investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. Authorities actively cooperated with several trafficking destination countries and regularly shared information with them.
No reports of official complicity in trafficking came to light during the year. At year's end, however, authorities had not yet prosecuted any officials in connection with the 2006 escape from the country of Anush Zakhariants, a convicted Uzbek trafficker of ethnic Armenian origin. The National Security Service located Zakhariants in Uzbekistan during the year. On December 14, the Prosecutor General's Office officially requested Uzbekistan to extradite Zakhariants to the country; at year's end the extradition request remained pending.
Upon their return to the country, trafficking victims feared social stigma and discrimination and were generally but not always reluctant to help locate and prosecute their traffickers. Government officials did not require victims to assist in pursuing traffickers but worked with those who were willing to do so. NGOs reported that judges' overall treatment of victims continued to improve.
Several NGOs assisted trafficking victims, many of whom were referred to them by authorities. Two hotlines were also available for trafficking victims. Antitrafficking NGOs operated without financial assistance from the government and depended on foreign government funding. In 2008 the government had approved national budget funds to be allocated for antitrafficking, including the cofunding of operating a trafficking victims' shelter. During the year the government primarily supported public awareness activities. Cofunding of the shelter fell through, however, due to technical problems between the government and NGOs that operated the shelter. The public awareness activities included the organization of a youth campaign against trafficking and the publication of 100,000 brochures containing legal advice for Armenian citizens who travel, reside, and/or work abroad.
The country's 2010 national budget adopted at year's end, like the 2009 budget, included multiple allocations devoted to its antitrafficking efforts. In comparison with the 2009 budget, the 2010 budget allocated more money, specifically toward victims' assistance.
In November 2008 the government approved the national referral mechanism (NRM) for use by public officials to help refer trafficking victims for assistance. According to local observers, however, the NRM 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 depended on victims' level of cooperation with law enforcement agencies. On September 3, the government decided to include trafficking victims as a special category of socially vulnerable groups eligible for free medical aid.
Throughout the year 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 these persons.
In its monitoring of mental health facilities in the Syunik and Shirak regions during the year, the human rights NGO Helsinki Citizens Assembly of Vanadzor (HCAV) reported encountering numerous problems in these facilities. The deficiencies included, among other things, poor hygienic conditions, poor alimentation, inappropriate buildings, use of outdated and ineffective medication, lack of professionally trained staff, instances of physical violence, and use of patient labor in health facilities. The HCAV also noted that there appeared to be systematic problems in the entire operation of mental health facilities, including an absence of a state policy on mental health, the lack of appropriate legislation for the proper implementation of the law, the lack of standards and norms of conduct for staff, and insufficient funding of facilities.
In July 2008 the online news agency Armenianow.com published a HCAV survey of patients at the Vanadzor Neurological and Psychiatric Clinic. Patients there reported beatings, torture, and abusive narcotic sedation by clinic personnel and medical staff. Patients also complained of deprivation of privileges and insufficient food.
Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with serious disabilities remained substandard. According to official data, more than 90 percent of persons with disabilities who were able to work were unemployed.
The government, through the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but failed to do so effectively.
According to the local NGO Unison, which monitored the May 31 Yerevan municipal elections, persons with physical disabilities did not have access to the polls during the vote, and very few persons with disabilities participated in the vote.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
General societal attitudes towards homosexuality remained highly unfavorable. The country's endorsement of the UN December 2008 statement against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity caused a public outcry and increased the number of negative articles in the media about homosexuals. Society continued largely to view homosexuality as an affliction.
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. During the year there was at least one reported case of a young man, whose homosexuality was revealed during military service, being diagnosed and hospitalized with "homosexuality disease."
According to local human rights activists, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons experienced some of the most humiliating discrimination in prisons, where they were forced to do some of the most degrading jobs and separated from the rest of the prison population.
Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation continued to be a problem with respect to employment, family relations, and access to education and health care for sexual minorities.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports during the year of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
Many employers reportedly discriminated against potential employees by age, most commonly requiring job applicants to be between the ages of 18 and 30. While this discrimination appeared to be widespread, authorities did not take any action to mitigate it. After the age of 40, workers, particularly women, continued to have little chance of finding jobs appropriate to their education or skills.
Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law allows workers, except for those serving in the armed forces 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 were unable to 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 approximately 240,000 workers, or an estimated 20 percent of the workforce, were members of 24 trade unions. 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 also provides for the right to strike except for members of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies, but workers rarely went on strike due to the fear of losing their jobs. While the law prohibits retaliation against strikers, it occurred periodically.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Although the law provides for collective bargaining, in practice it was practically nonexistent.
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 exploitation in the construction sector. A small number of boys and girls were trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation and forced begging (see section 6).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The laws and policies protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The minimum age for employment is 16, but children may work from age 14 with permission of a parent or a guardian. Children less than the age of 18 are prohibited from working overtime, in harmful and dangerous conditions, at night, or on holidays; nevertheless, the authorities responsible for compliance with child labor law unevenly enforced the law.
According to local observers, many children, especially in rural regions, were involved in family businesses--mainly agriculture--as a result of the severe socioeconomic plights of their families. Observers also reported seeing children in Yerevan selling flowers and drawings and working in local markets after school hours. Children also worked in trade, construction, and car services, operated vehicles, and gathered waste metal and bottles. According to an October 2008 study by the UN Children's Fund on child labor, less than 5 percent of children between seven 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 almost all children worked without legal contracts, and that some children were employed in heavy manual work as laborers and loaders.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The government sets the minimum wage by decree. The monthly minimum wage of 30,000 drams (approximately $80) as fixed by the state budget did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.
During the year there were reports of numerous labor rights violations committed by a construction company. The firm had been awarded a government contract to construct housing in the city of Gyumri as part of a government rehabilitation project to rebuild the housing stock destroyed by the 1988 earthquake. Some of the reported violations included extremely low wages, working hours up to 65 hours per week, unpaid worker salaries, and work without contracts. In spite of numerous media reports on the violations, reportedly neither the State Labor Inspectorate nor any other state body investigated the reported conditions. In the absence of any labor unions, some of the workers reportedly took their cases to court but dropped the cases after reaching agreements with the company to recover only a fraction of the compensation owed them. According to some local observers, some of the workers were reluctant to speak out for their rights because of fear that they would lose their jobs.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, 28 days of mandatory annual leave, and compensation for overtime worked. In practice, however, the authorities did not effectively enforce these standards. Many private sector employees were unable to obtain paid leave and were required to work more than eight hours a day without compensation. 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 dismissed and unable to claim payment for the time they worked because their initial employment was undocumented. Evidence also suggested that some private sector employers underreported the size of their staff to avoid paying taxes.
Occupational and health standards are established by government decrees. The authorities responsible for enforcing these standards did not always do so effectively, however, due to a lack of capacity, skills, and will. During the year the State Labor Inspectorate reportedly made little progress toward implementing an inspection regime or enforcing the labor code, and its work was reportedly undermined by corruption.
Workers had the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their health and safety, but they were unlikely to do so because such an action could place their employment at risk. Work safety and health conditions remained substandard in numerous sectors, and there were two fatal workplace incidents during the year.
On May 14, four persons were killed and approximately 20 injured in two powerful explosions at the Nairit chemical plant in Yerevan. According to reports, before the explosions Nairit had periodically faced emergency situations that were not properly addressed; the plant's obsolete Soviet-era equipment and poor safety standards also were believed to contribute to the explosions. On the same day, the authorities opened an investigation to determine the precise cause of the explosions. On October 10, three employees of the chemical plant were charged with a second breach of safety rules that resulted in one person's death, and the case went to court on November 9. On December 14, at the request of the defense, a Yerevan court suspended the case against the three workers, exonerating them of the charges as provided by the June 19 general amnesty.
On June 17, four Chinese workers employed by the Chinese company HPCC-3 died in an accident at the construction site of a thermal power plant in the city of Hrazdan near Yerevan. The Emergency Rescue Service reported that the workers fell to their deaths after the platform that was holding them collapsed. The same day police launched a criminal investigation into the accident based on the alleged violation of workplace safety standards at a construction site. The case was dropped on August 8 after the investigation concluded that three of the deceased workers themselves had violated safety standards, and the fourth victim, who was their supervisor and responsible for his subordinates' safety, also perished in the accident.