News / Europe

Turkey's 'Anti-Terror' Law Casts Increasingly Wide Net

FILE - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
FILE - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Dorian Jones
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's democratic reform package is facing criticism following the Justice Ministry's revelation that 20,000 people have been convicted under the country's anti-terrorism law during the last four years, 8,000 of whom were jailed just in the last 12 months. Most of them, including journalists and members of the country's legal Kurdish party, were jailed for non-violent offenses.
Turkey’s anti-terror law is facing growing national and international criticism. The law was introduced in 1991 to counter an insurgency by the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. But concerns have been growing that the law is increasingly used to target critics of the government.

Emma Sinclair Webb, senior researcher on Turkey for the U.S.-based organization Human rights Watch, says there has been an alarming increase in the use of the anti-terror law.
"According to official figures of the Justice Ministry, in the last four years an enormous number of people - somewhere around 40,000 - have been prosecuted for membership of armed organizations, and half of them have received convictions under that law. Now it applies disproportionately to Kurds in Turkey, but it also applies to other groups: it has been used against leftists, it has been used against journalists, students, for activities which could not in any way be counted as terrorism," said Webb.

The failure to reform the law in last month’s government democracy package was criticized domestically and internationally. Richard Howitt, a British member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs and human rights committees, said the Turkish government had missed a "key opportunity" to change the anti-terror law.  Adding to those concerns, the anti-terror law is now being used against those involved in last June’s anti government protests.  The European Union’s annual progress report released this week strongly criticized Turkey over freedom of expression and assembly, and called for legal and judicial reform.

In launching his democracy package, Prime Minister Erdogan tacitly acknowledged its shortcomings by acknowledging the need for further reforms.

"These reforms will never be the last and there will be other reforms to enhance freedom and democracy in Turkey. Opposition parties are trying to exploit the sensitivities and fears of the people over the reforms," said Erdogan.

Observers say these popular sensitivities are especially important given the local, presidential and general elections scheduled to take place in Turkey over the next 18 months.

The image of being weak on terrorism is unlikely to win votes among the ruling AK Party’s core constituents, according to Cengiz Aktar, a political columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf.

"The prime minister, like every other politician, wants to stay in power. He thinks the only solid constituency he can gain votes from is Turkish nationalist voters," said Aktar.

The thousands of members of Turkey’s legal pro-Kurdish Party, the BDP, would be among the main beneficiaries of any reform of the anti-terror law. The BDP claims over 6,000 of its members are being held under the law, including dozens of mayors. Their release is a key demand of the PKK as part of the Kurdish rebel group's peace talks with the government. But those talks are currently stalled.

According to international human rights groups, the anti-terror law is the reason why Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. Award-winning journalist Ahmet Şık, who is facing 15 years in jail under the law, says it is a threat to democracy in Turkey.
"We live in a time in which students demanding free education are immediately labeled as terrorists. Journalists are also seen as terrorists. There is an incredible regime of suppression, he says: whoever raises their voice in opposition can be imprisoned on terrorism charges," said Şık.

The government rejects such criticism, insisting that it has introduced unprecedented democratic reforms during its decade in power. But observers warn that the voices of journalists like Şık, who addressed the European Parliament last year, are expected to weigh heavily on EU leaders next month, when they are expected to decide whether or not to put Turkey’s membership bid back on track.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mazhar Efendi from: Cleveland, Ohio
October 21, 2013 7:28 AM
US Foreign Service: Please do not accept placement of your new embassy on grounds stolen from the Ataturk Orman Ciftligi. Please stop your support for this or any related group purporting to be moderate Islam. You nurture false champions of the concept, mercenaries that run counter to your core values. They are a horse of a different color. Best Regards.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs