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Turkey: Individual Rights
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Crime and Punishment > Individual Rights


Under the martial-law regime established after the 1980 coup, Turkey's citizens suffered a serious curtailment of normal civil rights. Starting in 1983, when parliamentary elections were held, the government gradually lifted restraints on individual liberties and progressively withdrew martial law from major cities and provinces. Restrictions on the press were removed in 1985, making it permissible to publish all views except those banned by the penal code. The 1987 state of emergency declared in ten southeastern provinces where the government faced terrorist violence allowed the civilian governor to exercise certain powers verging on martial law, including warrantless searches and restrictions on the press.

Although progress has been made in reducing human rights abuses since the military government period, mistreatment by the police in the form of beatings and torture has remained a seemingly intractable problem. Reports of illegal practices, in some cases extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, and disappearances, have become more widespread since 1992, when violence resulting from the Kurdish insurgency reached unprecedented levels. The Turkish government has renewed previous pledges to end the use of torture by the security forces, but little has been achieved in curbing the excesses of the police and military.

The widespread evidence of torture and severe ill-treatment of detainees has been condemned by numerous international groups, such as the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the United Nations Committee on Torture. Within Turkey, illegal police activities have been monitored by the Human Rights Association since that organization received official approval in 1987. The association subsequently attracted a membership of about 20,000 and opened branches in fifty of the provincial capitals. The companion Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, established in 1990, operates torture-rehabilitation centers in Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul, and serves as a clearinghouse for human rights information. Besides enduring government-imposed restrictions, the Human Rights Association has seen nine people associated with the organization slain. The group's leadership has charged that nearly half of its offices have been forced to close because of police pressure.

The Human Rights Foundation has claimed that government security forces were responsible for ninety-one extrajudicial killings during the first nine months of 1993, and that security forces were implicated in many of the 291 "mystery killings" during the same period. Perhaps twenty persons died in official custody, some allegedly as a result of torture. Other killings occurred during raids on terrorist safe houses, or when deadly force was used against unarmed civilians participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Turkish human rights advocates believe that most persons charged with political crimes undergo torture, usually while in incommunicado detention in the hands of the police or gendarmerie before being brought before a court. About half of the ordinary criminal suspects are thought to undergo torture while under police interrogation. In the event that law enforcement officers are charged in torture cases, the sentences imposed are generally light or the cases drag on for years.

The constitution guarantees inviolability of the domicile and privacy of communications except upon issuance of a judicial warrant. However, in the southeastern provinces that are under state of emergency the governor may authorize warrantless search. In these areas, security personnel at roadblocks regularly search travelers and vehicles in an effort to apprehend smugglers and terrorists.

University students and faculty members may not be members of political parties or become involved in political activities. Youth branches of political parties are forbidden, and the university rector must grant permission for a student to join any association. Political activity by trade unions is also banned. Thus, unions may neither endorse candidates nor make contributions to their campaigns; they are, however, able to make known their opposition to or support of political parties and government policies. Collective bargaining and strikes are strictly regulated. Unions must have government permission to hold meetings and rallies but are permitted to organize workplaces freely and to engage in collective bargaining.

In March 1994, seven Kurdish legislators were arrested on the parliament grounds. Indictments were prepared against them for writings and speeches deemed supportive of Kurdish separatism. The incident aroused considerable controversy both domestically and internationally; all seven assembly members were given long prison terms in late 1994.

Freedom of conscience and religious belief is guaranteed by the constitution, as is private dissemination of religious ideas. However, religious activity is strictly supervised in accordance with the principles of secularism and separation of church and state. No political party advocating a theocracy or government founded on religious principles is permitted. The operation of churches, monasteries, synagogues, and schools must be approved by the state. Armenian and Greek churches are carefully monitored, and prosecutors have brought charges of proselytism against Islamists and evangelical Christian groups deemed to have political overtones. Courts have not been sympathetic to such charges, but the police have acted against some evangelical Christians by refusing to renew their residence permits and expelling them.

Last Updated: January 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Turkey was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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