Turkey | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2005

2005 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


The current Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pursued a vigorous reform agenda in preparation for the December 2004 meeting of European Union (EU) leaders, at which the EU has promised to consider whether Turkey can begin membership negotiations. Turkey has passed a string of constitutional amendments and reform packages in recent years, and the government has taken serious steps toward ensuring their implementation. Turkey hopes that a positive response in December will help consolidate and expand reforms and improve business investment as well.

The modern Turkish republic was founded by Kemal Mustafa Ataturk in 1923. Ataturk was a visionary who wanted to form a modern state. He separated Islam from the state and banned such external signs of religion as the fez and the headscarf. He also created a Turkish identity and a nationalism that had not existed under the Ottoman Empire. Although his party ruled uninterrupted for more than 25 years, an important legacy of his rule is the republican institutions that he helped put in place.

In 1980 Turkey experienced the most recent of three military coups that temporarily took power from the elected civilian government. The military-led government wrote a new constitution that Turkey's citizens approved in a 1982 referendum. This constitution strengthened the role of the military and restricted many fundamental freedoms. Soon afterward, fighting began in the southeast that ultimately developed into a 15-year guerrilla war between Turkish forces and Kurdish separatists.

A ceasefire was declared after the capture of separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. In the same year, the EU accepted Turkey as an official candidate in response to its initial application in 1987. As a final turning point, Turkey's financial system collapsed in 2001 and the IMF stepped in to help with restructuring. These three events combined to spark a new era of rights and reforms in Turkey.

In November 2002 elections, the new Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. AKP had grown out of the remnants of the Welfare Party - an Islamic-oriented party that had been banned after it was pressured out of power by the military in a soft coup (the military did not subsequently assume power) in 1997 - but AKP had publicly renounced any intentions to change Turkey's secular orientation, and many of their supporters voted for change, not religion. Because Erdogan, AKP's leader, had been banned from politics due to a prior conviction for reading an allegedly Islamic poem in public, he was not permitted to become a member of parliament. After AKP won a majority of parliamentary seats (a rare event in a country that has almost always been led by fragile coalitions), Abdullah Gul served as prime minister until the party used its majority to change the constitution and pave the way for Erdogan's leadership. Erdogan became prime minister in March 2003.

Despite the amendments, Turkey's constitution lacks the inclusiveness, the clearly defined rights, and the limitation on state power that are crucial for democracy in a multicultural society. The reforms thus far have been largely imposed from the outside, with little grassroots effort from Turkey itself. Turks have great faith in the state's ability to serve their best interests, and a culture of freedom and democracy has yet to be fully instilled throughout the population. Education reform is required to improve opportunities for the poor and develop the popular basis for the full consolidation of reforms. With time, Turkey will ultimately need to draft an up-to-date civil constitution as well.

Accountability and Public Voice: 

Turkey is a parliamentary democracy. A president, elected by parliament (the Turkish Grand National Assembly, or TGNA), is head of state but is not formally involved in policymaking. The current president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was elected in 2000 for a non-renewable seven-year term. The TGNA is composed of 550 deputies elected by universal suffrage to five-year terms. The prime minister is technically chosen by the president, although in practice he/she is the leader of the party in power.

Turkish laws establish a framework for democratic elections generally in line with international standards, although with certain restrictions. In January 2003 new legal amendments loosened regulations on party names and candidates and narrowed the grounds for closure of a political party. However, a party can still be shut down if its program is not in agreement with the constitution, and this can be widely interpreted to include support for Kurdish insurgents and opposition to government pillars such as secularism and the military. Limits on campaign donations are not enforced, and party financing is not transparent.[2]

In addition, a so-called double barrier impedes entry to the TGNA: In order to win seats a party must be organized in at least half of the Turkish provinces and one-third of their districts, and it must also obtain at least 10 percent of the votes cast nationwide. The effect of this provision has been that many parties with considerable support are not represented in the TGNA, particularly if their base is regional.

The last TGNA elections, in November 2002, were widely judged both domestically and internationally as free and fair. A large number and variety of parties participated in active campaigning, the ruling parties lost, and opposition parties won seats in the TGNA, thus attesting to the ability of the electorate to precipitate change. Only two parties passed the 10-percent threshold - AKP and the Republican People's Party (CHP) - and AKP, which won significantly more seats than any other party, won just 35 percent of the total vote, a stark demonstration of the limitations of these election rules. As of September 2004 AKP holds an overwhelming 367 seats in the TGNA, while the CHP holds 172. The True Path Party also has four seats after as many parliamentarians resigned from their former party affiliations. The remaining seats are held by independents.

One of the most prominent restrictions imposed during the 2002 election campaign was Erdogan's own inability to run. Turkey's Supreme Electoral Board had banned Erdogan's candidacy under a constitutional provision prohibiting convicted criminals from running for public office. The ban was generally believed to have been an attempt to inhibit the momentum of AKP, of which the Turkish establishment disapproved due to AKP's roots in the religious, previously banned, Welfare and Virtue parties. After AKP established its resounding TGNA majority it voted to amend the constitution, thus paving the way for Erdogan's leadership. Significantly, the military did not intervene despite its own reservations about the election of AKP.

The old guard saw a sharp drop in support in 2002 amid widespread public discontent with official corruption and inept handling of the economy (manifested in particular by the 2001 financial crisis), and its parties have not yet recovered. In local elections in March 2004, AKP won a commanding victory across the country. Instead of from a traditional opposition, most parliamentary challenges to government policies come from inside AKP itself.

The extent to which AKP has abandoned its former Islamist aspirations is unclear. Although the party has supported some loosening of restrictions on religious activity, such as the bans on headscarves and on the admission of students from religious schools to secular universities (see "Civil Liberties"), it has not made any serious attempt to undermine Turkey's secular underpinnings. The AKP government has thus far been defined by its push for reform with the goal of EU entry, not an underlying Islamic agenda. However, concerns remain about what AKP might support in the future.

Although no parliamentary system has complete separation of powers, legislative oversight of Turkey's executive branch is especially weak. Very little legislation actually originates in the TGNA; instead, it is drafted by the government for review by parliamentarians. The party leader wields great power, and most decisions are made by the prime minister and a small group of advisers. Civil servants in Turkey are officially hired on the basis of examinations, but patronage undeniably plays a large role in practice.[3]

The Turkish establishment traditionally mistrusted civic groups and controlled them tightly. However, as these groups have gained strength since the 1980s and state-societal relations have developed more recently through encouragement by the EU, civic groups have become more engaged in public policy. EU harmonization reforms in 2002 and 2003 have eased restrictions on the establishment of associations, and a draft Law on Associations, pending as of September 2004, would go even further. Still, the government is selective about which groups gain full disclosure of draft laws, and many groups accuse it of listening but not taking responsive action.[4] Limitations on so-called partnerships with foreign groups will remain in place, and the vagueness of the term "partnerships" could allow the government to require permission for a wide range of activities involving groups abroad.[5]

While Turkey's constitution establishes freedom of the media (Articles 28 - 31) and EU harmonization reforms have included many measures to reduce political pressure on the media, including a new Press Law in 2004, in practice major impediments remain. The media are mostly privately owned. They, and journalists specifically, have been the victims of the penal code's provisions against aiding and abetting an illegal organization and insulting the state and state institutions, among others, despite recent reforms limiting their scope. Fines, arrests, and imprisonment are the punishments regularly allotted to media and journalists who, for example, criticize the military or portray Kurdish activists in too positive a light. In one instance, the pro-Kurdish newspaper Yeniden Ozgur Gundem was forced to close in February 2004 due to fines amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.[6] Further changes were made in the 2004 penal code reform, but their effect remains to be seen. Moreover, Turkey's Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTUK) has the authority to sanction broadcasters if they are not in compliance with the law or its expansive 23 broadcasting principles. Thus, a local television station was shut down for a month in April 2004 after broadcasting songs in Kurdish, a language that has traditionally been banned in public. Cultural expression is also limited by similar effects of these laws, although the number of banned books, journals, and newspapers decreased in the first half of 2004.[7]

Censorship is not explicit, but censorship and self-censorship occur at the levels of both editors and journalists, who are concerned about violating the many restrictions.[8] Furthermore, media organizations are nearly all owned by giant holding companies with interests in many sectors beyond media, and they therefore influence news to serve their own business interests, in addition to allegedly trading positive coverage for political favors. As the strength of these media groups continues to grow unchecked, they could become a bigger obstacle to press freedom than the state.[9] The quality of the Turkish media is low.

Some very positive steps have been taken to expand media freedom. As part of the ninth EU adjustment package, passed in June 2004, a member of the military will no longer be part of the RTUK. The government has issued statements instructing the RTUK to implement the new regulations. More significantly, new laws were instituted allowing broadcasts for the first time in minority languages, including Kurdish. The legalization of these broadcasts was a major step for Kurdish rights (see "Civil Liberties") and freedom of expression. After considerable delay (the initial law was passed in August 2002), the first broadcast in Bosnian took place on June 7, 2004, followed two days later by the first broadcast in the most widely spoken Kurdish dialect. The broadcasts have been criticized for being too short and being limited to the national station, and liberalization still has a long way to go.[10] However, the significance of the changes cannot be overstated. Further opening of the media policy will enable Turkey to provide full freedom of expression to its people.

Civil Liberties: 

Many of the EU harmonization reforms that Turkey has passed since 2001 have been specifically geared toward protection of civil liberties, including increased minority and women's rights, broadened freedom of association and religion, stronger measures to protect against and prosecute torture, and a more democratic penal code. Turkey signed a European convention protocol abolishing the death penalty in January 2004 and made relevant legal changes over the summer. Moreover, the government is watching implementation closely. It has set up rights-monitoring boards such as a Reform Monitoring Group, created in September 2003, and thousands of police, judges, and public prosecutors have participated in human rights training. In June 2004 the Council of Europe decided to end its monitoring of Turkey due to the country's progress in human rights. Nevertheless, problems remain, particularly (although not entirely) with implementation.

Torture and ill-treatment by officials continue to be an issue in Turkey. The Erdogan government has declared a zero-tolerance policy toward torture, and it appears to be backing up its position with new detention laws and, as of April 2004, a policy forbidding police from entering the room when doctors examine alleged torture victims. Recent legal amendments have limited the initial custody period after arrest to 24 hours, a measure widely believed to reduce opportunities for torture. A Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture investigation found that this period was respected in practice, and proper procedures were followed when an extension was necessary.[11] The cumulative result of these policies has been a marked decline in torture cases in the past couple of years.[12]

Turkey now needs to implement safeguards and legal amendments to ensure prosecution in accordance with the law. Human rights groups continue to cite instances of torture (the Human Rights Association of Ankara cited 692 cases in the first half of 2004), trials are excessively long and often drag on beyond the statute of limitations, and official immunity continues to pervade the system.[13] In one case in spring 2004, a 12-year-old girl reported receiving threats after she lodged a complaint against police who had beaten her.[14] The trend is positive, but more still needs to be done.

Prison conditions are harsh in some facilities, including treatment such as solitary confinement and medical neglect.[15] Most controversial are the so-called F-type prisons, which isolate their prisoners. An especially contentious imprisonment is that of Abdullah Ocalan, former leader of the Kurdish guerrilla movement, who is serving a life sentence in solitary confinement on an island off the Turkish coast and allegedly has not had adequate access to his lawyer or to visitors.[16]

The government is unable to prevent non-state violence. Traditionally, such violence has come from Kurdish separatists in the southeast. Their organization, formerly the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and recently renamed Kongra-Gel, ended its five-year ceasefire with the government on June 1, 2004, due to dissatisfaction with continued government operations against its fighters. In the first half of 2004, 61 people were killed on both sides combined.[17] Rights violations by government forces have reportedly increased since the ceasefire ended as well, potentially including extrajudicial killings.[18]

Women's rights in Turkey are not fully realized in the cities and are observed even less in rural districts. Although constitutional amendments in the spring of 2004 included a provision granting women full equality before the law, building on earlier changes in the civil and penal codes, progress has not been significant. A 2004 report by Amnesty International on violence against women found that up to half of all women in Turkey are subject to violence. The report also documents forced marriages, deprivation, and lack of access to justice, which, it says, are tolerated and even endorsed by community leaders and government officials.[19] UNICEF has determined that more than half of all girls under age 15 in some rural provinces do not attend school,[20] a fact the government attributes to economic barriers and a patriarchal culture. Women are also discriminated against in certain professions. Their participation in the formal workforce decreased from 34 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2001, in part due to families leaving agriculture for the cities, where uneducated women cannot find work.[21] Although women have had the right to vote and run for office since 1934, they are drastically underrepresented in government and do not have equal access to decision-making positions.

Honor crimes, including killings - in which family members punish women who are considered to have brought dishonor on their family through situations such as pregnancy while unmarried or having been raped - are a serious problem among traditional Kurdish families. In February 2004, the government instructed prayer leaders to state that honor killings are a sin against God, and the 2004 revisions to the penal code included an end to sentence reductions for these crimes, among other provisions to improve women's rights. On the other hand, AKP leaders attempted to include a law criminalizing extra- and pre-marital sex in the penal code amendments, which, although it was ultimately excluded, raised fears of Islam in politics and a disproportionate negative effect on women. Turkey is a destination country and, somewhat less so, a transit country for trafficking in women and girls, although the government has been taking steps to reduce all forms of human trafficking.[22]

Most of Turkey's population is Muslim, and many people are devout. While the constitution protects freedom of religion, the Turkish republic was set up on the premise of secularism, in which state and religious affairs are separated. In practice, this has meant considerable government control of religion; most prominently, the Directorate of Religious Affairs regulates the country's mosques and employs their imams, who are civil servants in Turkey and are occasionally instructed on what to say by the government. Perhaps most contentiously, external signs of piety are banned in public institutions, which means that women are not allowed to wear headscarves in public universities and government offices, and observant men are dismissed from the military.[23] There are periodic protests against the headscarf ban, although the European Court of Human Rights ruled in June 2004 that it is legal, and AKP dropped its attempt to introduce an easing of the ban in the 2004 penal code reforms. A much higher-profile controversy erupted in spring 2004 over an AKP proposal to allow graduates of vocational schools - including Islamic imam hatip schools, where many parents dissatisfied with state education send their children - to enroll in state universities. After the president vetoed the bill, AKP allowed it to drop.

Under the revised penal code, discrimination on the basis of personal characteristics is illegal. Minorities in Turkey are defined by religion, and only Jews (about 25,000 of whom live in Turkey), Greek Orthodox Christians (3,000), and Armenian Orthodox Christians (50,000) are recognized.[24] These groups are not integrated into the Turkish establishment. Although their rights are generally respected, freedom of religion is difficult for non-Muslims. Moreover, many other groups that do not belong to the dominant Sunni Muslim sect have less protection. Other Christian and Muslim groups - including Alevis, who practice a combination of Islam and pre-Islamic religion - as well as mystical religious-social orders have no legal status, and some of their activities are banned. Jewish sites were the targets of terrorist attacks in November 2003, and a Masonic lodge was targeted in March 2004.

The Kurds are the largest group of non-ethnic Turks in Turkey, estimated at about 10 to 12 million people.[25] Many are well integrated and suffer no problems. However, the legacy of the 15-year guerrilla war in the southeast, in which more than 35,000 people were killed,[26] as well as Ataturk's emphasis on Turkishness over multiculturalism, has left the Kurds facing restrictions on their language, their culture, and their freedom of expression. The situation has improved with the EU harmonization reforms; in addition to the start of Kurdish-language broadcasts (see "Accountability and Public Voice"), 2003 regulations allow for classes in Kurdish and Kurdish names for children. But the classes have faced bureaucratic obstacles, and a ban on the letters q, w, and x (which are used in Kurdish but not Turkish) has undermined the reform's intent. More significantly, Kurds suffered severe human rights abuses during the insurgency, and up to 4.5 million were displaced from their homes.[27] About 125,000 have been authorized to return since June 2000, and Kurds have clearly benefited from broader human rights reforms. But village guards - a civil defense force put in place by the central government in the southeast during the insurgency - continue to be insufficiently accountable, and Kurdish freedom of expression still needs greater protection.

The Kurdish population and other ethnic minorities continue to face political roadblocks as well. The Kurdish Democratic People's Party (DEHAP) is accused of being the political arm of the Kongra-Gel - which is considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government as well as the EU and the United States - and has therefore faced continual legal battles and arrests. Still, DEHAP does not represent the interests of most Kurds, who, when living outside the southeast, are generally more integrated and participate in mainstream politics.

The interests of people with disabilities are addressed by the High Council of Disabilities, which brings public officials together with nongovernmental groups. The council has admirable aims and even conducted a thorough survey of people with disabilities in 2002 in order to address problems better. Nevertheless, the needs of such people continue to exceed the limited services provided.[28] There are efforts to integrate children with disabilities into mainstream education through improved accessibility and staff training, but very few can take advantage of their supposed right to education. Thus, most people with disabilities are unskilled. Employers are required to reserve 3 percent of their workforce for employees with disabilities, but few comply, while others hire workers with disabilities to fill the quota, only to fire or retire them soon afterward. The government is starting vocational programs, but discrimination is widespread.[29] Information about government services and regulations are not readily available in formats accessible to people with disabilities.

The constitution protects freedom of association, but broad language in laws leaves room for restrictions despite some tightening through recent reforms. Some local officials exploit bureaucracy to prevent registration of demonstrations, and police regularly disperse peaceful public gatherings, often using excessive force.[30] Regulation of the activities and membership of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has relaxed with recent reforms, but limitations remain. NGOs are often fined, thus making their work difficult and at times financially unfeasible, although imprisonment of members has decreased.[31] Demonstrators and human rights defenders who refer to Kurdish rights or Abdullah Ocalan are particular targets. In June 2004 the interior ministry issued a circular confirming that small informational gatherings do not require government notification.

Employees have the right to join trade unions and cannot be discriminated against for doing so, although fines for discrimination are too small to act as a deterrent.[32] Unions face restrictions on assembly similar to those of civic groups, and public employees do not have the right to strike. While the constitution protects citizens from being forced to join an organization (Article 33), certain fields have compulsory membership in professional organizations.

Rule of Law: 

Turkey's judicial system is characterized by the opposing pulls of, on the one hand, the enlightened reforms passed since 2001 and, on the other, the more traditional attitudes of the court system and especially the judges. While the reforms have increased judicial independence, seriously curbed the role of the military in the justice system, and fundamentally revised the penal code, the judges, prosecutors, and ministry of justice continue to be dominated by pre-reform ideas about defending national integrity, governmental institutions, and Turkish identity. Thus, as in other areas, implementation is the major stumbling block, although not the only one.

According to the constitution (Article 15), everyone has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Recent reforms give all detainees the right to see a lawyer immediately, free of charge, and according to Human Rights Watch, legal counsel has improved markedly since they were passed.[33] However, some rights groups have reported attempts to circumvent proper procedures, and a September 2003 visit by the Council of Europe found that only 3 percent to 7 percent of those detained had seen a lawyer, either because they were unaware of their right or because of concern about how it would impact their cases.[34] Trials can drag on excessively, although the portion of this that is due to overburdened court dockets (as opposed to purposeful neglect in cases of human rights abuses) should be reduced by the establishment of appellate courts as envisioned in a law enacted in September 2004. In order to improve implementation of new reforms, judges and prosecutors have been receiving training in human rights and other values that has continued into 2004.

The Turkish constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the court system is not in fact entirely separate from the executive. The executive plays a strong role in judicial training, appointment, promotion, and financing. Training of judges is inadequate, and because there is no proper review of cases, many of those that end up in the courts result in acquittal due to lack of merit. Public prosecutors in Turkey have a status very close to that of judges, both functionally and symbolically, thus placing the defense in an inferior position. Prosecutors are sometimes pressured by the Ministry of Justice to pursue cases without merit, and the government issues circulars instructing public prosecutors on how to interpret certain laws.

The constitution grants immunity to all legislators and cabinet ministers, and AKP has reneged on a pre-election promise to end immunity. Furthermore, permission is required from the superiors of public officials (or the TGNA in the case of ministers) to open investigations against them. Some officials have been tried after leaving office, but often the statute of limitations has expired before a case can legally be brought against them.

In late September 2004, just ahead of a crucial report on Turkey's progress from the EU Commission, the TGNA approved the first major overhaul of the penal code since it was written 78 years earlier. The new code introduces fundamental changes, such as attempting to make explicit what actions are considered crimes and stating that no other acts are punishable, as well as institutionalizing the concept that punishments should be in proportion to the crimes committed. The revisions fill many of the gaps in the system and were considered essential in order for the commission to recommend that Turkey begin EU negotiations. There are, however, accusations that residual ambiguities still allow judges to interpret some laws at will. More generally, unequal treatment under the law remains a problem, as discrimination against the poor in the administration of justice is common.

Another major change to the justice system has been the May 2004 abolition of State Security Courts. These courts, comprising both civilian and military judges, tried cases against the integrity of the state and had been accused of human rights abuses and an absence of due process. They ruled on such high-profile cases as those involving Ocalan and Erdogan before he was prime minister. The cases formerly under their jurisdiction have been passed to other courts. The end of the State Security Courts is widely considered to be positive, although it remains to be seen whether the types of cases formerly tried in them will be any better served by the new system.

The case in the Turkish system with the most international renown in recent months has been that of Leyla Zana and three other Kurdish former parliamentarians, who were convicted of belonging to the PKK in 1994. The four are widely considered to have been targeted as a result of their (peaceful) pro-Kurdish views, and the European Court of Human Rights in 2001 ruled that their trial was unfair. Their sentences were upheld by a State Security Court in April 2004 in a trial that was criticized by the EU and rights groups, but they were released in June pending an appeal that was ongoing as of September 2004. The trial is considered emblematic of both Turkey's flawed judicial system and the push for Kurdish rights.

The military holds a special place in the Turkish republic. Since Turkey's first military coup, in 1960, it has acted as the guarantor of Turkey's secularism, territorial integrity, and government functioning. While it has never stayed in power long, it used the first and subsequent coups, in 1971 and 1980, to increase its autonomy and enhance its role during civilian rule. In particular, the power of the National Security Council (NSC) - which was dominated by the military - to influence civilian governments was increased. Turkish generals have expressed opinions on everything from judicial decisions to draft bills in the TGNA to EU membership, and those opinions have seldom been ignored. After an Islamic party came to dominate the ruling coalition in 1996, leading to increased fundamentalism, the military forced its removal. During the state of emergency declared in most of the southeast during the guerrilla war in the 1980s, the military wielded particular power in the region.

Reducing the political influence of the military has been a prime concern of the EU. Beginning with the 2001 constitutional amendments, Turkey has confined the NSC to an advisory role with, as of August 2004, a civilian at its head; it has removed the military members from the higher education council and RTUK; and it has increased transparency and parliamentary oversight of military expenditures. The military is still not entirely subservient to the ministry of defense, and its budget remains disproportionately high. The military continues to voice an opinion on political issues (such as the recent controversy over religious schools). However, it is significant that the military did not intervene in situations in which previously it would have been likely to play a role - for example, when the TGNA voted against allowing U.S. troops access to Iraq through Turkish territory in 2003, or when the Turkish government supported the reunification of Cyprus. Public trust in the military is strong, and military schools are among the best in the country, thus contributing to the continued power and prestige of this institution.

Property rights are generally respected in Turkey, although in some areas societal biases impede women from owning property. The most significant property rights problem in Turkey is that of tens of thousands of people who were driven from their homes by government forces during the conflict in the southeast. The government has initiated a project to compensate these people and return them to their villages, and more than 100,000 have returned so far, according to official figures. Some of those displaced have adjusted to their new residences and do not wish to return. However, village guards have allegedly used intimidation and violence to prevent others from returning to their homes.[35]

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Turkey struggles with substantial corruption in government and in daily life. The AKP rose to power despite (or perhaps because of) being relatively unknown in part due to the corruption and economic mismanagement of previous governments. In the last year alone Turkey has signed a series of international corruption conventions, including the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), the UN Convention against Corruption, and the European Convention on the Fight against Corruption. However, AKP's commitment to fighting corruption has been halfhearted at best. Perhaps even more so than with other reforms aimed at EU membership, the anticorruption framework has not translated into individuals changing their behavior.

Upon taking office AKP instituted an urgent action plan that included corruption measures, but it never formed the relevant committee nor has it passed an anticorruption law it drafted. Bureaucracy pervades the system, and regulations are a burden for businesses. The government has made increasing efforts to streamline regulations since the 2001 financial crisis; but although a considerable privatization program is in place to reduce the number of state-owned enterprises, the AKP has lacked the political will required for its implementation. Many government officials have business interests that conflict with their public service duties.[36] All must file asset-disclosure forms, but these forms are inaccessible to the public and are not generally used for investigative purposes. Conflicts of interest in the private sector are regulated by laws in each sector, not by a single piece of legislation. The 2001 crisis sparked the disclosure of the huge conflicts of interest that existed in the financial sector, and new scandals continue to emerge. Conversely, corruption in the education sector is not a serious problem.

Corruption is severely punishable under Turkish law, but many of those cases that make it to court result in acquittal or light sentences.[37] Corruption investigations have served more to publicize corruption than to punish it and can be influenced by political agendas. All legislators and ministers have immunity from prosecution (see "Rule of Law"), despite significant allegations of legislative corruption. Many former ministers have faced corruption charges in recent months, although none were allies of AKP. Most prominently, former prime minister Mesut Yilmaz was accused of interference in the privatization of Turkbank; charges were dropped against Yilmaz in July 2004 due to procedural flaws, but the case is expected to be revived by the TGNA.

The media report widely on such cases and have also revealed lower-level corruption, but journalists risk imprisonment for investigations of those still in office as well as censorship by the business interests that own their outlets.[38] An electrical engineer was killed, allegedly by state agents, in October 2002 after he exposed corruption in the energy sector, but such extreme measures are rare. Citizens do not have an impartial intermediary with whom they can file complaints about corruption; while they can go to the police, the bureaucracy required to pursue a claim tends to be more of a hassle than it is worth.

A court of accounts conducts annual audits of revenues and expenditures of public bodies on behalf of the TGNA, but the irregularities it reveals are rarely investigated.[39] The government has proposed abolishing the central inspection board, which already lacks coordinating powers, without a plan for a new central institution. Tax auditing currently is performed by several different units of the ministry of finance at the national and local level and is largely ineffective, although, in partnership with EU consultants, the ministry of finance has been evaluating the current tax system in order to increase efficiency of tax administration and collection, as well as to implement a new audit system.

A new law ensuring budget transparency went into effect in January 2004, with some provisions to be effective in January 2005, the combined effect of which will improve financial transparency in public institutions through extending the scope of budgets. The law will be enhanced by a new draft law that will reclassify budgets according to international standards and ensure that revenue and expenditure are stated in publicly available budgets. Such measures were required by foreign donors to ensure accountability.

The government launched a reform of the public procurement system in the aftermath of the financial crisis to ensure transparency and accountability, culminating in a new law adopted in 2002. However, AKP overturned certain provisions, leaving room for corruption once again. A law on freedom of information went into effect in April 2004, but implementation has been slow. Civil servants remain reluctant to provide governmental information, in part due to vague provisions in the law exempting state and trade secrets, although some reportedly will respond to bribes.[40]

  • To allow more political pluralism in the TGNA, the 10-percent threshold should be reduced, perhaps to 5 percent.
  • The grounds for sanctions of political parties should be restricted to only those expressions that provoke violence, and dissolution of political parties should be a last resort.
  • The RTUK should be restructured to include members chosen by civil society in addition to those chosen by the government, and its authority should be limited from the current broadcasting principles.
  • Press offenses should not be punishable by imprisonment, and the context of offending statements rather than just their content should be considered when sentencing takes place.
  • The government should establish a commission independent of security forces to perform comprehensive monitoring of police stations and gendarmeries in order to ensure respect for human rights, and findings should be reported to the government and made public.
  • All human rights violations must be promptly and thoroughly investigated and prosecuted, and officials under investigation should be suspended from duty.
  • Restrictions on public gatherings should be limited to those mandated by the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • The principle of multiculturalism needs to be embraced, perhaps through constitutional amendment, to ensure that all religious, ethnic, and cultural groups are treated equally.
  • Governmental immunity must end so that official wrongdoing can be prosecuted properly.
  • Members of the judiciary require training in the provisions of the new penal code, particularly to ensure that punishments are commensurate with the gravity of crimes committed and to ensure that all people are treated equally under the law.
  • Symbolic and literal signs of equality between public prosecutors and judges should be replaced by greater equality between prosecutors and the defense.
  • The village guard system must be abolished to ease the return of displaced people and build trust between the government and the people in the southeast.
  • Governmental immunity must end so that official wrongdoing can be prosecuted properly.
  • Members of the judiciary require training in the provisions of the new penal code, particularly to ensure that punishments are commensurate with the gravity of crimes committed and to ensure that all people are treated equally under the law.
  • Symbolic and literal signs of equality between public prosecutors and judges should be replaced by greater equality between prosecutors and the defense.
  • The village guard system must be abolished to ease the return of displaced people and build trust between the government and the people in the southeast.
Sarah Repucci
Senior Director for Research and Analysis

Sarah Repucci leads Freedom House’s flagship Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press publications. Repucci has more than ten years’ experience in research and evaluation techniques in the areas of democracy, human rights, and good governance. Previously she worked for Transparency International and the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights, and as an independent consultant for a range of NGOs, bilateral and multilateral organizations, and private businesses. She holds a master’s degree from New York University and a BA from Williams College.


[1] I would like to thank the Turkish branch of Transparency International (TSHD), the Eurasia team at the National Democratic Institute, and the staff at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) for their valuable input on this report.

[2] Yilmaz Esmer, "Turkey," Global Integrity Report (Washington, DC: Center for Public Integrity, 10 September 2004), www.publicintegrity.org/ga/country.aspx?cc=tr; "Response of Toplumsal Saydamlik Hareketi Dernegi to EC's Questions about Corruption and Transparency in Turkey" (Istanbul: Toplumsal Saydamlik Hareketi Dernegi [TSHD-TI Turkey], 5 July 2004), www.saydamlik.org/haber.html.

[3] Esmer, "Turkey."

[4] Author interviews, October 2004.

[5] Author interview, 14 October 2004; "Turkey: Restrictive Laws, Arbitrary Application - The Pressure on Human Rights Defenders" (New York: Amnesty International [AI], 12 February 2004).

[6] "Turkey Annual Report" (Vienna: International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights[IHF-HR], 23 June 2004).

[7] "Turkish Human Rights Details Alleged Abuses in First Half of 2004," BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 18 July 2004.

[8] Esmer, "Turkey"; author interview, 26 October 2004.

[9] L. Dogan Tilic, "Media Ownership Structure in Turkey" (Ankara: Progressive Journalists Association, January 2000); author interviews, October 2004.

[10] Author interview with Human Rights Association (Ankara), 28 October 2004.

[11] "Report to the Turkish Government on the Visit to Turkey Carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 7 to 15 September 2003" (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 18 June 2004).

[12] "Turkey: Rights Progress Marred in Key Year for EU Bid" (New York: Human Rights Watch [HRW], 3 March 2004); Senem Aydin and E. Fuat Keyman, "European Integration and the Transformation of Turkish Democracy" (Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies, EU - Turkey Working Papers no 2, August 2004).

[13] "Turkish Human Rights . . .," BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 18 July 2004; "Eradicating Torture in Turkey's Police Stations," (New York: HRW, September 2004); "Turkey: Prime Minister Erdogan must convert his political promise of human rights into reality" (New York: Amnesty International, press release, AI Index EUR 44/008/2004, 13 February 2004); Aydin and Keyman, "European Integration..."

[14] "Turkey: Ill-treatment/fear for safety" (New York: Amnesty International, Urgent Action, AI Index EUR 44/019/2004, 19 May 2004).

[15] "Turkey Annual Report" (IHF-HR).

[16] "Report to the Turkish Government on the Visit to Turkey Carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 16 to 17 February 2003" (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 25 February 2004).

[17] "Turkish Human Rights . . .," BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 18 July 2004. [18] Author interview with Human Rights Association (Ankara), 28 October 2004.

[19] "Turkey: Women Confronting Family Violence," Stop Violence against Women series (New York: Amnesty International, June 2004).

[20] Vincent Boland, "Lack of Opportunity for Girls Could Affect Turkey's EU Hopes," Financial Times, 25 May 2004.

[21] "Response of the Republic of Turkey to the Questionnaire on Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action" (Ankara: Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry, April 2004).

[22] Ibid.; Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington DC: U.S. Dept of State, June 2004).

[23] Levent Korkut, "Country Report: Turkey," Report on Measures to Combat Discrimination in the 13 Candidate Countries (Brussels: Migration Policy Group, May 2003).

[24] Aydin and Keyman, "European Integration..."

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] "Profile of Internal Displacement: Turkey" (Geneva: Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP Project, 5 April 2004.

[28] Irem Cosansu Yalazan, "Disability Culture: An Overview of Services for People with Disabilities in Turkey," Access Press,13, 2 (10 February 2002); author interview, 28 October 2004.

[29] Yalazan, "Disability Culture"; Korkut, "Country Report: Turkey"; author interview, October 2004.

[30] "Turkey: Continuing Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly," letter to Abdullah Gul (New York: Human Rights Watch, 28 April 2004); "Turkey Annual Report" (IHF-HR); author interview with Human Rights Association, 28 October 2004.

[31] "Turkey: Restrictive Laws..." (AI); author interview with Human Rights Association, 28 October 2004; author interview with Mazlumder (Ankara), 28 October 2004.

[32] "Turkey: Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights" (Brussels: International Confederation of Free Trade Unions [ICFTU], 2004). [33] "Turkey: Rights Progress Marred..." (HRW).

[34] Ibid.; "Turkey: Ill-treatment..." (AI); "Report to the Turkish Government on the Visit to Turkey Carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 7 to 15 September 2003" (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 18 June 2004).

[35] Aydin and Keyman, "European Integration and the Transformation of Turkish Democracy"; "Turkey Annual Report" (IHF-HR).

[36] "Response of Toplumsal Saydamlik Hareketi Dernegi to EC's Questions about Corruption and Transparency in Turkey" (TSHD-TI Turkey), www.saydamlik.org/haber.html.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.; author interview, 26 October 2004.

[39] Esmer, "Turkey"

[40] Esmer, "Turkey"; David Banisar, "The Freedominfo.org Global Survey: Freedom of Information and Access to Government Record Laws around the World" (Washington, DC: Freedominfo.org, May 2004).