September 2023 | Appeals court upholds life sentence for Osman Kavala
On 28 September the court of cassation, the Supreme Court of Appeals, upheld human rights defender Osman Kavala’s life sentence in prison. He was originally sentenced in April 2022 after being held in detention since 2017 for alleged involvement in anti-government protests in 2013. The 2022 ruling also included 18-year sentences for seven others, three of which were overturned. The appeals court decision has been widely condemned by human rights organisations, which coordinated by Human Rights Watch, have issued a statement describing it as a “political show trial” and a punishment “for the legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”. In 2019 the European Court of Human Rights ruled the detentions to be unlawful and requested that the seven detainees be freed, launching infringement proceedings against the country in 2022 after it failed to abide by the judgement. Türkiye may now face suspension from the Council of Europe.
July 2023 | Residents protest logging of Akbelen forest
Locals are protesting the clearing of 740,000 square meters of forest in Akbelen for a coal mine owned by YK Energy, a company with ties to the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party. The protests are led mostly by women, who have defended the forest from logging for years, arguing for its importance in sustaining their community. Security forces have responded violently with tear gas and water cannons, making at least 40 arrests. Journalists and local politicians trying to enter the forest have been fined or arrested. Two delegations of MPs, one from the leading opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the other from the Green Left Party (YSP) were barred from visiting the site. Over 300 civil society organizations have expressed their support for the protests, and human rights groups have labelled the logging as an infringement of the right to live in a “safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” Nonetheless, after a week, the area was cleared.
June 2023 | Police detain protesters at banned Pride Marches
At least 113 protesters who assembled in an effort to hold a banned Pride March were detained and later released by the Istanbul police. Pride marches and events were banned for a ninth consecutive year in Istanbul, with the governor of Istanbul declaring that no activities that “weaken the institution of the family” would be allowed to take place and asking citizens not to join but to criticize such actions. LGBTQIA+ parades and events were banned across the country during the Pride month, with at least 52 protesters detained in Izmir. Despite court decisions in the last three years having found that these bans were unlawful and violate the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, this year’s bans have again breached the protesters’ right of peaceful assembly. In June, an official from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said they have brought up a constitutional amendment proposal that aims at shutting down all LGBTQIA+ associations in Türkiye.
May 2023 | Erdoğan wins presidential election
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power for 20 years, was re-elected in Turkey’s two-round presidential race, securing just over 52 per cent of the vote. His rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, called elections unfair and accused Russia of interference. International observers stated that media bias and limits to freedom of expression led to an unjustified advantage for the incumbent. Inflation and the subsequent rebuilding efforts following the earthquakes will be Erdoğan’s top priorities. The elections spotlighted the country’s deep polarization, particularly between secularists and Islamists. While the opposition aimed at restoring parliamentary democracy, the victory gives Erdoğan significant influence not only on Turkey’s democratic trajectory but also in global affairs. The 600-seat parliament will host 16 parties, with Erdoğan’s People’s Alliance coalition having a majority of 323 MPs. While the number of women in parliament remains low, it saw a rise from 100 seats in the previous term to 121 in the current one. Only five lawmakers are under the age of 30. Similar to 2018, voter turnout was at 87 per cent.