Impoverishment and mass detention of Turkey’s purge victims

In the World Justice Project’s The 2022 WJP Rule of Law Index, out of 140 countries, Turkey ranked 116th, 107th, 134th and  136th  in terms of general rule of law index, freedom from unlawful expropriation of private property, constraints on government powers and being subject to non-governmental checks, respectively. As Turkey moves away from the rule of law and democratic checks-balances, the economy has declined in an unprecedented way.

Related Post: Turkey further downs on the rule of law index


Ümit Özlale, the Head of Development Policies of the opposition, İyi Party says that since after World War II, poverty in Turkey never increased at the same pace as it has increased in 2022. He adds that his evaluation is based on the Turkish government’s own official statistics. Since 2016, the economy has been going from bad to worse. Inflation hit 85%, the Turkish Lira has been in free fall and the unemployment rate highest since 2016.

Purge victims among hardest-hit by Turkey’s deteriorating economy

Although this affects each and every single person who lives in Turkey, it is not the only challenge for those who have been targeted by Turkey’s AKP government after 2016 to overcome. They also have to endure the systematic persecution which surrounds all spheres of one’s life.

It has been more than six years since the Turkish Government declared a state of emergency which gave extraordinary powers to state authorities enabling them to summarily dismiss civil servants and confiscate private property. Although the state of emergency lasted two years until July 2018, these powers continued to stay in effect for another four years and ended only in July 2022.

The Turkish government summarily dismissed at least 125,000 civil servants without due process. Those dismissed through emergency decrees have been living in very harsh circumstances for years. According to a report titled No Country for Purge Victims, they are denied the most basic rights to lead a dignified life. They have been subjected to at least thirty types of deprivations or discrimination that surround all spheres of the professional, social, and private life of an individual. They are not able to work even in the lowest-paid jobs, let alone carry out their own professions as lawyers, accountants, or engineers. They are denied health insurance or any social allowance. Even state aid offered to earthquake victims or benefits provided to disabled people are denied to them and their families.  Similarly, tax exemptions such as property tax exemptions allowed to those who have only a single house are denied from them.

Report: No Country for Purge Victims


In a flagrant breach of the right to privacy, a wide majority of these people are listed on the database of all public and private entities such as banks and are not allowed to open bank accounts or receive funds which may be remitted to them by electronic funds transfer.

On the other hand, people have been subjected to criminal investigations, mass arrests and imprisonment on an industrial scale over their alleged membership in the Gulen Movement which the Turkish Government have proscribed. According to the official statements 622,646 people have been investigated and of those 332,884 have been arrested by the police, and more than 101,000 have been remanded as per Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code that stipulated membership in a terrorist organisation.

[Analysis] Turkey abuses anti-terror laws to suppress critics

The people in question have lost their jobs, pension rights, health insurance, licenses, and titles overnight and were declared terrorists and public enemies. The public officials, state-run and pro-government media constantly call them traitors, viruses, spies and terrorists, but face no consequences that they could possibly face even in semi-democracies. Yet, the Turkish government’s rage did not subside, and it went on to confiscate the private property of those people worth at least USD 32 billion in a bid to impoverish them. It also has frozen a total of 213,696 real estates owned by them and in some instances evicted the owner from his/her own home.

Against all odds, these people whom one may call victims of the evilest persecution in Turkey’s history have been peacefully resisting all kinds of coercive measures by the Turkish government including systematic arbitrary detention and impoverishment standing in solidarity with each other. On a stroll at a farmers’ market in most Turkish cities, you may come across a dismissed judge selling watermelons in order to put bread on the table for his family, or a prominent academic in engineering working in construction. Despite these conditions they live in, they generously shared their humble bread with those who are in a more desperate financial situation.

The fact that they choose to remain peaceful in the face of most cruel government practices and that they still gallantly look after one another obviously angers and scares Turkey’s vindictive AKP government so much so that on 18 October 2022, 704 individuals, including more than 250 women, mostly family members of those in prison, were arrested for giving or receiving money or food to and from one another. This operation is not an isolated case. Those monitoring the country can witness that the Turkish police regularly carry out similar operations under the pretext of fighting terrorist financing. Actually, these operations are to further impoverish the victims of persecution, and it clearly has nothing to do with fighting terrorist financing. For instance, a man in the province of Corum was taken into custody and later detained for giving away potatoes, onions and apples he grew in his back garden to families of the Gülenist prisoners whom he personally met while he himself was serving a sentence.

Turkey’s AKP government’s policies of systematic mass detentions, mass-summary confiscations of private properties and assets, state-run discrimination practises and demonizing rhetoric of public officials and pro-government media, have left these people marginalized, impoverished and deprived them of their socio-economic rights enshrined both by the Constitution, the UN covenants (ICCPR & ICESCR) and the ECHR.

All these severe deprivations of fundamental rights together may possibly give rise to a crime against humanity of persecution as criminalized by the Rome Statute under its Article 7/1-h. According to this article persecution against any identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, or gender may constitute a crime against humanity. Elements of this crime are as follows:

  • The perpetrator severely deprived, contrary to international law, one or more persons of fundamental rights, by reason of the identity of a group. Such targeting was based on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law.
  • The conduct was committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.
  • The perpetrator knew that the conduct was part of or intended the conduct to be part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.
  • The conduct was committed in connection with any act referred to in article 7, paragraph 1, of the Statute such as arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has constantly found that detentions on grounds of membership in the Gulen Movement constitute Category V violation, in other words, arbitrary detention on the basis of their political or other opinions. In two of the most recent cases, WGAD said: “The Working Group notes that the present case is the most recent concerning individuals with alleged links to … (the Hizmet Movement) that have come before the Working Group in the past three years. In all these cases, the Working Group has found that the detention of the individuals concerned was arbitrary. It notes a pattern of targeting those with alleged links to the …  (the Hizmet Movement) on the discriminatory basis of their political or other opinions. … A pattern is emerging whereby those with alleged links to the Hizmet Movement are being targeted on the basis of their political or other opinions, in violation of Article 26 of the Covenant. … The Working Group expresses its concern over the pattern that all these cases follow and recalls that, under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment, or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law, may constitute crimes against humanity.”

In light of these WGAD findings, one can safely suggest that persecution of those targeted with state of emergency decrees coupled with the systematic mass arbitrary imprisonment, acts of torture as well as enforced disappearances may constitute the crime against humanity of persecution as stipulated in Article 7 of Rome Statute. The alarm bells that are long ringing for Turkey are ringing for a reason.

Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog

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