The ongoing oppression on civil society organizations and human rights defenders is mounting at the alarming rate every passing day. The right to demonstrate peacefully is precluded by the disproportionate and illegal intervention of the security forces in line with the decisions taken by the political power. Civil society employees and executives remain under pressure exerted on the part of the judiciary due to the reports and press statements they prepare within the scope of the activities of the association, and their freedom of expression is restricted. Non-governmental organizations are trying to defend themselves each day before new lawsuits filed against them. 

Civil society organizations were put under an even graver threat and duress by means of a law proposal that had been got through the Turkish Grand National Assembly in the last days of 2020. Law No. 7262 on “Preventing the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction”, which was published in the Official Gazette on December 31, 2020, became law despite the reaction of 694 non-governmental organizations emphasizing the violation of the Constitution and freedom of association. 

The law, which makes it possible to appoint trustees to civil society organizations in violation of the rights advocacy activities and freedom of association as guaranteed under international law and the Constitution, to impose expedited arbitrary closure and to expose those prosecuted for civil society activities to “civil death” was rapidly passed from the General Assembly of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, regardless of the extremely significant objections and criticisms expressed by civil society and legal institutions. The by-law instructing how the some articles of the law will be implemented was published in the Official Gazette on 26.02.2021. However, by-law instructing on civil society-related law articles is yet to be declared. Many issues such as what sort of changes and amendments the law enforcement stipulates and how will it be reflected on civil society activities remain uncertain. 

Predicating on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions regarding the prevention of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and the principles determined by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Law is prepared and introduced draws criticism that the measures foreseen to be taken are not focused and proportionate, and that the measures seem not to avoid restricting or preventing NGOs’ legitimate activities in defiance of FATF recommendations. In TÜSEV’s (Third Sector Foundation of Turkey) study on the subject, it is stated that the Law transcends the requirements set forth by FATF and imposes broad sanctions and restrictions on the civil rights realm. UN Special Rapporteurs conducted a study regarding the law, which has also come to the fore in the world public opinion. The rapporteurs are waiting for a response from the government for their letter written in detail and sent to Turkey with an emphasis on the said law that it is incompatible with human rights and democratic practices.

Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović of the Council of Europe for which Turkey is one of the founding members had also sent a letter addressing Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül regarding the law. It was reiterated in this letter that the law which paves the way for closing the NGOs and ceasing their activities and appointing trustees to these institutions is contrary to the freedom of association. Furthermore, Mijatović drew attention to the peril that the law may put NGOs and their legitimate activities under restraint, entail arbitrary practices contrary to transparency, be manipulated to suppress opposing voices and called for the exigence of harmonization with the relevant agreements of Council of Europe and other binding universal international agreements. For these reasons, the Commissioner for Human Rights called for the law to be suspended pending a review by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in June 2021. 

In his reply to this letter of Mijatović, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu asserted claiming the allegations that the law violates the freedom of association are due to misunderstandings based on incomplete and biased information, the measures taken within the scope of the fight against terrorism remain within “legitimate limitations” and he emphasized that similar examples are existing in Europe.

Inadequate and fallacious implementation of FATF principles is including but not limited to Turkey. In many countries such as Serbia and Bulgaria, practices implemented within the scope of FATF principles have led to restrictive consequences for civil society. FATF which finally took the criticisms brought into account announced that it will initiate a working group to prevent the implementation of the principles beyond what had been initially intended in a manner that suppresses the civil society.

In the meantime, civil society organizations of which activities were postponed and interrupted, began to be subjected to auditing and inspection on top of the compelling circumstances brought forth by the pandemic. Since January, many non-governmental organizations have been informed that they will be inspected by the Ministry of Interior, and the audit processes have been promptly initiated. 

When the inspections commenced, the suspension decision, which was first introduced on 16.03.2020 due to pandemic measures regarding the General Assembly and Board of Directors election processes, which are the basis of the administrative functioning of non-governmental organizations, and prolonged in accordance with the decisions taken over time, was still in effect. This restraining implementation which was abrogated on March 1, 2021 after about a year, and banned administrative activities with broad participation, had an adverse impact on civil society in many aspects, while bringing the activities of some institutions to a standstill both in the field and administratively. The implementation of restrictions on activities of a similar nature, such as political party congresses and meetings, without discussing alternative methods (online general assemblies, etc.) made the impression that the pandemic was merely a pretext to restrain civil society.

It has not yet been announced which associations are subjected to this audit process that had been initiated in January and the criteria for the list of those to be audited. It still remains uncertain whether the auditees are institutions that carry out rights-based work, institutions that provide project financing from international organizations, or institutions that benefit from European Union funds. This uncertainty dominating the process in general and justified question marks about the intention of the inspections arises from the fact that the Ministry of Interior does not carry out the process in a transparent manner. 

Under pandemic conditions, while non-governmental organizations, like all constituent segments of the society, have difficulties in carrying out their activities thus these consecutive inspections are quite untimely due to the challenges mentioned above. It is beyond any doubt that non-governmental organizations, which have vital functions for society, do not object to the ordinary, lawful and bona fides inspections. The supervision of institutions and the operation of the principle of accountability are prerequisites of a society based on confidence, however these mechanisms should not become means of oppression, punishment and intimidation, and effective measures should be taken against arbitrary practices.

We, as constituents of the Human Rights Defenders Solidarity Network introduce a demand that:

  • The implementations which restrain civil society activities required by democratic societies should be terminated as soon as possible;
  • Law No. 7262, which alludes non-governmental organizations as a potential danger and authorizes appointment of trustees to them should be amended in accordance with its purpose and civil society should be protected and removed from being the target of the judiciary;
  • The non-governmental organizations should be included in all decision making and preliminary processes regarding legislative regulations that will affect them, and their opinions and suggestions should be taken into account.