We have launched a new campaign to support a world where rights defenders can freely fight for a democratic society.
With our campaign, we aim to understand and explain the risks faced by rights defenders, to promote and support rights advocacy and encourage others to become rights defenders, and to celebrate the legacy that rights defenders leave to society.
Help us spread the content we share throughout the campaign and support us in
strengthening the reputation of rights defenders!
Our report is published!
One of these contents, our report Keep The Volume Up: Intimidation Policies Against Rights Defenders 2015-2021, is now online!
The report provides an analysis of the administrative and judicial obstacles and media smear campaigns faced by the rights defenders at-risk, whose profiles we feature on our Keep The Volume Up website.
This analysis demonstrates that the interferences with civic space and rights defenders range from enacting new laws that impede the activities of civil society to malicious abuse of the current legislation, especially the anti-terrorism and national security laws, and from abusing administrative and judicial powers to controlling the media and organizing smear campaigns based on unfounded news.
Presenting a panorama of all these interventions, our report was written with the purpose of identifying the major problems and inspiring innovative and creative strategies to resist them.
Visualization of the report
Video: Yaftalar (Labels)
We launched the campaign with the video Yaftalar (“Labels”). In the video, we see various labels thrown at us, which creates a somewhat uncanny atmosphere. Our aim is to show that we reject and subvert these labels.
- Share the video on your Twitter or Instagram accounts,
- Write the thing you were labeled with most recently,
- Tag a friend!
While we are all affected by the tactics of intimidation and smear campaigns against the democratic opposition in Turkey and around the world, the ones who are in the focus of these intimidation policies are the rights defenders who remind us of the limits to the state’s monopoly of violence. Dissatisfied with this limitation on their power, authoritarian regimes have in recent years increased the level of pressure to criminalize, intimidate and neutralize non-governmental organizations and rights defenders. That is why we think that it is more important than ever to assert the value and importance of rights defenders and rights advocacy.
Who is a rights defender?
Rights defender is a term used to describe people who, individually or in association with others, act peacefully to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Rights defenders working for the protection and promotion of human rights act objectively on rights-based principles, regardless of the identity of the victim or perpetrator of any rights violation. This definition, derived from the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998, is interpreted in the light of Fact Sheet No. 29 issued by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2004. The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which incorporates the rights and freedoms protected in binding international instruments, recognizes the defense of human rights as a right and obliges states to protect and support rights defenders.
While international reference documents use the term “human rights defender,” we at Truth Justice Memory Center prefer to use the term “rights defender” in our work. One reason for this choice is the criticism that the abstract human subject in the notion of “human rights” ignores the violations that women and LGBTI+ individuals are subjected to. Another reason is that we intend to avoid the anthropocentric approach that excludes ecological and animal rights.
What do rights defenders do?
They stand against injustice regardless of the identity of the victim and the perpetrator. They fight for justice against injustices they experience or witness and make these violations of rights public. Rights defenders uncover the truth about violations through field research, documentation and reporting, they organize press releases, panels, conferences, workshops etc. to share information with the public, and they express their demands in the public sphere through non-violent street protests and vigils. Impunity, violations of the right to life, discrimination, minority rights, labor rights, occupational homicides, ecological struggles, the right to a clean environment, women’s and LGBTI+ rights, sexual violence, migrant rights, and the rights of disabled person are some of the issues on which rights defenders work.
What is civic space?
Civic space refers to the environment in which individuals and groups in society participate in a meaningful way in political, economic, social, and cultural life. States shape the legal and policy space within which people express views, assemble, associate, and engage in dialogue with one another and with authorities about issues that affect their lives, from the quality of basic services to bettering institutions and respect for fundamental freedoms. Civil society actors – including rights defenders, women advocates, children, young people, members of minorities and indigenous people, trade unionists and journalists – should be able to express themselves freely in full security and effect change peacefully and effectively.
Why does civic space matter?
Civic space is the foundation of an open and democratic society. When a society’s civic space is open, pluralistic, and safe, social segments can play a role in policy development and participate in decision-making processes on issues affecting their lives, without fear of intimidation, stigmatization, and reprisals. The freedoms of expression, of association, and of peaceful assembly should apply at all times and any restrictions must comply with international human rights law, i.e., must not discriminate, must be provided for by law, and be necessary and proportionate.
How is the civic space being shrunk?
One of the methods authoritarian regimes most commonly employ to restrict civic space is the marginalization of certain groups and segments, which also serves to increase social polarization, dividing society into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ They try to create a ground of legitimacy by relying on public order and the fight against terrorism, traditional lifestyle and moral values, and throw women, LGBTI+s, immigrants, and other disadvantaged groups and those defending their rights under the bus as scapegoats.
In such a political climate, security policies are also on the rise. As the power granted to law enforcement agencies are gradually expanded, we witness how the police uses excessive force, even to disperse peaceful protests.
Moreover, new regulations are passed to prevent journalists covering peaceful protests and demonstrations from filming and documenting violence against rights defenders. All of this is accompanied by the elimination of checks and balances, the corruption of public institutions, and the undermining of the independence of the judiciary.
How did Turkey’s civic space shrink?
The shrinking of civic space in Turkey, which went through various stages, can be traced back to the Gezi Park protests in 2013. After this date, security policies were gradually but rapidly tightened. In the meantime, the shrinking of civic space in Turkey has become chronic and structural. Some of the major developments that contributed to this fact are the destructive conflict in the Kurdish provinces after the failed solution process between the Turkish state and the PKK and the state of emergency declared to combat the coup attempt in 2016. Taking advantage of the state of emergency, the decree laws issued during this period were abused to suppress anti-government attitudes and criticisms and a referendum was held to bring about Turkey’s transition to the Presidential Government System.
Why did Hafiza Merkezi start to work in this field?
Faced with the political transformation Turkey has been going through over the last 10 years, we at Truth Justice Memory Center have been searching for ways to respond to this transformation for some time. In our early years, we focused on proposing a framework for dealing with the past for Turkey, and on doing so through our documentation activities to uncover the truth about enforced disappearances. However, as a consequence of long yet fruitful discussions, we decided to expand our focus to include the goal of supporting human rights organizations and defenders
Since 2018, we have been carrying out different activities to increase the visibility of the trials and investigations faced by rights defenders who work under increasing risk in Turkey, and the pressures faced by human rights organizations. At the center of our activities is the website SessizKalma.org, where you can view the portraits of Turkey’s rights defenders at risk, find summaries and a trial calendar regarding the cases we monitor, and follow new developments in the news section.
What are our demands for rights defenders?
Turkey has to put an end to policies aimed at silencing and preventing rights defenders, ensuring that the judicial system is free from all kinds of political influence, and that the erosion in the judiciary and the state-centered approach in judicial and investigation processes are ended.
In order to support the struggles of rights defenders and for a functioning democracy, rule of law and human rights:
- All necessary measures must be taken urgently to ensure the effective implementation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in Turkey.
- Compliance with the principles of pluralism and respect for differences, which are the basic principles of a democratic society based on the rule of law and human rights, should be ensured.
- Freedom of expression of rights defenders and all opposition must be protected by creating a public discussion environment that will allow criticism.
- The restrictive legal regulations in the Turkish Penal Code, the Anti-Terror Law and the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations, which are the sources of interventions against rights defenders, should be harmonized with international human rights standards.
- The amendments made in the Law on Associations and the Regulation on Associations and the Law on the Prevention of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, as well as other legal regulations that seriously jeopardize the freedom of association, should be revoked.
- Rights defenders should not be subject to legal and administrative sanctions such as arbitrary detention, arrest, investigation and prosecution, retaliation, and targeting for their legitimate and legal advocacy activities.
- Rights defenders who continue to be detained unlawfully due to their legitimate and legal advocacy activities should be released.
- The politically dependent structure of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors should be ended, and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary should be guaranteed both at the legislative level and in practice.
- All legal regulations limiting the use of the freedom of assembly and demonstration should be revoked, and the arbitrary use of the powers granted to the administrative authorities should be rescinded.
- Police officers who intervene in peaceful meetings and demonstrations by using excessive force should be prosecuted effectively and appropriately punished.
- The exposure of rights defenders to negative rhetoric, smear campaigns, stigmatization and marginalization in the media must be stopped.
- The international community and human rights bodies should continue their work on monitoring, reporting and making statements on the situation of rights defenders, and should make country visits to Turkey for these purposes.
The “Yaftalar” video and the report illustrations were designed by Ayşe Ezgi Yıldız and conceptualized and produced by Beste Yamalıoğlu. Truth Justice Memory Center would like to thank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Turkey Office for their contributions for the realization of this campaign. Contents of this campaign are under the responsibility of the Truth Justice Memory Center and does not reﬂect the views of its supporters.