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EU Commission 2023 Türkiye Report Published: Regression on Civil Society and Freedom of Association Continues

The European Union (EU) Commission published the "Türkiye Report" within the scope of the 2022 Enlargement Package. The 2023 Enlargement Package, which includes the latest assessments of the EU Commission covering 10 countries that are conducting full membership negotiations with the EU, candidate and aspiring candidate countries, was announced at a press conference by Oliver Varhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement.

The Turkey Report contains serious criticisms on issues related to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, while it is stated that the decline in the issues related to civil society and freedom of association continues to be serious.

The report reads as follows: 

"The serious deterioration in the civil society environment continued. Civil society faced constant pressure from the authorities. Human rights organisations shut down under the state of emergency were not provided with any legal recourse in relation to the seizures. Human rights defender Osman Kavala and other defendants in the Gezi trial remained in prison without parole, despite the ECtHR judgement. The implementation of the Law on the Prevention of Financing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction further increased restrictions and pressures on civil society."

Despite negative developments, civil society continues to actively participate in life

Despite all the negative developments, civil society continued to make its voice heard and actively participate in civic life, including providing support to people affected by the February 2023 earthquakes, the report said. The report also called for systematic and inclusive mechanisms to ensure that independent civil society organisations are effectively consulted on new legislation and policies.

'Civil society organisations faced pressure'

The report also noted that in the immediate aftermath of the February 2023 earthquakes, civil society faced pressure from the authorities when delivering aid on the ground and NGOs were prevented from reporting on the situation in the affected areas. 

The report also noted that human rights organisations and human rights defenders faced judicial and administrative pressure, partly due to Turkey's broad definition of terrorism, but that in some cases the judiciary issued positive rulings and some human rights defenders were acquitted and released from prison.

Some media outlets close to the government continue to portray human rights defenders as terrorists and criminals, particularly because they accept funding from international donors, including the EU, it said:

"The defamatory rhetoric used by senior public officials when commenting on cases involving human rights defenders is a matter of serious concern and raises doubts about the integrity of judicial processes and the right to a fair trial."

The report noted that women's organisations faced pressure in the form of defamation, detention, investigations and arrests, and that stigmatisation, hate speech and discriminatory discourse against LGBTIQ civil society organisations and individuals remained strong.

"The legal framework governing the work of civil society organisations lacks clarity"

The report underlined that the legal framework governing the work of civil society organisations lacks clarity and risks arbitrariness in practice, while associations continue to be required to register their members in the information system of the Ministry of Interior. This legal obligation is not in line with OSCE/Council of Europe principles on freedom of association.

The report said that the Law on Collection of Aid continues to discourage fundraising activities of civil society organisations and imposes onerous permit requirements that effectively limit civil society activities. The report noted that: 

"Heavy taxation has hampered the functioning and development of foundations and associations. The status of "public benefit" for associations and "tax exemption" for foundations is vaguely defined and arbitrarily granted by the President. Foreign donors providing financial support to civil society in Turkey are often vilified and beneficiary CSOs risk having their activities criminalised for receiving foreign funding.

The 2023 Enlargement Package includes Turkey, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Ukraine and Moldova.

To read the full report:

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