In the beginning of the 1990s, when intense battles were taking place between PKK and the Turkish Security Forces, the Law on the Fight Against Terrorism (Terörle Mücadele Kanunu, TMK) was passed by the parliament on April 12th 1991 in order to secure the domestic safety of the government. Article 8 of this law stated:
“Regardless of method or intent, written or oral propaganda along with meetings, demonstrations, and marches that have the goal of destroying the indivisible unity of the state with its territory and nation of the Republic of Turkey cannot be conducted.”
This article was later discussed as it was seen as a severe restriction of freedom of speech and a threat to Turkey’s progress towards membership of the European Union. Therefore, in 2003, the article was repealed.
But in 2004, when tension between PKK and the Turkish Security Forces arose once again and the Şemdinli Incident took place, the softening of the anti-terror law was criticized from inside the government. When 4 members of PKK were killed on March 26th, 2006, demonstrations among the Kurdish people started growing. 10 people, 6 of them under the age of 18, were killed. The Prime Minister addressed these demonstrations in his speech on April 1st, 2006:
“I am calling out to the mothers and fathers. Those of you who send your children to the streets and let them be used by terror organizations, your cries will be in vain. Our security forces will regardless of them being children or women, whoever they are, if they have become of use to terror; take the necessary interventions. No democratic standard will allow such violence.”
Therefore, on June 2006, further changes were made in the anti-terror law. This time, it was not in favor of the freedom of speech.
Due to the changes in the law, it was now
– possible to prosecute children outside the courts of justice that were specifically in use for children
– possible to prosecute children above the age of 15 at the criminal courts for adults by the anti-terror law (TMK)
– prohibited to change the prison sentence to alternative sanctions or to postpone the sentence.
Between 2006-2010 approximately 4000 children were arrested and/or taken into custody for reasons such as throwing stones at the police, having scars in their palms resembling the use of stones and being sweaty. These children were called “the stone-throwing kids” and the anti-terror law TMK was now publicly being called “the law about the stone-throwing kids.”
A group of people including lawyers, academicians, artists, journalists, families of the children and other concerned citizens created the project Çocuklar İçin Adalet Çağrıcıları(Justice Inviters for Children). Thanks to their efforts in organizing demonstrations, events and meetings, attending trials, bringing the issue to the media, meeting with governmental officers and writing out reports, a change in the TMK law was made on June 2010. The changes were for the benefit of the children, removed the possibility of accusing children as terrorists and made it a requirement for children to be tried at Juvenile Courts instead of criminal courts for adults. Afterwards most of the imprisoned children were freed.
But the changes made in the law have according to IHD (The Turkish Human Rights Association) not changed the approach towards the children and some are still being prosecuted by the standards of TMK.
According to the Ministry of Justice in Turkey, the number of detained and sentenced prisoners from age 12 to 17 in Turkey by February 13th was 1,914.
On February 18th, 2013 the Turkish Minister of Justice, Sadullah Ergin, issued a press release and stated that the number of prisons for children would be increased from 5 to 15 by 2016. These would all be F-Type prisons, officially named F-type High Security Closed Institutions for the Execution of Sentences.
The F-Type prisons in Turkey are characterized by the imprisonment of dangerous prisoners including members of armed organizations, people committing crimes against humanity, people convicted of drug offences or murder, and those with aggravated life sentences. The prisons have cells for 1-3 people and the prisoners do not have open access to the prison facilities, as the doors and corridors are held close to minimize the risk these “dangerous” prisoners pose (article 9 of the Law 5275 on the Execution of Sentences).
The conditions of the imprisoned children in Turkey have with the claims about the unfair conditions in the Adana Pozantı Juvenile Prison in 2011 yet again become a subject of discussion in Turkey. Information gathered from different prisons has shown that an inhumane treatment of the children has been and is still taking place.
According to a report made by Dicle News Agency (DIHA) in 2012, H.K. (15) who stayed at Pozantı Prison for 4 months stated:
“Some of our friends have been raped numerous times by the ordinary prisoners. Sometimes they pulled down our pants by force. It is impossible to explain what we have experienced.”
Another imprisoned child, Ş.A. (17) said:
“I have been through extremely bad things there. The ordinary prisoners were binding and squeezing our necks with ropes. They were beating us. They were calling us terrorists and handing out flags for us to kiss. If we did not want to kiss it, they would just continue beating us.”
An administrative investigation about the Pozantı Prison has not taken place. The only outcome of the media coverage was the closure of the prison.
In 2013, another scandal about the imprisonment of children came to light, this time in the Antalya L type Prison. An anonymous prisoner stated that the Kurdish children M.L.B and S.Ö. were raped repeatedly. According to this prisoner, another prisoner had been raping more than 10 children.
An anonymous officer who works at the Şakran Prison stated in 2013:
“You know the saying that a place is like a five star hotel; well, here we are working to offer a ten star hotel standard for the children.”
But a report by Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği (The Contemporary Jurists’ Association) states that this is not the case. Their report was written based on face to face interviews with the imprisoned children, as the prison administration did not allow any observation of the prison. According to the report, a ‘sponge room’ was explained in details by two different children during two separate interviews. Likewise, different children explained in details the pipe that the prison workers supposedly used to beat the children.
Similar inhumane conditions have been reported about the Kürkçüler and Sincan Prisons.
For these reasons, following the unacceptable circumstances in the juvenile prisons and due to the point the justice system for children in Turkey has come to, 14 different NGOs in Turkey came together and prepared a declaration on January 15th, 2014. The declaration demands
– That a civil and independent investigation and inspection, convenient to the standards of the CPT (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture), is initiated
– That the abuse of rights that the imprisoned children have encountered to this day is detected, prevented and that these abuses are not repeated
– That those responsible for the abuse of rights to this day are not let free unpunished and that an active mechanism of judgment is therefore established
– That the imprisonment of the judged children is put to an end, that the Ministry of Justice abandons the plan of increasing the number of prisons for children from 5 to 15 F-type prisons by 2016, and that all of the remaining prisons are closed.
The Turkish Government is creating terrorism in the name of fighting terrorism. It is being undemocratic in the name of democracy. It is imprisoning and torturing children that it has promised guardianship and rights by signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Children, regardless of what crime they have committed, should not be isolated from, but brought back to the society. The restriction of freedom should be the absolute last choice. For every time a child’s right is abused, permanent scars will be left not only in the life of the child, but also in society.
Therefore, the aforementioned declaration is an important and necessary step towards ensuring the rights of children in Turkey.
Çocuk Cezaevleri Kapatılsın Girişimi (The Juvenile Prisons Should Be Closed Initiative) has already started an online petition (in Turkish) here.