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The assault on human rights and the rule of law presided over by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch noted in its new World Report 2021 on Turkey.

The report particularly noted that Turkey's presidential Justice and Development Party and its allied far-right party enjoy a parliamentary majority, allowing them to consolidate authoritarian rule through hasty laws that run counter to international human rights.

According to it, opposition parties remain aloof from Turkey's presidential system, and the government reformed public and state institutions to remove restrictions on power and provide advantages for its supporters. Nevertheless, the political opposition controls the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara.

Executive interference in the judiciary and prosecutorial decisions are deeply rooted problems, reflected in the systematic government practice of detaining, harassing and convicting individuals on false and widespread terrorism and other accusations against individuals deemed to be critics or political opponents by the Erdogan government. The victims include journalists, opposition politicians and activists, in particular members of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party. The largest target group consists of those allegedly associated with a movement led by US-based Sunni cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.

Turkey's decision to start exploration for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean in the context of maritime borders contested by Greece and Cyprus in August almost escalated into a sea clash with Greece. The European Union has undertaken efforts to mediate a dialogue on conflicting claims in a dispute that originally arose over the discovery of gas reserves in Cyprus, whose status is disputed.

Turkey provides military support to the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord in Libya in the fight against the breakaway government in the east of the country. Turkey has expressed strong support for Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey continues to exercise effective control through Syrian non-state actors over the areas in the north and northeast of Syria, where it has carried out military intervention in the past four years and where serious human rights violations continue unabated. Turkey claims its goal as the elimination of Kurdish forces that previously controlled territory closely associated with the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party, with which Turkey has been involved in the conflict for decades. Turkey played a key role in securing the March ceasefire in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib.

Most of the TV channels and print media in Turkey are owned by companies close to Erdogan's presidency. Some 87 journalists and media workers were held in pre-trial detention or serving sentences for terrorist crimes because of their journalistic activities.

Plans to strictly regulate social media companies in Turkey were scheduled in July after President Erdogan used social media insults to his family as an excuse to justify the need for tighter social media regulation. According to the new law, social media companies with more than one million daily users should have offices in Turkey and comply with government requirements to block and remove content, otherwise heavy fines are expected. Facebook has already noted it will not comply with the law.

In the context of Covid-19, Turkey announced that hundreds of people are under criminal investigation or detained by the police for posts that are believed to cause fear and panic about the pandemic. Some of these posts have criticized the government's response to the pandemic.

Using the pandemic as an excuse, provincial governors have banned peaceful protests by women's rights activists, health workers, lawyers and political opposition parties.

The authors also noted the government's continuing restrictive approach to public activities by LGBT human rights groups.

In July, the government passed a new law that weakening the institutional strength of Turkey's largest bar associations, which have sharply criticized Turkey's failure to respect human rights and the rule of law, the authors add.

From May to July, at least 45 Kurdish women's rights activists were detained and put on trial for ties to pro-Kurdish party. Murder of women and domestic violence are serious issues in Turkey, the report added.

The rise in allegations of torture, ill-treatment and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by police, military personnel and prisons over the past four years has overturned Turkey's progress in this area. Victims include people charged with political and common crimes.

In June, the government passed legislation increasing the number and powers of night watchmen who help police perform public order functions by giving them the power to stop and check documents and use force. Cases of abuse of office and abuse of persons were reported.

Turkey's relations with the European Union have been strained by tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean over disputed maritime borders and access to gas reserves, as well as Turkey's willingness to use migration as a political bargaining tool, briefly opening the border with Greece in February-March. Turkey formally remains a candidate for EU membership, not expecting any progress towards membership on both sides.

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