Turkey: Human Rights and the Armed Forces

Report to the Human Rights Committee, 104th Session

London, December 2011


War Resisters' International is concerned about grave violations of human rights of conscientious objectors and antimilitarists in Turkey. The main issues are:

  • Turkey maintains conscription, and still does not recognise the right to conscientious objection.

  • Conscientious objectors are often sentenced repeatedly for refusing military service, on charges of desertion, disobedience or insubordination, in violation of article 18 and article 14 ICCPR (ne bis in idem).

  • While in prison, conscientious objectors often face abuse and maltreatment either from the side of the prison authorities, or also from fellow prisoners.

  • Even after their release from prison, conscientious objectors often live in a legal limbo, a situation the European Court of Human Rights called “civil death” - being unable to marry, to legal register a child, to legally work, get a passport, or engage in any way with the authorities. The same applies to those who declared their conscientious objection, but have never been arrested.

  • Conscientious objectors and pacifists often face trials on charges of “alienating the people from the military” (article 318 Turkish Penal Code) for criticising the military, or talking about conscientious objection, in violation of article 19 ICCPR.

1. Introduction

War Resisters' International has been working with conscientious objectors in Turkey ever since the emergence of a political conscientious objection movement in the 1990s. This close co-operation with conscientious objectors and their supporters in Turkey gives War Resisters' International a unique and long-term perspective on the situation of conscientious objectors in the country.

Based on this experience, this report focuses on two of the main human rights problems conscientious objectors and antimilitarists are faced with in Turkey:

  • the non-recognition of the right to conscientious objection, and the persecution of conscientious objectors following from this.

  • the persecution of conscientious objectors and antimilitarists for publicly speaking about and expressing their solidarity with conscientious objection, under article 318 of the Turkish penal code.

In both areas, there have been cases of imprisonment, and even repeated imprisonment.

Although the European Court of Human Rights already ruled in January 2006 in the case of conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke that the repeated imprisonment he was subjected to amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, nothing has changed substantially since. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention dealt with cases of conscientious objectors from Turkey twice, in 19991 and in 20082. On 22 November 2011, a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights reaffirmed the right to conscientious objection in its judgement in the case of Erçep v. Turkey (application no. 43965/04)3.

2. Military recruitment in Turkey

2.1 Conscription

According to art. 72 of the 1982 constitution - which was passed after the 1980 military coup - all Turkish citizens must perform a so called 'national service': "National service is the right and duty of every Turk. The manner in which this service shall be performed, or considered as performed, either in the Armed Forces or in public service shall be regulated by law."4

This means the Turkish Constitution leaves it up to the legislator how 'national service' is carried out. In theory, it can be non-military service.

In Turkish law 'national service' is prescribed by the Law on Military Service (Law No. 1111)5 and the Law for Reserve Officers and Reserve Military Servants (Law No. 1076). Art. 1 of the Law on Military Service specifies that all males who are citizens of the Turkish Republic, must receive armed military training, irrespective of their age. Law No. 1111 was enacted in 1927 and states that 'fatherland service' is compulsory military service, so refusal to perform 'fatherland service' is a crime punishable by the military penal code.

Law 1111 was changed in 1992 when Law 3802 came into force on 1 June 1992. Amendments to the law on 19 February 1994 created further changes.

The length of military service is 15 months. University graduates may perform 6 months' military service, or 12 months if they are trained to become reserve officers. Certain professional groups (doctors, teachers, civil servants) may be permitted to perform special service. However, this special services is a service within the Armed Forces, and with uniform. Usually, those serving in special service are not sent on combat operations.

All men between the ages of 19 and 40 are liable for military service. Men who have not fulfilled their military service by the age of 40 and who have not been legally exempt from service, may still be called up after the age of 406.

Police officers are exempted from military service. Under certain condition, a person whose brother died during his military service might be exempted from military service.

Students may postpone their military service up to the age of 29, or up to the age of 35 in the case of postgraduate students.

After completion of military service, reservist duties apply up to the age of 40.

Different military service regulations apply for Turkish citizens who are living abroad. According to new regulations on military service in Turkey, people who have lived abroad for at least three years will be able to benefit from a newly introduced "paid exemption from military service" by paying €10,000. They will then be exempt from basic military training. This is not dependent on any age limit. The regulation will come into force once it has been published in the Official Gazette7.

2.2 Professional soldiers

Although the Turkish Embassy wrote to WRI as late as December 2007 that “professional soldiers is not in the military practice of Turkey8, two Turkish Armed Forces contributors to a NATO study wrote in October 2007 that service of professional soldiers in Turkey is governed by the Turkish Armed Forces Personnel Law No. 9269.

Currently, women can serve as officers in the Turkish Armed Forces, but not as non-commissioned officers or enlisted personnel. After graduating from a military college or having a 4-year degree from a civilian university as a military student, officers have 15 years of obligatory service. Similar to officers, once on the job, non-commissioned officers have a 15-year obligatory service in the Turkish Armed Forces.

The specialists are professional enlisted leaders. They are employed at certain positions requiring continuity such as Squad Leader, Tank Driver, Tank Gunner, Repairer, Artillery Sergeant, etc. These specialists are selected from among qualified conscripts who have finished their military service. Their first contract is for 2 years, and later contracts may be between 1 to 5 years depending on the qualification of the person, his willingness, and the requirements of the service. They can serve until the age of 45 when they retire with pension pay and benefits10.

DefenseNews reported in May 2008 that the Turkish army has stopped assigning formerly conscripted reserve officers to special commando units, and that “professional soldiers, including the Special Forces Command, will become the backbone of the Turkish military's fight against separatist Kurds11. According to the same article, “by the end of next year [2009 - WRI] no conscript soldiers will be involved in anti-terrorism operations in units on both sides of Turkey's border with Iraq, where the military is fighting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).” Presently, the commando units number about 30,000 soldiers.

According to Eurasia Daily Monitor, about 100,000 of the 600,000 strong Turkish Armed Forces are professional soldiers. Even though it remains a predominantly conscript force, in recent years the Turkish military has increased the numbers of its full-time private soldiers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs). It appears to have had little difficulty in attracting recruits. In 2007, 25,084 Turks applied for positions as full-time “specialist NCOs” in the Turkish Land Forces, of whom only 1,540 were eventually accepted. Another 3,018 specialist NCOs are expected to be enrolled in 2008. Salaries are good by Turkish standards at around US$1,000 a month net, approximately the same as a mid-level civil servant, although fringe benefits can take the total to over US$1,500, which is almost five times the current minimum wage12.

These new developments are based on a resolution adopted at the beginning of May 200813, although it is unclear which authority passed this resolution.

3. Conscientious objection

3.1 Conscientious objection for conscripts

Turkey does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for conscripts. Article 72 of the Turkish constitution states: “National service is the right and duty of every Turk. The manner in which this service shall be performed, or considered as performed, either in the Armed Forces or in public service, shall be regulated by law”14. This in principle would allow for a non-military alternative. However, Turkish law does not provide for this.

In the past, the Turkish government never considered introducing legislation on conscientious objection. A brochure published by the Armed Forces in 1999 in fact states: “In our laws there are no provisions on exemption from military service for reasons of conscience. This is because of the pressing need for security, caused by the strategic geographical position of our country and the circumstances we find ourselves in. As long as the factors threatening the internal and external security of Turkey do not change, it is considered to be impossible to introduce the concept of 'conscientious objection' into our legislation15.

In fact, article 45 of the Turkish Military Penal Code explicitly states: “Individuals may not evade military service, and penalties may not be revoked, for religious or moral reasons.

Following the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Turkish conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke16 in January 200617, the Turkish government declared at the Council of Europe that a law solving the problems would be in preparation18. However, so far the Turkish government failed to provide any more details, and it can be doubted that the law will implement the right to conscientious objection. Also, Osman Murat Ülke's legal situation has not changed, and he is still considered a deserter and has an outstanding arrest warrant. But the Turkish government did not appeal against the ECHR judgement, and also paid the compensation of 11,000 Euro to Osman Murat Ülke.

About 60 other declared conscientious objectors are in a similar situation, either after spending some time in prison or after a public declaration of conscientious objection, and ignoring a call-up.

In May 2008, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention gave an opinion on the case of Halil Savda19, who has been imprisoned and sentenced repeatedly. The Working Group came to the following conclusion: “The deprivation of liberty of Mr. Halil Savda during the periods between 16 and 28 December 2004, between 7 December 2006 and 2 February 2007, as well as between 5 February and 28 July 2007 was arbitrary. His deprivation of liberty since 27 March 2008 is also arbitrary, being in contravention of articles 9 and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 9 and 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights from which the Republic of Turkey is a State Party, falling under category II of the categories applicable to the consideration of cases submitted to the Working Group. In addition, it also falls under category III of the categories applied by the Working Group, as far as Mr. Savda would have to serve his prison term following his conviction by judgement No. 2007/742-39620.

On 22 November 2011, a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights reaffirmed the right to conscientious objection in its judgement in the case of Erçep v. Turkey (application no. 43965/04). The case concerned a Jehovah's Witness from Turkey, who had been repeatedly imprisoned for his refusal to perform military service following approximately 15 call-ups.

Following up from the Grand Chamber judgement in the case of Bayatyan v Armenia, in which the European Court of Human Rights reviewed its previous case law on conscientious objection and "considered that opposition to military service, where it was motivated by a serious and insurmountable conflict between the obligation to serve in the army and a person’s conscience, constituted a conviction or belief of sufficient importance to attract the guarantees of Article 9."

It therefore did not come as a surprise that the new chamber judgement reaffirmed that conscientious objection is indeed protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of thought, conscience and religion). According to the Court's press release, the "Court observed that Mr Erçep was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group that had consistently opposed military service. There was no reason to doubt that his objection was motivated by anything other than genuinely-held religious beliefs."

"In Turkey, all citizens declared fit for national service were required to report for duty when called up and to perform military service. No alternative civilian service existed. Conscientious objectors had no option but to refuse to enrol in the army if they wished to remain true to their convictions. In so doing, they laid themselves open to a sort of “civil death” because of the numerous sets of criminal proceedings which the authorities invariably brought against them; they could face prosecution for the rest of their lives. The Court considered that that situation was not compatible with law enforcement in a democratic society."

"The Court took the view that the numerous convictions imposed on Mr Erçep because of his beliefs, in a situation where no form of civilian service offering a fair alternative existed in Turkey, amounted to a violation of Article 9."

Besides the judgement on the violation of Article 9, the Court also found for a violation of Article 6 (right to a fair trial). "Mr Erçep complained of the fact that, as a civilian, he had had to appear before a court made up exclusively of military officers. The Court observed that, despite being accused of an offence under the Military Criminal Code, the applicant was, for criminal-law purposes, not a member of the armed forces but a civilian. Furthermore, it was clear from a judgment of the Jurisdiction Disputes Court dated 13 October 2008 that, in Turkish criminal law, a person was considered to be a member of the armed forces only from the time he or she reported for duty with a regiment."

"The Court considered it understandable that the applicant, a civilian standing trial before a court composed exclusively of military officers, charged with offences relating to military service, should have been apprehensive about appearing before judges belonging to the army, which could be identified with a party to the proceedings. In such circumstances, a civilian could legitimately fear that the military court might allow itself to be unduly influenced by partial considerations."

"Acknowledging that the applicant’s doubts about the independence and impartiality of that court could be regarded as objectively justified, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 in that regard."

However, on the same day the European Court of Human Rights published its judgement in the case of Ercep v Turkey, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at a group meeting of the AK Party parliamentary group that the issue has been shelved from the government's agenda21.

3.2 Conscientious objection for professional soldiers

As Turkey does not even recognise the right to conscientious objection for conscripts, it also does not allow its professional soldiers to claim conscientious objector status.

Details of Law 926 governing the service of professional soldiers, and how they would be able to leave the Armed Forces prematurely, are not known.

4. Punishment of conscientious objectors

Conscientious objectors are usually charged with draft evasion, disobeying orders, or desertion. Draft evasion and desertion are punishable under the Law on Military Service and the Turkish Military Penal Code. Turkish law actually makes a distinction between evasion of military registration, evasion of medical examination, evasion of enlistment and desertion.

According to Article 63 of the Penal Code, draft evasion is punishable (in peacetime) by imprisonment of:

  • One month for those who report themselves within seven days;

  • Three months for those who are arrested within seven days;

  • Between three months and one year for those who report themselves within three months;

  • Between four months and 18 months for those who are arrested within three months;

  • Between four months and two years for those who report themselves after three months;

  • Between six months and three years for those who are arrested after three months22;

  • Up to ten years' imprisonment in the case of aggravating circumstances, such as self-inflicted injuries, using false documents (Articles 79-81 of the Penal Code).

Desertion is punishable under Articles 66-68 of the Penal Code with up to three years' imprisonment. Deserters who have fled abroad may be sentenced to up to five years' imprisonment, and up to ten years in case of aggravating circumstances (Article 67)23.

Monitoring of draft evasion and desertion is strict24. The registration of conscripts is, in fact, one of the most effective government registrations in Turkey. Draft evaders and deserters may be arrested after routine checks such as traffic control. They are not able to leave Turkey, as the fact that they are evading military service would be visible to any customs and immigration officer or police officer. In addition, police and gendarma authorities are responsible for finding draft evaders and deserters and may conduct house searches and arrest them.

There are no detailed figures available on the scale of prosecution of draft evaders and deserters, but military courts are believed to deal with approx. 60,000 cases per year that are connected to draft evasion. About half of these cases reportedly deal with cases of conscripts going absent for less than a week, mostly conscripts who do not report themselves back in time after a period of leave.

Prison sentences of less than one year's imprisonment for evasion of registration/examination for enlistment or for desertion are generally commuted into fines, which must be paid after the end of military service. Sentences for draft evasion for periods longer than three months, when the draft evader has not reported himself voluntarily, may not be commuted into a fine. Suspended sentences may not be imposed for evasion of registration/examination or enlistment or for desertion.

Those who are convicted for draft evasion must still complete their term of military service. Repeated offenders may thus be sentenced again. Prison sentences for repeated offenders may not be commuted into fines.

Those convicted to less than six months' imprisonment usually serve their prison sentence in military prisons; those convicted to over six months' imprisonment are imprisoned in regular prisons. After serving their prison sentence, they still need to perform the remaining term of their military service25.

5. Example cases of conscientious objectors

Since the 1990s, there are a small number of COs who publicly state that they refuse to perform military service for non-religious, pacifist reasons. The Turkish language actually makes a distinction between conscientious objectors (vicdani retci) and draft evaders (asker kacagi).

The first known Turkish COs were Tayfun Gonul and Vedat Zencir, who declared their objections in 1990. Osman Murat Ülke, a Turkish citizen who grew up in Germany and returned to Turkey, became the first famous conscientious objector, and the first to go to prison for his conscientious objection. In 1995 he publicly declared that he was a conscientious objector and refused to perform military service. Since then, dozens of others have followed. Between 1995 and 2004 approx. 40 men have openly declared themselves as conscientious objectors, mostly by making a public statement or giving media interviews about their reasons for refusing military service.

Osman Murat Ülke26

The most well known case was Osman Murat Ülke, who was arrested in October 1996 and during the following years spent a total of 30 months in prison on several charges of disobeying orders.

Although he was finally acquitted of charges based on Art 155 on 29 August 1995, the court gave order to transfer him to the recruitment office, where he was given an order to present himself at his military unit within 3 days. Instead of doing so he burned his call-up papers in a press conference in Izmir on 1 September 1995, and publicly declared his conscientious objection27. This lead to his arrest one year later, on 7 October 1996, and a series of trials based on “disobeying orders” - his conscientious objection. He is sentenced to prison repeatedly, released, sent back to his unit, arrested, sentenced, etc... He was finally released on 9 March 1999, but officially required to report to his unit, and is living a semi-legal life ever since. In its Opinion 36/1999, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his detentions following his first detention as arbitrary28.

On 24 January 2006, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg finally ruled in favour of Osman Murat Űlke. The court ruled: "The Court noted that, despite the large number of times the applicant had been prosecuted and convicted, the punishment had not exempted him from the obligation to do his military service. He had already been sentenced eight times to terms of imprisonment for refusing to wear uniform. On each occasion, on his release from prison after serving his sentence, he had been escorted back to his regiment, where, upon his refusal to perform military service or put on uniform, he was once again convicted and transferred to prison. Moreover, he had to live the rest of his life with the risk of being sent to prison if he persisted in refusing to perform compulsory military service.

The Court noted in that connection that there was no specific provision in Turkish law governing penalties for those who refused to wear uniform on conscientious or religious grounds. It seemed that the relevant applicable rules were provisions of the military penal code which made any refusal to obey the orders of a superior an offence. That legal framework was evidently not sufficient to provide an appropriate means of dealing with situations arising from the refusal to perform military service on account of one’s beliefs. Because of the unsuitable nature of the general legislation applied to his situation the applicant had run, and still ran, the risk of an interminable series of prosecutions and criminal convictions.

The numerous criminal prosecutions against the applicant, the cumulative effects of the criminal convictions which resulted from them and the constant alternation between prosecutions and terms of imprisonment, together with the possibility that he would be liable to prosecution for the rest of his life, had been disproportionate to the aim of ensuring that he did his military service. They were more calculated to repressing the applicant’s intellectual personality, inspiring in him feelings of fear, anguish and vulnerability capable of humiliating and debasing him and breaking his resistance and will. The clandestine life amounting almost to “civil death” which the applicant had been compelled to adopt was incompatible with the punishment regime of a democratic society.

Consequently, the Court considered that, taken as a whole and regard being had to its gravity and repetitive nature, the treatment inflicted on the applicant had caused him severe pain and suffering which went beyond the normal element of humiliation inherent in any criminal sentence or detention. In the aggregate, the acts concerned constituted degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3."29

Following the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, Osman Murat Ülke was paid the compensation awarded to him by the Court, but his situation did not change. In fact, in July 2007 he learned that an arrest warrant was still out for him30.

Although the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe repeatedly called on Turkey to end the persecution of Osman Murat Ülke, the situation did to date not change31.

Halil Savda32

Halil Savda was born in Sirnak/Cizre in 1974, and graduated from primary school. In 1993, he was arrested and held for 1 month in Sirnak/Cizre, during which time he was tortured repeatedly. The State Security Court then charged him with "supporting an illegal organisation (the PKK - Kurdish Workers Party)". He was then sent to prison, and released in 1996.

The background to Halil Savda's case is appalling:

  1. Halil Savda was called up for military service in 1996. At first he followed this call-up order, and finished his basic training. However, he then did not follow an order to report to a different military unit. He was arrested in 1997, and the State Security Court in Adana sentenced Halil Savda to 15 years imprisonment for "membership in an illegal organisation". The court found him guilty of being a member of PKK, which Halil Savda denied. Halil Savda had been arrested for the same reason in 1993, but had been released after 1 month. During this time of imprisonment he was repeatedly tortured.

  2. On 18 November 2004, Halil Savda was released from prison, and transferred to the gendarmerie in Antep, because of desertion from military service in 1996. He was kept in an isolation cell for six days. On 25 November, he was transferred to the military unit in Corlu-Tekirdag, where he declared his conscientious objection to military service.

  3. On 16 December 2004, the Corlu Military Court ordered the detention of Halil Savda for "insistence on disobedience".

  4. On 28 December 2004, Halil Savda was released from prison after a trial session, but ordered to report to the military unit in Corlu-Tekirdag. Halil Savda did not follow this order, in went home instead.

  5. On 4 January 2005, the Corlu Military Court sentenced Halil Savda in absentia to 3 months and 15 days of imprisonment. Halil Savda appealed against this sentence.

  6. On 13 August 2006, the Military Appeal Court cancelled the decision of the Corlu Military Court from 4 January 2005 because of errors in the conduct of the trial.

  7. On 7 December 2006, Halil Savda reported to the retrial for his conscientious objection, after the decision of the Military Appeal Court from 13 August 2006. The court ordered his detention during the trial, and Halil Savda was arrested in court.

  8. On 25 January 2007, the Corlu Military Court ordered the release of Halil Savda from prison, but at the same time gave order to transfer him to the 8th tank brigade in Tekirdag. There, he was given the order to put on a uniform, which he refused. He was again arrested and charged with "insistence on disobedience". During his detention, he suffered from heavy abuse by four guards, and had to spent three days in an isolation cell, dressed only in his underwear and without any facilities to sit or sleep.

  9. On 15 March 2007, the Corlu Military Court sentenced Halil Savda to 15 ½ month imprisonment on charges of desertion and disobedience, based on his desertion in 1996 and his refusal to obey orders in 2004.

  10. On 12 April 2007, he was sentenced by the Corlu military court to a further six months imprisonment, bringing his total prison time up to 21.5 months.

In its Opinion No. 16/2008, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared the repeated detentions of Halil Savda arbitrary33.

Since his release from prison, Halil Savda has also been a victim of persecution under article 318 of the Turkish Penal Code (see below).

Mehmet Tarhan34

Mehmet Tarhan declared his conscientious objection in the Ankara branch of IHD (Human Rights Association) on 27 October 2001.

Mehmet Tarhan was arrested on 8 April 200535. He was sent to prison, and repeatedly suffered abuse and maltreatment, to which he responded repeatedly with going on hunger strike.

On 9 March 2006, Mehmet Tarhan was released from prison, as the court did not expect he would need to serve a longer prison term that his time of detention up to that time, should he be sentenced36.

On 10 October 2006, the Sivas Military Court finally ruled on the case. Mehmet Tarhan was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment for "insistent insubordination in front of his unit" on 10 April 2005, and to 1 year and 6 months for a further act of disobedience on 10 June 2005 - according to Turkish rules about combining sentences, this gives a total of 25 months in prison37.

Since his release in March 2007, Mehmet Tarhan is in a situation similar to Osman Murat Űlke – being ordered to report to his unit, and therefore living a semi-legal life of “civil death”.

Enver Aydemir38

Turkish conscientious objector Enver Aydemir was detained on 24 December 2009 on his way to a conference on conscientious objection during a random electronic background check by police at the ferry port in Kabataş, Istanbul. An arrest warrant for insubordination and possibly desertion, going back to his earlier arrest in detention in 2007, was discovered, and Enver Aydemir was transferred to Doğancılar police station and then to a military police station. From there he was sent to Maltepe Military Prison, where former conscientious objector İsmail Saygı had been severely beaten in 2008.

Enver Aydemir had declared his conscientious objection on 24 July 2007 after being forcefully taken to the Bilecik 2. Gendarme Commandership to perform military service. Refusing to serve in a secularist military because of his religious convictions, Enver was arrested and transferred to Erzurum 1. Tactical Air Force Commandership Military Prison on 31 July 2007 where he was physically attacked and forced by 10 soldiers to wear the military uniform.

Enver Aydemir was imprisoned in Erzurum for more than two months while awaiting trial on insubordination charges. There he suffered physical ill treatment on more than one occasion. He was released at the trial session on 24 October 2007 and ordered to report to the military unit in Bilecik. Since he was released without the accompaniment of soldiers, Enver Aydemir never reported to the military unit and went home instead.
His arrest in December 2009 was based on the same charges39.

On 1 April 2010, Enver Aydemir has been sentenced to ten months imprisonment by an Eskişehir court on Tuesday, on charges of desertion40. In June 2010, Enver Aydemir was released from prison.

Inan Süver41

İnan Suver was called up for military service in 2001, and according to the information available, he deserted after about 13 months of service, but was arrested and spent seven months in prison. It is not clear on what conditions he was released - as he was still listed as deserter, it is likely that he was released with an order to return to his unit.

According to information published by Amnesty International, İnan Suver has been convicted at least three times on charges of "desertion" and served time in military prison. İnan Suver reported that while serving his prison sentence for desertion at Şirinyer Military Prison in İzmir he was repeatedly severely beaten by prison guards. He has an outstanding sentence of 35 months from three previous convictions for "desertion".

İnan Suver declared his conscientious objection in a letter to the military authorities in 2009.

When İnan Suver deserted, he had not heard of the concept of conscientious objection. Once he learned about the concept and the politics behind it, he declared himself a conscientious objector in 2009. In an interview with Dicle News Agency, he said: "Widespread knowledge about conscientious objection would be the end of the war."

On 26 November 2010 İnan Suver was declared "unfit for military service" by the military authorities. Lon 9 December 2011, Inan Süver was released earlier then expected. His lawyer made an application requesting his release, arguing that the government had announced to prepare a law to legalise conscientious objection, and also on health grounds. The military court followed the first part of this argument.

Muhammed Serdar Delice42

Muhammed Serdar Delice was arrested on 27 November 2011. He declared his conscientious objection on 2 March 2010, after five months of serving military service in the Turkish Army. He did not return from vacations and declared his conscientious objection instead. He said that he did not want to joint a non-Muslim army.

According to information received, Muhammed Serdar Delice began a hunger strike on 18 December 2011, in protest against maltreatment and abuse while in detention.

6. Persecution of conscientious objectors and antimilitarists for expressing their opinion

Conscientious objectors who attract media attention or publish articles about their refusal to perform military service, or supporters of conscientious objectors, may also be punished to between six months' and two years' imprisonment under Article 318 of the Turkish Criminal Code for "alienating the people from the armed forces". In 2004, a new Criminal Code was introduced (Law No 5237). Under the previous Criminal Code, "alienating people from the armed forces" was punishable under Article 155 with a similar term of imprisonment43.

Article 318:

  1. Persons who give incentives or make suggestions or spread propaganda which will have the effect of discouraging people from performing military service shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six months to two years.

  2. If the act is committed through the medium of the press and media, the penalty shall be increased by half.

Ever since the beginning of the antimilitarist movement in Turkey, Turkish antimilitarists did not only have to worry about persecution for refusing to join the military, but even for speaking out against militarism. In fact, most if the first prosecutions of Turkish antimilitarists were under the then Article 155 Turkish Penal Code, titled “alienating the people from the military”. Recently, as part of the overhaul of the Turkish Penal Code to comply with demands from the European Union, the article has been renumbered: it now is Article 318. However, the content did not change significantly.

When Tayfun Gönül and Vedat Zencir first declared their conscientious objection back in 1989, they were not prosecuted and sentenced for refusing military service, but under Article 155. Similarly, the first CO activists, COs themselves, and journalists who interviewed them were prosecuted and often sentenced under Article 155. An important early case was the case of Erhan Akyıldız and Ali Tevfik in 1993. Both were tried because they interviewed Aytek Özel, chair of the SKD and a CO, for the TV channel HBB on 8 December 1993.

The producer Erhan Akyıldız and the reporter Ali Tevfik Berber were arrested on order of the Chief of Staff and tried at a military court – the first time civilian were tried in a military court. Arrest warrants were issued for Aytek Özel and the CO. Erhan Akyildiz and Ali Tevfik Berber received the minimum sentence of two months' imprisonment, and Aytek Özel, who surrendered to the military court in Ankara on 8 February 2004, was sentenced to one year, 15 days' imprisonment. The important element of this case was the fact that after the state security court had ruled not to be competent,the way was opened for civilians to be tried at military courts.

Also in the case of Osman Murat Ülke, the first Turkish conscientious objector to be imprisoned for his conscientious objection, the first trials he faced – and the first sentences passed on him – were in relation to Article 155. The first trial he faced after his arrest on 7 October 1996 was about Article 155 – alienating the people from the military through his public burning of his draft papers and his declaration as conscientious objector.

More recently, since the so-called “penal reform”, there have been several cases of prosecution under now Article 318. Cases include:

  • Doghan Özkan, an activist of the CO platform of the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) gave a public address to the press on 12 December 2004, and was subsequently sentenced to 5 months imprisonment on 20 September 2006. The sentence was commuted to a fine of 3000 YTL. An appeal is still pending.

  • Perihan Magden was charged with violation of Article 318 for an article “conscientious objection is a human right”, published in Yeni Aktuel on 27 December 2005. She was acquitted on 27 July 2006, because the court upheld the right to freedom of speech and expression.

  • Birgul Ozbaris, a journalist for the newspaper Ozgur Gundem, was charged with seven separate accounts of violating Article 318. In total, she is facing up to 21 years of imprisonment.

  • Gökhan Gencay, a journalist with Birgün newspaper, was charged with violation of Article 318 for an interview with conscientious objector Erkan Bolat, published on 10 October 2005. His case was dismissed by the High Criminal Court, though.

  • Halil Savda not only was imprisoned repeatedly for his conscientious objection, but was also charged and sentenced repeatedly under Article 318.

Halil Savda has been finally sentenced on 3 March 2011 to five months' imprisonment for a solidarity statement for Israeli conscientious objectors Itzik Shabbat and Amir Pastar on 1 August 2006.

Halil Savda was initially sentenced on 2 June 2008 by the Sultanahmet 1st Court of First Instance in Istanbul to five months' imprisonment for the press statement44, but appealed against the sentence. This sentence was upheld and finalised by the Court of Appeals.

In June 2010, Halil Savda was sentenced in a similar case - a statement in support of then imprisoned Turkish conscientious objector Enver Aydemir - to six months' imprisonment, together with three co-defendants45.

  • Süleyman Tatar appeared in court on Monday on charges of “turning the people against military service,” a crime under Article 318 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Tatar, a member of the Conscientious Objection for Peace platform, is accused of making society hostile toward military service with his remarks in an anti-war press statement he made during a protest at Boğaziçi University46.

It is obvious that Article 318 (and previously Article 155) are being used to silence dissent. Any criticism of the Turkish military can potentially lead to prosecution and a prison sentence under Article 318. Thus, an open debate about the role of the military in Turkey's society is almost impossible.

Article 318 stipulates an upper limit of 2 years' imprisonment, and three years in cases where the “crime” is committed via the press. However, in June this year, Article 318 was brought within the compass of the Turkish Anti-Terror-Code, labelling conscientious objection an “organised crime” and “danger”, and effectively increasing the potential prison terms up to 4.5 years imprisonment.


1Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: OPINION No. 36/1999 (TURKEY), 2 December 1999, http://wri-irg.org/node/1600

2Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Opinion No 16/2008 (Turkey), http://wri-irg.org/node/272

3European Court of Human Rights: AFFAIRE ERÇEP c. TURQUIE, chamber judgement (French), 22 November 2011, http://wri-irg.org/node/14258

4The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, 1982, last amended on 10 May 2007, http://www.byegm.gov.tr/mevzuat/anayasa/anayasa-ing.htm, accessed 28 August 2008

5Law No. 1111, Military Law [Turkey]. 20 March 1927, extracts in English at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b4d020.html, accessed 28 August 2008

6The Turkish way of counting age differs from that in Western Europe, and this accounts for the fact that the Military Act refers to the 20th and 41st years, Military Service ("Country Report - October 2005"), http://www.ecoi.net/190288::turkey/328808.327551.9791...mr.327552/military-service.htm, accessed 30 September 2008

7Today's Zaman: Some happy, some still disappointed, 23 November 2011, http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-263720-some-happy-some-still-disappointed.html

8Turkish Embassy London, Reply to War Resisters' International, 1300/17-229-07, 14 December 2007

9NATO, Research and Technology Organisation: Recruiting and Retention of Military Personnel, October 2007, ftp://ftp.rta.nato.int/PubFullText/RTO/TR/RTO-TR-HFM-107/$$TR-HFM-107-ALL.pdf, accessed 28 August 2008

10NATO, Research and Technology Organisation: Recruiting and Retention of Military Personnel, October 2007, ftp://ftp.rta.nato.int/PubFullText/RTO/TR/RTO-TR-HFM-107/$$TR-HFM-107-ALL.pdf, accessed 28 August 2008

11DefenseNews: Turkey Reworks Commando Forces for Counterinsurgency, 19 May 2008, http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=3536801&c=FEA&s=SPE, accessed 28 August 2008

12Eurasia Daily Monitor: Turkey takes first step toward a professional army, 5 May 2008, http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2373031, accessed 28 August 2008

13Hurriyet: Turk army implements recruitment process for professional soldiers, May 2008 (exact date unknown), http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/english/turkey/8853828.asp?gid=231&sz=32847, accessed 28 August 2008

14The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, 1982, last amended on 10 May 2007, http://www.byegm.gov.tr/mevzuat/anayasa/anayasa-ing.htm, accessed 28 August 2008

15Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2003

16http://wri-irg.org/node/638, accessed 3 September 2008

17Chamber Judgement Ülke v. Turkey, 24 January 2006, http://wri-irg.org/node/615, accessed 3 September 2008

18War Resisters' International: Turkey defies European Court of Human Rights, co-update No 31, August 2007, http://wri-irg.org/node/1154, accessed 3 September 2008

19http://wri-irg.org/node/829, accessed 3 September 2008

20Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Opinion No 16/2008 (Turkey), http://wri-irg.org/node/272, accessed 3 September 2008

21Turkish Weekly: Government Shelves Reform of Policy on Conscientious Objectors, 1 December 2011, http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/127359/government-shelves-reform-of-policy-on-conscientious-objectors.html

22Law on Absentee Conscripts, Draft Evaders, Persons Unregistered [For Military Service], and Deserters, 1930, unofficial translation, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b4d01c.html, accessed 3 September 2008

23Law on Absentee Conscripts, Draft Evaders, Persons Unregistered [For Military Service], and Deserters, 1930, unofficial translation, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b4d01c.html, accessed 3 September 2008

24Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2003

25Quaker Council for European Affairs: The Right to Conscientious Objection in Europe – Turkey, 2005, http://wri-irg.org/co/rtba/turkey.htm, accessed 3 September 2008

27See for example: Osman Murat Ulke burns his call-up papers. In Peace News No 2395, October 1996, http://www.peacenews.info/issues/2395/pn239508.htm

28See United Nations: Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: OPINION No. 36/1999 (TURKEY), 2 December 1999, http://wri-irg.org/node/1600

29See CHAMBER JUDGMENT ÜLKE v. TURKEY, Application no. 39437/98, 24 January 2006, http://wri-irg.org/node/615

30See War Resisters' International: TURKEY: Conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke at danger of reimprisonment, 11 July 2007, http://wri-irg.org/news/alerts/msg00092.html

31See Execution of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, Ülke against Turkey, Resolution CM/ResDH(2007)109, 17 October 2007, http://wri-irg.org/node/14259 and Interim Resolution CM/ResDH(2009)45 - Execution of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights Ülke against Turkey, 19 March 2009, http://wri-irg.org/node/14264

33United Nations, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Opinion No. 16/2008 (Turkey), 9 May 2008, http://wri-irg.org/node/272

35War Resisters' International: TURKEY: Conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan arrested, 8 April 2005, http://wri-irg.org/news/alerts/msg00011.html

36War Resisters' International: TURKEY: Conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan released unexpectedly, 10 March 2006, http://wri-irg.org/news/alerts/msg00058.html

37War Resisters' International: TURKEY: Conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan sentenced to 25 months imprisonment, 17 October 2011, http://wri-irg.org/news/alerts/msg00068.html

39War Resisters' International: TURKEY: Conscientious objector Enver Aydemir arrested and mistreated in prison. Now on hunger strike, 29 December 2009, http://wri-irg.org/node/9483

40War Resisters' International: TURKEY: Conscientious objector Enver Aydemir sentenced to ten months' imprisonment, 1 April 2010, http://wri-irg.org/node/9860

43Hülya Ücpinar: Was erwartet Kriegsdienstverweiger mit dem neuen Strafgesetzbuch, in: Connection e.V., Rundbrief KDV im Krieg, January 2005.

44Bianet: Halil Savda Is Sentenced Again For Speaking Against Military Service, 3 June 2008, http://www.bianet.org/english/freedom-of-expression/107363-halil-savda-is-sentenced-again-for-speaking-against-military-service

45Bianet: Supporters of Conscientious Objector Convicted, 18 June 2010, http://bianet.org/english/freedom-of-expression/122808-supporters-of-conscientious-objector-convicted; War Resisters' International: Turkey: New prison sentence for violation of article 318, 7 July 2010, http://wri-irg.org/node/10500

46Today's Zaman: CO appears in court on charges of turning people against army service, 22 November 2011, http://www.todayszaman.com/news-263475-co-appears-in-court-on-charges-of-turning-people-against-army-service.html

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