Turkey prosecutes 12-year-olds under terrorism laws

Thousands of children in Turkey, some as young as 12, have been prosecuted under anti-terrorism legislation, solely because they’ve been accused of taking part in demonstrations which the government says support terrorism. The demos are usually about Kurdish issues, and have often involved clashes with the police.

A new Amnesty International report out today, Turkey – All children have rights: End unfair prosecutions of children under anti-terrorism legislation,  gives the children’s first-hand accounts of being ill-treated on arrest and in police custody.  Despite widespread accounts of excessive use of force, no police officer has been brought to justice.

One child told Amnesty how he was detained by police at the scene of a demonstration in Diyarbakir:

“A police officer caught me by the arm and beat me with a baton. I tried to escape but another officer caught me and beat me too. After that four or five officers beat me with batons and punched and kicked me.”

In many cases legal protections for children in pre-charge detention were not followed. Kids are held in adult police custody in the Anti-Terror branch rather than the Children’s branch of police stations. They are subjected to unofficial interrogation without lawyers or social workers being present. Their statements are then used as evidence to prosecute them.

Children as young as 12 have been tried in adult courts, in violation of the law. Most cases end in convictions with prison sentences, some for many years.

According to Turkey’s Justice Ministry, there were prosecutions against 1,308 children under the Anti-Terrorism Law and 719 children under Article 314 of the Penal Code from 2006-2008. The figures also show a dramatic increase in the number of children under 15 years of age being prosecuted in 2008. The Human Rights Association (IHD) recorded that in the city of Diyarbakir alone 279 children were tried in 2008, including 63 children at the Diyarbakir Children’s Heavy Penal Court, which tries children aged between 12 and 15.

The report has a whole range of recommendations to the Turkish authorities – from ensuring that the rights to freedom of expression and association are respected when it comes to demonstrations, to amending broad and sweeping terrorism legislation. But the simplest ask is that Turkey respects children’s rights, as it’s required to do under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and ensures that all measures taken are in the child’s best interests. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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