Authors: Hasret Dikici Bilgin & Nazlı Özekici, Istanbul Bilgi University

The Turkish legislative and policy framework on radicalization and de-radicalization is driven by a strict security-based approach in its elaboration of ethnic and religious cleavages. It also lacks a comprehensive understanding of radicalization within its core components and thus fails to provide an effective de-radicalization policy framework.

The constitutional structure reflects republicanism, secularism, nationalism and the integrity and indivisibility of the unitary structure of the Turkish state as core and unamendable principles. The identification of secularism as one of its irrevocable articles is progressive, given the country’s historical struggle with Islamic radicalization. The practical application of this principle however fails to recognize religious diversities and the demands for public recognition of associated rights and freedoms. There are three major consequences related to radicalization in this context. First, the Alevis are not recognized as a distinct religious group and their places of worship lack have legal status. More importantly, a legal and policy framework to prevent crimes against the Alevi minority is not within the scope of the Turkish constitution. This feeds the feelings of injustice, grievance, and alienation among the Alevi population as the constitutional principle of equality before law does not evolve into a solid policy framework in the absence of a legal recognition of distinct religious-cultural identity. Secondly, the Constitution also fails to incorporate demands for expanded public visibility of the religious practices by the Sunni majority outside the officially delineated boundaries of such practices. This prevents the development of a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of Islamist radicalization and creation of efficient de-radicalization measures. Third, the non-Muslim communities are recognized as the only legal minorities – a legal recognition deriving from the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923 that led to the international recognition of the Turkish Republic. While this recognition is also supported by a specific clause which establishes equal citizenship, the policy framework fails to provide practical protection and integration. Furthermore, the state-led Islamization policies that accelerated in the last decade trigger insecurity, harm the feelings of belonging and add to the feelings of injustice and alienation when the crimes against the personality and the property of the non-Muslims remain unpunished. Increased emigration of Turkey’s non-Muslim citizens in the recent years illustrates the severity of their situation within the wider Turkish society. Turkishness is defined as a supra identity with a civic interpretation of nationalism in the constitution. However, the legal and policy framework does not recognize ethnic diversity. Instead, a similar security-based approach prevails, and the demands for recognition of rights by minorities are treated to pose separatism against the unitary structure of the state.

The legal and policy framework, in its current form, remains punitive. It does not allow integration of ethnic and religious demands as pillars of democratic representation, and it does not enable creation of a realistic set of de-radicalization measures. There are two main legal provisions (Articles 216 and 122 of the Turkish Penal Code) that can be considered as legislation to respond to radicalization. These provisions provide legal action against activities which incite hatred and enmity or discrimination toward a social group. Ironically, the extant legal framework serves the majority ethnic and religious groups in practice. On the one hand, the public prosecutors and judges tend to invoke Article 216 mostly against the protestors often with accusations that their actions “breed enmity” and/or “denigrate the religious values”. The crime of “insulting Turkish nation” is used to frame ethnic demands as anti-constitutional and terrorist activities. Article 122, on the other hand, has a narrow scope which does not leave room for many forms of contemporary hate crimes such as violence against women and LGBTQ individuals. Lack of a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of radicalization and prevalence of a security-based approach is recently aggravated by the government’s creep into the political space thus far available for any opposition. The Internet law (2007), coupled with diverse Emergency Decrees after the abortive coup of July 15, 2016, has given the State the right to collect data related to at times personal communications without any court order and is as such instrumentalized to incriminate opposition.

It is not surprising that de-radicalization measures remain limited in this context. The extant framework for detecting radical contents on online platforms overlaps with the political priorities of the government and tends to end up targeting minorities and dissident groups rather than the purveyors of hate speech and proponents of discrimination targeting minorities. While many anti-government social media account holders were called for legal deposition at the courts in the recent years, very few radical right accounts faced investigation or public prosecution. The counter-radicalization measures are generally limited to imprisonment and investigation. There is not a single deradicalization policy framework which concentrates on any form of radicalization. In that sense, deradicalization programmes are mostly composed of prison programs targeting jihadist radicalization. Hence, they are punitive but not preventive.

For more insights, see the REPORT >>, that provides a conceptual account on existing policies and laws addressing radicalisation, to pinpoint their most critical aspects and best practices, and to develop evidence-based policy and guidelines.