In addition to fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to hold meetings and demonstration marches, the 1982 constitution (Chapter Four) describes political rights, including the right to vote, to run for office, and to engage in political activity (Article 67); the right to participate in political parties (Articles 68-69); the right to enter public service (Articles 70-71); the constitution of the national (military) service (Article 72); the obligation to pay taxes (Article 73; and the right of petition (Article 74).
In practice, however, Turkey is said to be a graveyard of political parties. The Constitutional Court has banned 25 parties since it was established by the constitution of 1961. Almost all outlawed parties were accused of pursuing Kurdish nationalist or Islamist politics. However, the court did not close down only radical Kurdish or Islamist parties. The court accepted the assertion of the existence of a distinct Kurdish people as sufficient evidence for a ban, and in August 2008, it stopped just short of outlawing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) that had ruled Turkey singlehandedly since its landslide electoral success, winning reelection with 47% of the votes counted in the 2007 parliamentary elections. In December 2009, the court closed down the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), thus putting an end to the sixth successive party associated with the pro-Kurdish political movement that had been linked in one way or another to the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). Leading members of outlawed parties face the danger of losing their right to join or carry out functions for political parties for the next five years. The national 10% electoral threshold for political parties, applied since the military coup of 1980, constitutes another instrument for the limitation of political liberties.
Although the European Court of Human Rights has decided that the 10% threshold is not a violation of human rights, this represents the most significant legal obstacle to fair political representation. Although the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe published its opinion on the Turkish legislation governing the banning of political parties, both Article 69 of the constitution and the relevant articles of the Political Parties Act have not yet been amended. As a result, six years after the banning of the People’s Democracy Party, its successor, the DTP, was banned by the Constitutional Court in 2009.
Despite the relative liberalization of associational life, associations have to notify authorities before receiving financial support from abroad, which imposes a bureaucratic burden. It is also claimed that members of local human rights groups have received death threats and sometimes face trial due to their connection with alleged terrorist organizations. Relatively marginal political groups like feminists, environmentalists, lesbians and gays, and vocational groups fighting for their particular interests tend to choose one or two venues for political demonstrations: Istiklal Street and Kadiköy Square in Istanbul, and Kızılay Square in Ankara. There are few demonstrations in other Turkish cities, although in the mainly Kurdish southeast, demonstrations often result in clashes with the police. Every political march carried out by opposition groups in Ankara and Istanbul is accompanied by at least as many police personnel as demonstrators.
During the last few years, the implementation of freedom of religion and worship for minority Muslim and non-Muslim communities has made smooth progress.