Do not be surprised if the criminal law in Turkey is very different from the criminal law in your country. Just because it is different, does not mean that it is worse.
There is a long tradition in Turkey of impartial justice and the protection of the individual’s rights. However, in recent times and as a result of some of the changes to the law – and the way it is enforced – that have been introduced by the government, there have been questions about Turkey’s ongoing commitment to the protection of human rights.
The Turkish Penal Code
The Turkish Penal Code regulates most aspects of the criminal law in Turkey. It is quite a lengthy document – extending to well over 100 pages – but short by international standards. The Spanish Código Penal is 189 pages, the French Code Penal, 387.
It deals with both some basic principles and the detailed definitions of the various activities that are declared to be criminal offences in Turkey.
An English version of the code can be found here.
The Code applies both to Turkish citizens (sometimes even in relation to things done in other countries) and to foreigners present in Turkey.
It’s probably worth mentioning some of the key general provisions, though they shouldn’t really come as a surprise to people familiar with the criminal law of other advanced countries:
- Nobody should be subject to any penalty for any act which is not clearly declared by law to be a criminal offence.
- Penalties should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence.
- There should be no discrimination on the basis of race, language, religion, nationality, colour, gender, political ideas, etc.
- Ignorance of the law is no defence.
- The law shall apply to all criminal offences committed in Turkey.
- Criminal responsibility is personal. No-one shall be deemed culpable for the conduct of another person.
- No act should be a criminal offence unless it is committed with intent – i.e. knowingly and willingly committing the things specified in the definition of a criminal offence.
- There is a right to proportionate self-defence.
- The age of criminal responsibility starts at 12, but somebody between the age of 12 and 15 can only be convicted if they’re capable of appreciating the meaning and consequences of what they did. However, although they cannot be prosecuted, various ‘security measures’ can be applied to minors who have committed criminal offences. These are defined in the relevant statute creating the offence.
- An act carried out by a person suffering from a mental disorder which means they cannot understand the meaning and consequence of the act will not count as a criminal offence.
- A person who, because of the effects of drink or drugs, taken involuntarily, is unable to understand the meaning or consequences of their actions, shall not be subject to penalty.
- Attempts to commit criminal offences shall be punished.
- If two or more people jointly commit an offence they shall all be guilty of the offence.
- Foreigners who commit offences in Turkey may, at the discretion of the Ministry of the Interior, be deported either immediately after their conviction or upon completing any sentence in Turkey.
- A person who assists another person in the commission of an offence shall be guilty of the offence and maybe sentenced (generally) to half of what would otherwise be the penalty for that offence.
Other provisions may be a little more surprising:
- Where non-citizens commit an offence to the detriment of Turkey in a foreign country – something that would be an offence under Turkish law, and subject to a penalty of more than one year of imprisonment – and the non-citizen then goes to Turkey, he will be subject to penalties under Turkish law.
The offences to which this rule applies are limited and defined in the code, but they include things such as hijacking, dealing with counterfeit money, dealing with drugs and other serious matters.
- Turkish law permits, in most cases, extradition for offences committed outside Turkey; but this power is limited in respect of offences committed by Turkish citizens.
- Penalties shall not be imposed upon legal entities (e.g. companies).
Penalties for crime in Turkey
Offences may be punished by either imprisonment or by a fine, depending upon the provisions of the law creating the offence.
Periods of imprisonment
The length of the period of imprisonment is defined for each offence. Periods of imprisonment are specified in days.
Any period spent in custody pending judgement shall be deducted from whatever sentence is imposed and, where a fine is imposed instead of imprisonment, the fine shall be reduced by TRY100 for each day of custody prior to sentence.
If a person would otherwise have received a short period of imprisonment, the Court may substitute one or more of the following:
- A fine
- An order for payment of compensation
- Admission to an educational institute for at least two years
- Restriction on movement or on carrying out certain activities
- Confiscation of a driving licence or any other licence giving permission to do various things
- Deprivation of the right to carry out a certain profession or occupation
- An order to do work for the public good
- A sentence of imprisonment for a term of two years or less may be suspended. Conditions may be imposed upon this suspension (such as the payment of compensation) and the sentence will only be suspended once that condition is met. People benefiting from suspended sentence shall also be placed on probation.
A fine is an amount that the Court orders to be paid to the State. The maximum amount of any fine is specified in the provisions creating the offence.
The amount payable is calculated by multiplying a number of days (more than five, less than 730) specified by the Court by a daily amount (not less than TRY20 or more than TRY100) specified by the Court after taking into account the convicted person’s personal circumstances.
The Court may order the fine to be paid immediately, or it may allow payment by instalments, or permit a respite period before the payment has to be made.
At the same time that the Court makes an order of imprisonment or imposes a fine, it may make other orders. These might include:
- If the penalty was imprisonment, deprivation of the right to do certain things. These include being part of the government, voting, acting as a guardian or trustee, and conducting certain professions or trades
- Confiscation of property used for the purpose of committing the offence
- Confiscation of any gains that have been made as a result of committing the offence