People detained after the last year’s failed putsch have been subject to torture in police custody while several others were abducted outside detention facilities, according to a recent report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The New York-based watchdog documented human rights abuses occurred between March and August 2017 in its 43-page report, “In Custody: Police Torture and Abductions in Turkey,” on Thursday.
HRW said detailed credible evidence for 11 cases of serious abuse including sexual assault, severe beatings, or the threat of sexual assault and of stripping naked. Meanwhile, the watchdog notes that it documented five cases of abductions that could amount to enforced disappearances by state apparatus.
HRW said the examples represented only some part of the picture by saying: “Where individuals did not want any identifying information included, a decision was made to omit the case from the report.”
The abuses targeted mostly the people affiliated with the Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet movement which the government accuses of masterminding the failed takeover. The movement denies involvement. Individuals with alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) came in the second place, HRW added.
“Official figures show that in the past year well over 150,000 people have passed through police custody accused of terrorist offenses, membership of armed groups, or involvement in the attempted coup in July 2016.”
The advocacy group underlined that safeguards against human rights abuses are lifted as doctors voluntarily or involuntarily ignore maltreatment to prisoners while lawyers, lacking the backing of provincial bar associations and the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB), fear to report such incidents.
Below are some of the cases HRW reported on Friday.
Hasan Kobalay, 37, was the head of a Kırıkkale preschool, which was closed by decree under the state of emergency. Hasan Kobalay told the court on February 16, 2017 that while being interrogated on November 2, 2016 at the anti-terror branch of the Kırıkkale police station he was stripped naked, blindfolded, gagged with a cloth, handcuffed and then taken to a bathroom. According to the transcript, Kobalay told the court: Cold water was sprayed on my body, especially on my testicles and buttocks, which are still painful… They then said “Speak!” and I said: “What shall I say?” They touched me all over, they did something to my anus, but I don’t know what. It took up to an hour, and then they said we’ll bring your wife and do the same to her. At that point, I broke down [at this point the defendant began to cry as he recounted it] because my wife and children are the only thing in my world. Then they took me to a room and mapped out what I needed to say… “You were the ‘imam’ of the group.” “No, I wasn’t,” I said. “You were,” they said. “You gave teachers lessons.” “No, I didn’t,” I said. “You did,” they said… The transcript records that Kobalay described to the court how he was also slapped and continually threatened. He reported to the court that a doctor had seen the state he was in: When I got to the hospital I was shaking, and I tried to tell the doctor what had happened, but the police wouldn’t let me explain. According to the transcript, six other defendants at the same hearing told the court they had been ill-treated in custody, in order to force them to give information to the police and sign statements they subsequently retracted at the hearing. Some defendants said that they underwent cursory medical examinations in which the doctor simply looked at them without examining them. Furthermore, they said, they were unable to speak to the doctor because of the presence of police officers.
In another case examined by Human Rights Watch, three men allege they were tortured in police custody, after being detained on suspicion of involvement in a mortar attack on a police station. Photos posted on Twitter on June 9 showed the three men beaten up with bleeding faces. The photos appeared in pro-government media and were tweeted by journalist Fatih Tezcan, with the claim that the men were responsible for a mortar attack on the police headquarters in the town of Gevaş, in the eastern province of Van, by the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Those in the photos were later identified as three local men from Van city, who said their vehicle had been forcibly taken from them by members of the PKK. The three men alleged it was taken as they were returning from a trip to the high mountain pastures near Gevaş to collect mushrooms. The authorities say the vehicle was used by the PKK in a mortar attack. The three men are Cemal Aslan, Abdulselam Aslan, and Halil Aslan. Human Rights Watch interviewed one of the men, Cemal Aslan, 52, owner of a public bath (hamam) in Van: After they [the PKK members] took the van from us and a couple of them held us for a few hours in a cave in the mountains, taking our mobile phones off us, they released us, and we went on our way in our van. We didn’t know that it had been used in an attack, and we were planning to complain to the police about the fact they had held us like that for hours and had taken our van and phones. We didn’t get our phones back. We entered the town of Gevaş, and two Panzer armoured vehicles were waiting there, and the police stopped us and ordered us out of the van, stripped and then brutally beat us in the road. Then we were taken to the Gevaş police station and the beating continued endlessly although we kept saying we were civilians. They beat us in a toilet and took photos of us. I’ve really never seen anything like it in my life. We were handcuffed from behind, then punched, kicked, hit with rifle butts in the back and humiliated from nine at night to four in the morning, with police officers constantly asking us where our weapons were, and trying to make us confess to the attack on the station. When we were examined by a doctor the police told her we had fallen from a car. We were in no state to talk at that point. Once we were transferred to the anti-terror branch in Edremit, the torture stopped completely. We spent six days there and the court released us, putting an overseas travel ban on us, and with a judicial control on us, which means we have to sign into the police station once a week. Neither the prosecutor nor the court asked us a single question about the state we were in. A doctor in the Van regional research hospital forensic medicine department documented our injuries in a very detailed report. I have been unable to sleep at night ever since this happened and am in shock. Cemal Aslan’s wife informed Human Rights Watch that the family had been extremely worried when her husband and his cousins had not returned from the trip to collect mushrooms. They had complained to the police that they were missing and were shocked when the first news they received of the three were the photos circulating on social media. The three men lodged a formal complaint against the Gevaş police on June 21, 2017. Their lawyer informed Human Rights Watch that the prosecutor has requested security camera footage from the police station where the torture allegedly took place, but there have been no further developments in the investigation of the complaint. the police stopped us and ordered us out of the van, stripped and then brutally beat us in the road. Then we were taken to the Gevaş police station and the beating continued endlessly although we kept saying we were civilians. They beat us in a toilet.
In another case reported to Human Rights Watch, villagers from Şapatan (Altınsu) village, in the Şemdinli district of the southeast province of Hakkari, reported to the media and to lawyers that on August 6, 2017 dozens of men were rounded up from their homes by the security forces, beaten, and taken to the Şemdinli anti-terror branch where the ill- treatment continued. A lawyer acting for the villagers told Human Rights Watch: After an armed clash on August 5 in which a police officer was killed, the security forces entered the Şapatan village in the night and searched homes. They gathered the villagers in the middle of the village and a unit of 10-15 special team police officers and plain-clothes officers beat everyone mercilessly in the village, and at the Şemdinli Security Directorate Human Rights Watch has examined three of the complaints lodged by 38 villagers. S.T., 28, told the Şemdinli prosecutor that after being made to assemble in front of the village mosque, he and the other villagers were put into armoured vehicles (Panzers) and taken to Şemdinli Security Directorate: Four police officers who got us out of the Panzers beat us. They continued to beat us until we got to the third floor of the Security Directorate. I was also insulted. In the corridor of the anti-terror branch on the third floor we were beaten by special team police and plain-clothes police. One of the plain- clothed officers who beat us was 35-50, slightly heavy, bearded, and greying. This man beat the backs of me and the 20 I was with using a hose pipe. We had been brought to the police station in three groups. The policeman I described beat our group with a hose pipe. I am lodging a complaint against the special team police and plainclothes police who beat and insulted me. I would be able to identify those who beat me. Another of the villagers, C.G., complained to the prosecutor’s office that the special team police had searched his home and beaten him. Police officers whose faces I would be able to identify, knocked on the door at around 4 a.m. and, as soon as the door was opened began to beat me, insult, and swear at me. When my 80-year-old mother tried to prevent them, they beat her too. This torture continued till 6. They knocked me unconscious, and threw me onto the balcony. They cursed my wife and left our house thinking I was dead.25 N.Ş., 22, also described being repeatedly beaten while taken to the Security Directorate, and once there. In a room on the third floor a “35-40-year-old plainclothes police officer with greying hair and a beard” had addressed them: “You haven’t seen anything yet, the beating is just starting,” he told us… Then he made us lie down and beat our backs with a mop stick. I gave a statement about this at the Şemdinli Security Directorate. The police made me identify him. However, I was unable to identify the man who beat me from photographs. I would be able to identify the man who beat me from an identification parade. I am lodging a complaint about the special team and plain-clothes police who beat me. Human Rights Watch obtained photographs of some of the Şapatan villagers showing clear signs that they had been beaten in a manner consistent with their allegations. These were also published widely in the Turkish and Kurdish media, and circulated on social media. The Hakkari governorate issued a statement initially describing the torture claims as “completely baseless and intended as propaganda for a terrorist organization.” However, inspectors were appointed to examine the incident and a police officer was suspended from duty on August 11. There is also a disciplinary investigation by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) into a doctor at the Şemdinli hospital who was heard to insult the villagers, and to allege that they had brought the torture on themselves, and failed in her duty to record their injuries in detail. Security forces in Hakkari are operating in a challenging environment. The day before the villagers were beaten, a police officer was killed in an armed clash. However, this context does not justify or excuse members of the security forces or police committing serious human rights violations, such as ill-treatment of detainees and suspects, nor does it negate the obligation to conduct effective criminal investigations into credible allegations of torture and mistreatment, and to impose appropriate disciplinary measures as required under Turkey’s own laws and international law.
Human Rights Watch received reports that in the anti-terror branch of a city in Southeast Turkey, police beat and threatened a 40-year-old man who was a school teacher until dismissed under the state of emergency (called here “teacher A”). His name is known to Human Rights Watch, but withheld in this report at the request of his family, who fear repercussions. Human Rights Watch has communicated full details of the case to the Ministry of Justice. The case is distinct from others in this report because the alleged abuses took place after “teacher A” had been transferred back into police custody from pretrial prison custody. He was detained in August 2016 and remanded to detention in a T-type closed prison, pending trial for alleged links with FETÖ, the group the authorities accuse of being behind the July 2016 attempted coup. On June 3, 2017 “teacher A” was once again transferred to police custody for questioning at the anti-terror branch and, according to his family, held there until July 17 when he was transferred back to the T-type prison. “Teacher A’s” family reported to Human Rights Watch that they discovered that he had been removed from prison on June 6, when they attempted to visit him and were told by the prison authorities that he had been taken before the prosecutor at the courthouse. On visiting the prosecutor, they discovered he was in fact held at the anti-terror branch, and obtained a written authorization from the prosecutor so that they could visit him there. Granted a meeting in the presence of police officers, the family saw that his face was swollen, and he looked unwell. When they asked him what had happened he told them that he had been hooded, beaten repeatedly, threatened and forced to identify people and “confess” to crimes. The family reported to Human Rights Watch that on hearing this the police officers sitting in on the meeting had intervened and promptly ended the meeting. On June 9, the family had lodged a formal complaint with the prosecutor, but on July 27 reported to Human Rights Watch that there had been no investigation they knew of, and that “teacher A” had been held in police custody until July 17 when he was transferred back to prison. A six-week period in police custody far exceeds any legal limit, although a state of emergency decree (article 8, decree no. 670) passed in August 2016 permits the prosecutor to grant the police the right to recall a suspect accused of terrorism offenses or crimes against the state for further questioning. The provision does not specify that this includes individuals already remanded to pretrial detention, nor does it mention how long they can be held in police custody for the purpose of giving another statement to the police.30 Cases of remand prisoners being taken out of prison and transferred into police custody for questioning without informing families or lawyers have been reported elsewhere in the media. Human Rights Watch considers that the case of “teacher A” demonstrates that transferring remand prisoners back into police custody is a dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially unlawful practice, which puts the detainee at risk. The provision that allows this practice to continue (article 8, decree no. 670) should be rescinded immediately. Should the prosecutor authorize the police to recall a detainee for further questioning, the interview should take place at the prison in which the individual is held and not at a police station.