World’s largest rights advocacy group has revealed widespread torture and mistreatment of inmates imprisoned in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey, dismissing a government narrative that the due process is upheld in the trial of tens of thousands of coup-related prisoners.
Turkish authorities have long denied reports of independent and the critical media, and accounts by eyewitnesses about genuine allegations of torture in detention centers and police custody, the hallmark of the emergency regime since July. But a recent report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) tells a different story that belies the official narrative of Ankara.
In a 43-page detailed report, the HRW debunked Ankara’s official line by revealing systematic torture and mistreatment of a number of individuals kept in police custody since abortive July 15 coup attempt.
One of the essential findings of the report shows that emergency decrees, core pillars of the emergency rule that allow the government to run the country by issuing decrees that have the full force of laws, facilitate torture in detention centers through the removal of safeguards designed to prevent ill-treatment of detainees.
The emergency rule has dealt a major blow to mechanisms preventing mistreatment of prisoners in place since 2002, introduced as part of EU-membership bid reforms.
The HRW report dubbed “A Blank Check: Turkey’s Post-Coup Suspension of Safeguards Against Torture” details how the weakening of safeguards through decrees under the state of emergency has made police detention conditions and the rights of detainees dismally worse. Varying in magnitude and form, the report detailed 13 cases of sexual abuse, rape threats, severe beatings, sleep deprivation and other kinds of ill-treatment since the attempted coup.
“By removing safeguards against torture, the Turkish government effectively wrote a blank check to law enforcement agencies to torture and mistreat detainees as they like,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at the Human Rights Watch.
“The cases we have documented seem to indicate that some have done just that. Turkey’s government should reinstate these crucial safeguards now,” Williamson was quoted by HRW as saying.
Turkey’s rejection of UN special rapporteur on torture leads to questions over the government’s commitment to prevent mistreatment of detainees. To the dismay of critics and fear of families of detainees, the emergency rule allows the government to take actions with impunity. Its measures under the emergency rule cannot be appealed.
According to the emergency decrees, the maximum length of police detention without a judicial review or court attending is extended from four to 30 days, with detainees being denied access to lawyers for up to five days. The decrees also severely restrict detainees’ choice of lawyer and their right to private conversations with their lawyers.
One person’s account reveals the gruesome nature of the situation regarding torture claims. “The police chief who detained me … began to slap me in the face and eyes,” one person who was detained said in a statement to a prosecutor. “They beat me on the soles of my feet, on my stomach, then squeezed my testicles, saying things like they’d castrate me,” he was quoted by HRW report.
The pressure from the authorities also negatively affect medical examinations which mostly take place in front of the police officers in detention centers. The authorities also block lawyers to access medical reports of detainees.
The government standing and officials’ remarks also complicate matters and seem to be encouraging prison guards for abuses.
Unfazed by media reports and allegations, Turkey’s Justice Minister categorically rejected accusations. On Sunday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag even called on those who bring the issue of torture to prove their allegations.
He said in a series of tweets that “they are not giving Turkey time to answer the claims. They refuse to accept Turkey’s statements; they only accuse Turkey.”
Mehmet Metiner, a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the head of the parliamentary subcommittee responsible for investigating prison conditions and rights if inmates, even went on to say that the commission will not look into claims of torture if the detainees are sympathizers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The main opposition Republican People Party (CHP) applied to the commission twice to launch an investigation into torture allegations, only to be dismissed by the government. The ruling party members accuse the opposition party of trying to gain political scores through propaganda efforts to delegitimize and undermine the government’s image. Government officials also accused the CHP of making Gulenist propaganda by raising the issue of torture in Parliament.
Selcuk Kozagacli, the president of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (CHD), said at an event in Ankara earlier this month that detainees who are jailed as part of the crackdown on the Gulen movement have been subjected to torture in most barbaric ways. He said he even knew that a detainee underwent colectomy after police inserted objects into his anus.
The torture in prisons had long been an endemic disease in Turkey. It was significantly reduced over the past decade due to government reforms as part of the EU process. The efforts to improve safeguards including detention periods, the strict procedures that record detention conditions and take detainees’ statements into account, the right of legal representation during an early stage of police detention were the paramount factors that improved the country’s early poor record on the matter. The obligatory and regular medical examinations of the detainees was another progress in the record. But most of them saw almost complete reversal since July 15 coup attempt.
“Torture is like a contagious disease – once it starts it will spread; it is painful to see the reversal taking place now,” a lawyer detained following the coup attempt along with people he believed had been tortured told the Human Rights Watch.
“It would be tragic if two hastily passed emergency decrees end up undermining the progress Turkey made to combat torture,” Williamson told HRW website. “The authorities should immediately rescind the most damaging provisions and investigate compelling allegations of torture and ill-treatment in police custody and any other place of detention.”