Following the failed July 15th coup d’état in Turkey, the world witnessed how thousands of Turks dealt with their own Turkish soldiers who put down their arms and surrendered. Pro-government Turks beat, tortured and lynched their own soldiers in the streets – before the eyes of the entire world.
But torturing is nothing new in Turkey. It is an old political tradition. Kurdish political prisoners have for decades been exposed to appalling sexual and physical torture in Turkish jails and police stations.
The day before the coup, human rights organizations in Turkey announced in a press conference that many Kurds who have been recently arrested and jailed in the city of Sanliurfa, or Urfa, have been tortured and raped while in detention. [i]
Atilla Yazar, the head of the Urfa branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD), said that they have received complaints of torture from Urfa since 2015. “The detainees are first taken to the anti-terror branch (TEM) of the Urfa police directorate,” said Yazar. “Then they are taken to a cave. They say that they have been tortured heavily. Five of them are women. And they are still in prison now.”
Eren Keskin, the vice-president of the Human Rights Association (IHD), said, “A long time ago, Tayyip Erdogan, who was then prime minister, said that ‘There would be zero tolerance to torture.’ But I think there is boundless tolerance to torture.”
“The stories we heard from the detainees were horrible,” Keskin continued.
“I have been working in the field of torture for the last 20 years. But I did not hear some of those torture methods even in the 1990s, when torture and rapes were very commonplace.
“We see that torture is a state policy and it is systematic. It is not just Turkish soldiers or police officers who are involved, [but also] the prosecutors who do not question them, the doctors who do no not give them medical reports about torture, and the forensic medicine institute all carry this [torture] out together.”
Keskin explained, “Most of the people we talked to were civilian politicians who are members of the legal Democratic Peoples’ Party (DBP). A detainee called Mazlum Dagtekin said that there is a cave of torture filled with tools of torture in the town of Ceylanpinar. He said that they [the police] torture people under the control and supervision of the prosecutor. First, they blindfold them. Then they put a sack on their heads. And they blindfold them again on those sacks. Stripping detainees naked is one of their primary methods.
“Mazlum also said: ‘They put my head in a well. They raped me. They stripped me naked. They inserted a nightstick in my anus. They made me sit on an armchair. They tied my feet with construction wires. They shackled my hands to the armchair. They hit my stomach and chest cavity with nightsticks and punches. Later they tied my hands with a wire and made me swing into a well. They urinated on me. One of the police officers took out his penis and told me to lick it. While all of these things were done to me, the prosecutor was there.’
“At night, they took Mazlum outside. They tied his feet and put a gun to his head. Then they gave him the gun and told him to kill himself. Mazlum told us that at that moment he wanted to die so much that he pulled the trigger without thinking about it at all, but the gun was empty. To bring a person to a point where he wants nothing else but to die is the worst of all tortures.
“Five women that we spoke to were exposed to heavy sexual torture,” added Keskin. “All of them were frisked bare-naked. They touched their bodies. They applied methods of torture that I cannot verbalize here. The women do not want us to express these things. For women who are exposed to sexual torture express what they have experienced with much difficulty. Due to the certain understanding of honor that is exposed on us, they are ashamed, scared and timid. We understand them. But we will write what they have told us in our report and present it to the United Nations.
“This is what all the detainees were told. ‘We are a special team. We came here from Ankara for you. We will commit all kinds of torture to make you speak.’”
Keskin also said that they were planning to file a complaint to the Turkish medical association about the doctors involved in rights violations. “When prisoners are brought to the hospital by the Turkish police, the doctors stick their heads in the vehicle and ask ‘Is there anybody hurt in here?’ The police say, ‘No,’ Then the doctors sign a report which states that there was nobody hurt in the vehicle. This is a clear violation.
“The doctors turn a blind eye to torture or they are forced to. For example, Inci Korkmaz, one of the victims we spoke to, had felt faint. They suspected that she was having a heart attack and took her to hospital. The doctor first told the police ‘not to take her back like that.’ But when the police insisted, the doctor gave her an injection and [let the police take] her back. This is against the Hippocratic Oath.
“The Urfa anti-terror branch is a place where people are openly exposed to sexual torture. We need to make a call to the states that Turkey has signed international treaties with since Turkey is openly violating these treaties,” Keskin said.
Currently in Turkey, the minister of justice has given an order forbidding political prisoners from talking to their lawyers. In addition to the numerous Kurdish political prisoners being tortured and grossly abused by the Turkish authorities, there are now thousands who have been arrested in the wake of the failed coup.
They now have nobody to speak for them.
Will the diplomats in Brussels who advocate and push for the membership of Turkey in the EU please speak out in defense of political prisoners raped and tortured in Turkish police stations and jails?
Will the United States, which supports and finances Turkey, also turn a blind eye to these abuses?
[i] Eren Keskin, the vice-president of the Human Rights Association (IHD), Atilla Yazar, the head of the Urfa branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD), Leyla Coskun, the co-head of the Urfa branch of the Democratic Regions’ Party (DBP), Ayse Surucu, the co-head of the Urfa branch of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Gulay Koca, a member of the legal commission of the DBP, and representatives of other NGOs attended the press meeting.