Former diplomats detained in Turkey, leading to fears of another round of torture

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Turkish authorities on Friday ordered the detention of 29 former diplomats due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement, leading to fears of torture and mistreatment following the torture of some of their colleagues at the Ankara Police Department in 2019.

According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, police conducted operations across 15 provinces and took 14 former diplomats into custody based on detention warrants issued by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The suspects are accused of cheating in Foreign Ministry entrance exams and using the ByLock messaging app, which is considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement. The app was once widely available online including Apple’s and Google’s app stores.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members, and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

According to a statement by the Institute for Diplomacy and Economy (INSTITUDE), a platform founded by a group of former Turkish diplomats, the detainees include some of the same diplomats who were tortured in 2019.

In May 2019 some 100 former diplomats were detained by the authorities over alleged exam cheating. On May 26 Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu posted a tweet saying there were serious allegations of torture of the diplomats, including rape by batons.

Following the allegations, the Ankara Bar Association conducted an investigation and said the victims’ statements “confirm that the individuals were subjected to blows, torture and ill-treatment.” The victims said they were forced to sign prepared statements.

Despite the credible allegations and the bar association’s report, however, on August 6, 2020 the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office said there were no grounds to prosecute the case.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was among the institutions that were hit the hardest by the purges. According to Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran, 550 career diplomats — around 30 percent of the Turkish diplomatic corps — had been dismissed as of May 2019.

The 2019 incident had come amid news that former prime minister and foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was working to establish a new political party, leading to speculation that the diplomats were tortured to get statements incriminating Davutoğlu about the foreign ministry’s entrance exams held during his tenure.

The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has repeatedly stated that arrest and conviction based on ByLock use in Turkey violated Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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