Deaths in detentions and prisons due to torture, abuse and ill-treatment have become recurring theme in Turkey with close to 100 cases reported as suspicious deaths and suicides in the last sixteen months alone.
Many human rights monitoring groups have documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees that suggest a widespread, systematic and deliberate torture by the government of Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has already published several reports confirming that such cases have been taking place in detentions and jails or sometime in black sites that were used as mass holding places for a large number of detainees without any due process.
In the new report titled “Tortured to Death”, SCF investigators expose a single case of 42-year-old history teacher Gökhan Açıkkollu, who died after enduring 13 days of torture and abuse in police detention in İstanbul. The report details each and every day he was kept in custody where he had been repeatedly beaten by his interrogators. The government documents, medical reports, independent opinions and witnesses’ statements, obtained by the SCF and revealed in the report, shows his death was not due to natural causes at all.
“The details of this single case with hitherto unknown facts about Açıkkollu’s death have really shaken our investigators and we have decided to dedicate this report to his memory to show the world what is taking place under Erdoğan’s brutally oppressive regime,” Abdullah Bozkurt, the president of SCF said.
“He was telling doctors everyday what he was going through and prosecutor’s office was getting copies of these records on a daily basis. Yet he was sent time and again to the detention to face a new round of torture that eventually claimed his life,”’ he added.
The report also exposes the names of the police officers who were present at the building at the time of Açıkkollu’s death and urges Turkish government to hold those who are responsible for his death to the account.
Unfortunately, the terrible saga of Açıkkollu’s family was far from over even after his death as authorities neither arranged a funeral car to transport him nor provided embalming of the body which are standard services in Turkey for all the deceased. He was hauled in utility vehicle to the cemetery where government imam refused to lead prayer service. His wife Mümüne Açıkkollu was also briefly detained afterwards by the same prosecutor who ordered detention of her husband.
Public prosecutor dropped the probe into torture allegations although he had more than enough evidence of torture according to the documents provided by government-designated health facilities. Several witnesses came forward testifying to torture. Only after long legal challenge, the prosecutor had to open another probe but there was no progress reported on the second probe either.
Turkish authorities continue denying that there is no torture in Turkey at all while blocking the publication of the report by the Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee (CPT) who visited Turkey for a fact-finding mission in September 2016.
The accumulation of overwhelming evidence in this case is quite valuable considering that the police in Turkey often try to cover up the commission of crimes. Authorities tamper with evidence, doctor records and ensure that the texts of witnesses’ accounts, post mortem and medical reports reflect the official version of the detainee’s death.