Turkish authorities are continuing to maintain their silence about the fate of Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who went missing in broad daylight on August 6, 2019, leaving no trace behind. He has not been heard from since. All the efforts of his family and human rights defenders to find out what happened to him have proven to be of no avail.
A year into his disappearance, Tunç’s parents still have no news from their son, believing that he was kidnapped by state agents. Tunç’s car was found in a remote area 45 days after he vanished in Ankara’s GİMAT shopping mall. His family immediately called the police; yet the police showed no real interest in his disappearance, dismissing his wife’s claims and saying: “He might have fled and left his car behind. Take a look at the CCTV footage. He will return.”
“We have received no answers concerning his whereabouts. It has been nearly a year. After we found his car, we called the police, but they refused to launch a crime scene investigation. We contacted the prosecutor’s office and kept the car there for more than a month, untouched, demanding a search for evidence and fingerprints. However, the prosecutor also refused to launch an investigation. When a new prosecutor did finally launch a crime scene investigation, six months had passed and we had already removed the car, had it cleaned and repaired to sell,” said his grieving father.
According to Tunç’s father the officials treated his son’s case as a domestic dispute. “They acted as if my son were someone who deserted his wife and child and ran away. We requested that his phone records be examined. After nearly a year, we still have no results from the phone records. My daughter-in-law and I requested that the prosecutor check the city surveillance cameras; however, they refused to look at them. The investigation file contains abundant correspondence among state institutions, revealing no serious effort for a thorough investigation.”
Tunç is one of seven persons who went missing under suspicious circumstances in Turkey in 2019 only to mysteriously resurface in police custody. Six of them — Salim Zeybek, Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen — reappeared in police custody in Ankara after six to nine-month absences. Salim Zeybek’s wife, Fatma Betül Zeybek, was with him when three men in a vehicle forced them to stop their car and abducted her husband.
Apparently intimated, all of them except two kept their silence after their reappearance. One of them, Gökhan Türkmen, however, revealed in a court hearing on February 10, 2020 that he had been held incommunicado at a black site in Ankara run by Turkey’s intelligence agency and subjected to severe torture during his 271-day stay. Türkmen was the object of threats and was sexually harassed and abused during his enforced disappearance. He also alleged that he was visited in prison and threatened no less than six times by officials who introduced themselves as intelligence officers, pressuring him to retract his allegations of abduction and torture made at the February hearing.
The other man, Yasin Ugan, also testified at a court hearing on June 23 that he had been tortured for six months after being kidnapped on February 13, 2019 by security officers, with his head covered with a black plastic bag most of the time.
All the six missing persons were arrested after their reappearance on charges of membership in the Gülen movement, a faith-based dissident group that has been subjected to continued persecution by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to a report drafted by a group of lawyers from the Ankara Bar Association’s Human Rights Center who went to the prison to speak with the once-missing persons, the lawyers were intimidated by the prison management and threatened by the guards. The previously missing prisoners have never been allowed to have face-to-face meetings with their lawyers or families, and in any meetings they do have, a government official is present; therefore, they have not had the opportunity to recount the torture and inhuman treatment they endured.
The authorities also turned a deaf ear to inquiries from international courts and organizations concerning Tunc’s whereabouts, dismissing a UN query by saying that they were also searching for him, while leaving questions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) with an October 2020 deadline still unanswered.
According to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a prominent human rights activist who has been following the case since the day Tunç disappeared, the government will not respond to the ECtHR’s queries as was the case with the six other abductees.
“They reappeared all of a sudden in police custody just before ECtHR deadlines passed,” he said.
Nearly 30 people have reportedly been abducted by Turkish intelligence officers since 2016. Two of them were able to flee the country and told foreign media about the torture they had endured during their enforced disappearances.
In a recent joint letter UN special rapporteurs expressed their concern about the “systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals suspected of involvement with the Gülen movement from multiple States to Turkey.”