Members of the Gülen movement who were arrested for allegedly “spreading COVID-19 across Turkey” were subjected to torture and ill treatment in police detention in the western province of Çanakkale, the Bold Medya news website reported.
According to Bold Medya, the detainees were beaten and subjected to strappado, or hung by the arms, while in police custody. The suspects were also stripped naked and threatened with sexual assault by the police.
Turkish police on May 21 detained 84 members of the movement in operations across 14 provinces for allegedly spreading the coronavirus, providing financial support to the families of people who are behind bars on alleged Gülen links and suspicious communication with each other on the Internet and through online games. The detentions took place as part of an investigation overseen by the Çanakkale Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based 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.
Turkey has experienced a marked resurgence of torture and ill-treatment in custody over the past five years and especially since the coup attempt.
The Council of Europe’s (CoE) Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) confirmed in two reports published in August 2020 the continued existence of ill-treatment, torture, informal questioning and restricted access to a lawyer as well as a fundamentally flawed medical screening system in Turkish detention facilities.
Monthly rights violations reports prepared by Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a human rights defender and deputy from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), have revealed that 62 people were subjected to torture and ill treatment in Turkish prisons in February, while 233 incidents of torture and maltreatment took place in prisons in March.
According to a statement from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the Gülen movement.