ECtHR asks Turkish government for explanation over the case of abducted lawyer

Emine Özben, whose husband Mustafa Özben was abducted on May 9, 2017, said Turkish police and prosecutors have been unwilling to investigate the missing case.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has decided to evaluate the application of Emine Özben whose husband Mustafa Özben (42), a Bar-registered lawyer and academic, was abducted on May 9, 2017 in Ankara  by elements linked to Turkish security and intelligence services on August 4, 2017.

The lawyer of Emine Özben lodged a complaint form against Turkish government on July 28, 2017 requesting the ECtHR under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court to indicate to the government that an effective investigation be conducted to find the applicant’s husband.

The top European court has decided to put the file in process and requested information from the Turkish government. The court had set a deadline of September 1, 2017 for Ankara to respond.

These are the questions ECtHR asked to Turkish government:

– What steps have been taken by the police officers in order to find the applicant’s husband whose abduction was notified by eyewitnesses to the emergency services (155) immediately afterwards?

– What steps have been taken by the investigating authorities, in particular the relevant prosecutors, in the investigation into the abduction of the applicant’s husband?

In particular, have the investigating authorities:

– made attempts to find the black vehicle into which the applicant’s husband was placed by his kidnappers?

– made attempts to identify the kidnappers?

– questioned M.A.A. who, according to the information in the file, was the owner of the mobile telephone (no. 05370478101) from which the applicant was called in the evening of 11 May 2017?

– identified and questioned all eyewitnesses to the incident?

– located and secured any footages recorded by the CCTVs and other security cameras in the vicinity of the incident and along the route of the black vehicle after the applicant’s husband was placed in that vehicle?

Last month, Emine Özben took the case to the Turkish Constitutional Court (AYM) by filing a complaint on rights violations after her repeated pleas for an effective investigation into the case was rejected by the Turkish Police and prosecutors. She detailed how authorities were unconcerned with her appeals. Until now, Emine Özben has not received any response from the Constitutional Court.

ECtHR also asked what steps have been taken by the Constitutional Court in relation to the request made by the applicant on July 7, 2017 for an interim measure?

Mysterious disappearances involving already-victimized opposition groups have become a common occurrence in Turkey in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Meanwhile, Emine Özben said she was threatened and ordered by authorities to stop following up on her husband’s case, TR724 reported on Monday. According to the report, Özben was told several times at the Ankara Police Department and Public Prosecutor’s Office that she would find herself in trouble if she insisted on claiming that her husband was abducted by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Underlining that her husband was seen by eyewitnesses when he was forcibly put in a black van in Ankara’s Yeni Mahalle neighborhood on May 9, Özben said prosecutors didn’t include the testimony of students and shopkeepers who saw her husband at the time of the abduction in the case file.

Mustafa Özben was working as an academic at Turgut Özal University which was shuttered by government decree after a failed coup in July 2016 due to the institution’s alleged ties to the Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkish authorities carrying out the failed coup.

Özben had been unemployed since the university was closed down, his wife said.

On Aug. 3, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül in a letter to investigate the abductions and possibly enforced disappearances in Ankara of at least four men who have been missing since March.

“There are credible grounds to believe that government agents forcibly disappeared the missing men. The Turkish authorities should promptly uphold their obligation to locate the missing men, who may be in grave danger, secure their release and if they are in custody give them immediate access to a lawyer, and let their families know where they are,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.

HRW was referring to the cases of Önder Asan, Turgut Çapan, Mustafa Özben and Cemil Koçak, all of whom were dismissed from their jobs under state of emergency government decrees and described the similarities in the abductions such as a black Volkswagen Transporter van into which Asan, Özben and Koçak were bundled at different times as reported by witnesses and shown by security camera footage.

“The Turkish authorities should urgently demonstrate their commitment to upholding the absolute prohibition on enforced disappearances and ensure prompt and effective investigations into security forces, intelligence services and all other public officials alleged to have unlawfully deprived individuals of their liberty and tortured or otherwise ill-treated them,” said HRW.

Thirteen people have been reported missing in Ankara since January.

SCF has so far documented 13 individual cases of disappearance since 2016 that show a systematic and deliberate campaign of kidnappings by elements within the Turkish security and intelligence services as part of intimidation campaign to silence critical and independent voices and kill the right to dissent.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch AKP government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup. Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15.

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