Female student subjected to unlawful strip-search files complaint amid government’s persistent denial

A female student who was subjected to an unlawful strip-search in detention has filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office after top government officials denied that strip-searches were taking place in Turkish prisons.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and human rights activist, posted a copy of the complaint on his Twitter account, criticizing the government’s denial that such incidents have occurred.

According to the testimony of the student, who was not named, the incident took place in Uşak Prison on August 31, 2020. She claimed she was made to take off all her clothes, and when she resisted taking off her underwear, she was yelled at by the prison guards. The student added that when she notified the guards that she needed feminine hygiene products, she was not given any. Hours later she was handed a sanitary pad by a male guard.

Gergerlioğlu said the student’s formal complaint was a clear answer to government officials who have refused to acknowledge that detainees and inmates were being subjected to humiliating and unlawful strip-searches.

The student was one of the 30 students who were detained in Uşak due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith based group inspired by US based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, and strip-searched before admission to a detention facility in late August. After their ordeal was made public by Gergerlioğlu on social media, scores of women came forward about their own humiliating experiences in prison.

Özlem Zengin, a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), described women who had revealed their experiences of unlawful prison strip-searches as “disreputable” and “immoral” during a speech in the Turkish parliament.

She said if unlawful strip-searches had occurred in prison, then the victims should have reported them immediately. Zengin added that allegations concerning strip-searches were “fictional” and were used by “terrorist organizations,” in particular by members of the Gülen movement to disparage the government.

Zengin has repeatedly denied allegations concerning unlawful strip-searches in prisons and accused Gergerlioğlu of terrorizing the legislature by bringing such allegations to the floor of parliament.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu also refused to acknowledge the unlawful strip-searches. He said the allegations were aimed at slandering the government and that Gergerlioğlu was a “terrorist” for bringing up the issue in parliament.

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

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Fethullah Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

According to a statement from 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.

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