Female students strip-searched, denied right to consult lawyer

Female students detained by Turkish police last week over alleged links to the Gülen movement were subjected to a strip-search and interrogated without a lawyer present, according to the account of one of the 30 university students who spoke to Bold Medya.

The students were detained in the western city of Uşak, and after spending five days in a police detention center were brought in front of a judge on September 4. Twenty-two of them were released by the court pending trial. They were accused of membership in the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has long resided in the US.

The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Speaking to Sevinç Özarslan of Bold Medya on condition of anonymity, one of the students talked about her ordeal. According to her account, the improper treatment started when they first arrived at the police detention center. They were asked to remove their headscarves (hijabs) in front of a group of male and female officers. In Islam Muslim women are required to observe the hijab in front of any man they could theoretically marry. Therefore, this episode was quite unnerving for them.

A worse kind of inhuman treatment was to come when they were subjected to strip-searches. They were asked to get undressed by female officers in front of them and to squat. The witness said she had to go through this process twice.

According to her account, the students who wanted to consult with their lawyers during the process were not allowed to do so. “My lawyer was only allowed when I gave my official testimony and also a couple of hours before appearing in front of the court,” she said. Yet, beyond the official testimony, the police officers took the students to lengthy interrogation sessions that sometimes took three to four hours before they had a chance to meet with their lawyers.

Claiming that they had been following them for two years and that they “knew about everything,” the police tried to get them to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. The witness said: “They put a lot of psychological pressure on us. [I heard that] a student fainted three times during the interrogation.”

The young woman also talked about the suffering of a woman named Büşra Elbüken, who was detained only two days after surgery. Elbüken had to get her dressing changed but wasn’t taken to a doctor. The witness said Elbüken was in a lot of pain and that she would never forget her moaning. When they were finally taken to the hospital for a legally required doctor’s visit, she was told by the doctor that “I only look to see if you sustained any blows.”

Following the coup attempt the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on followers of the Gülen movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations.” The purge mainly targeted people who were allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement but included other people from a wide variety of backgrounds as well.

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