Former district governors are being tortured at Ankara Police Department, former deputy says

Thirty-seven former district governors who have been in detention at the Ankara Police Department for the past eight days are being tortured and mistreated, according to former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Mehmet Ali Aslan.

According to the Bold Medya news website, some of the detainees were released but others are being held blindfolded. The prosecutor reportedly requested the extension of their detention for a third time.

The former district governors were detained on April 7 on charges of links to the Gülen movement, a faith based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. According to the state-run Anadolu news agency they were accused of using payphones to communicate with the followers of the movement.

The so-called “payphone investigations” are based on call records. The prosecutors assume that a member of the Gülen movement used the same payphone to call all his contacts consecutively. Based on that assumption, when an alleged member of the movement is found in call records, it is assumed that other numbers called right before or after that call also belong to people with Gülen links. Receiving calls from a payphone periodically is also considered a red flag.

The authorities do not have the actual content of the phone calls in question and they do not know if there actually was a phone conversation or if the call was unanswered. According to human rights lawyers, under normal circumstances such call records cannot be considered legal evidence.

Turkish 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 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 locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.

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

After the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 20,610 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

The Ankara Police Department has been at the center of torture and mistreatment allegations before. In May 2019 families of former employees of the Turkish Foreign Ministry who were detained on alleged links to the Gülen movement claimed that the detainees were being tortured to obtain forced confessions.

Following the allegations, a committee from the Ankara Bar Association conducted an on-site visit and held interviews with six detainees. The committee’s report found that five diplomats were tortured, that they were battered, that some were stripped naked and threatened with rape with a truncheon.

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