HRW: Turkish police, watchmen involved in torture, ill-treatment

There is credible evidence that Turkish police and community “night watchmen” have committed serious abuses against at least 14 people in six incidents in Diyarbakır and İstanbul in the last two months, Human Rights Watch said on July 29.

“The cases illustrate a worrying pattern of violent arrest, beatings, and other abuse that seems to be part of an increase in violent treatment in custody. They should be fully investigated,” HRW said, adding, “In four of the cases, the authorities have publicly refuted or countered allegations of abuse rather than making a commitment to investigate them.”

Police torture and ill-treatment have been on the increase over the past five years and in particular since a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, according to HRW.

The lack of condemnation from higher officials and a readiness to cover up allegations have resulted in widespread impunity for security forces, HRW found.

“The immediate knee-jerk denial of police wrongdoing when faced with reports of police violence, torture, and ill-treatment – specifically in recent incidents in Diyarbakır – is sadly familiar, but not acceptable,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at HRW.

“Turkish authorities should immediately investigate these credible allegations of serious abuse and hold those responsible accountable,” he added.

“In two incidents, police officers set police dogs on people in their homes, leaving them with bite marks on their limbs. In two others, involving the detention of suspects in the fatal shooting of police officers, images of the detainees with signs of having been beaten and otherwise abused were posted on private social media accounts. In all cases, the authorities have claimed – without evidence – that those alleging police ill-treatment violently resisted arrest and the police.

“Human Rights Watch reviewed photos, videos, and legal and medical documents in the incidents examined, and interviewed lawyers, families, and witnesses and, where possible, the victims.

“In the most recent episode that Human Rights Watch documents, on July 18, 2020, the police detained three suspects, two of them children, in İstanbul, in connection with the fatal shooting of one police officer and injury of another. One of them, a 17-year-old identified by his initials because he is a child, told lawyers that police beat him with a cable and fists, kicked him in the face several times, and ‘bounced his head against the walls like a ball.’

“Human Rights Watch viewed photographs of the detainees posted online by anonymous accounts in which bruising consistent with his allegations was clearly visible. The police account of the arrest claims that the police officers used proportionate force to restrain him when he attempted to injure himself.

“Masked police raided Sevil Çetin’s house in Diyarbakır city, in the country’s southeast, on June 26. Çetin, an official for the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and former elected mayor, told her lawyers that the police broke down her door and let two dogs attack and bite her. She said: ‘[Officers] grabbed my hair and pushed me on the ground. They were kicking me and hitting me with the back of their guns, spitting on my half-naked body. They said, ‘If you had lived on the fifth floor, you would have jumped off and we wouldn’t have had to deal with you.’” Human Rights Watch has seen photographs of Çetin’s injuries.

“Masked counterterrorism officers raided the Diyarbakır home of Şeyhmus and Menice Yılmaz and their three children on May 31. Şeyhmus Yılmaz said that the police held him on the ground as dogs bit his arms and scratched his body: ‘I kept telling them to check my ID so that they would understand I was not the person they were looking for. But they kept saying ‘Hit him, kill him!’” Human Rights Watch has seen photographs of Yılmaz’s injuries.

“Lawyers for Muhammed Emir Cura, a suspect in the killing of a police officer in Diyarbakır, said that Cura told them that at the police station officers stripped him, beat him with batons and fists, and choked him until he fainted. Photos posted on social media by unknown people show Cura lying naked on the floor. A video shot on a mobile phone and showing two men from the waist down standing in a room records the sound of a person off camera whose voice Cura and his lawyers have identified as Cura’s groaning and crying out apparently while being abused.

“Hacı Eray Tosun and Koray Tosun, brothers who run a café in Diyarbakır, allege that on June 13 police detained and beat them and two other men working with them after a dispute over police attempts to fine customers at the café for not wearing masks during the Covid-19 pandemic. A photo of Eray Tosun supports his allegation that police knocked out three of his front teeth.

Human Rights Watch also documented a case in which community night watchmen ill-treated Cihat Duman and two other men in İstanbul. Duman, an İstanbul lawyer, said that on July 5, community night watchmen beat and handcuffed him, sprayed teargas into his face, and took him to the police station after he attempted to intervene to stop them beating two men in central İstanbul.

“There has been a marked resurgence of police torture and ill-treatment in custody over the past five years and in particular since the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. Lack of condemnation from higher officials and a readiness to cover up allegations rather than investigate them has resulted in widespread impunity for security forces. There has been no justice for victims in cases of torture and other abuse documented by Human Rights Watch in recent years, and Turkey has a long and poor history of tolerating torture and invoking superficial denials and unconvincing explanations of how detainees have been seriously injured or died in custody.

“Opposition members of parliament have frequently submitted written parliamentary questions regarding torture or ill-treatment. The Interior and Justice Ministries have not responded to most questions, although under parliamentary rules they are obligated to do so within 15 days. In one answer to a question about the torture of 55 men and women in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa in May 2019, the Interior Ministry simply dismissed the allegations as “baseless statements and smear campaigns against the security forces.” The complaints have not been investigated.

“Widespread impunity for abuses by security officers sends a message that they are above the law and encourages them to abuse detainees,” Porteous said. “Turkey’s president and interior minister need to state publicly in unconditional terms that Turkey will abide by the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and bring those responsible for abuse to justice.”

Click here to read further details about the six cases.

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