Erhan Doğan, who was tortured at a gymnasium-turned detention center in Turkey, recounted for the first time the torture he underwent and witnessed to the Bold Medya news website.
Doğan, a history teacher by profession, was detained nine days after a July 15, 2016, failed coup and taken to a gym run by the Ankara Police Department that was used as a detention center after the coup attempt by its counterterrorism department (TEM).
The Turkish government carried out a massive crackdown after the coup attempt, investigating 597,783 people on coup-related charges, detaining 282,790, with 94,975 of them arrested. A total of 25,912 of the arrestees are still in jail, according to figures provided by Turkey’s Interior Ministry.
July 15 ‘concentration camp’
What happened in the building called “the concentration camp” in a report by the Ankara Chamber of Physicians has not yet been fully brought to light, although some victims have detailed the torture they underwent there in court. Doğan, a victim of the torture engaged in by security personnel at the gym, spoke about the torture he underwent and witnessed there.
Two sites in Ankara were used as centers for torture on a massive scale: the gym adjacent to the Ankara Police Department, and the Equestrian Sports Club in Ankara’s Beştepe district.
‘We were greeted with kicks and punches’
After his private prep school was shut down by the government, Doğan started a study center with some of his colleagues. On the evening of July 24, 2016 his study center was stormed by the police.
“We were kept and beaten at the study center until early in the morning. In the morning, we were first taken to the TEM. Once there a shower of kicks and punches started. They asked who the director of the study center was. When I replied, ‘Me’, they separated me and then took me to a dark corridor under a shower of kicks and punches. As it turned out, it was just the introductory beating to be followed by harsher ones.”
“Then they took me to the Ankara Police Department gym, a large indoor sports facility. They made everyone wear orange shirts in the gym. Rows of people with their hands cuffed from behind, facing the wall. It reminded me of Guantanamo. There were traces of blood on the walls as high up as a human being. Later I learned that the blood belonged to tortured soldiers rounded up right after the coup attempt.”
‘They hung me in strappado’
“Then they put me in orange clothes. Our hands were cuffed from behind. Whoever heard his name being called was terrified. They were taking the person called to a partition made by folding screens to torture him there. They took me, too, on the first evening. Bearded, weird looking, plainclothes cops.”
He was severely beaten there. “Grabbing me by my hair, they hit my head against the wall. They removed my clothes down to my underwear, then they doused me with water and beat me with truncheon. But the team we were really afraid of was the one working the night shift. There was a team that came at around 11 or 12 at night and left at around 4 in the morning. Their torture was unbearable. They hung me up for two-and-a-half hours in strappado. When they lowered me to the ground, I thought all my bones were broken. I couldn’t walk.
“During the interrogation, they suddenly battered you violently while you were talking to the police without any apparent reason or provocation, targeting particularly your calves and groin. Once I was answering a question, and I got a severe blow to my kneecap. My whole body was convulsed with pain. I heard a crack. I learned that my cruciate ligament was ruptured when I went to a doctor after I was released from there. I lost three teeth as well as my glasses during the torture.”
Screams of women being raped
“When we got back from the torture, we couldn’t sit on our knees. We were rolling over on our right and left sides. Then kicking us, the police warned us to sit upright. We were not allowed to sleep. At night, the police played basketball in the gym to keep us awake. Whoever rolled over got beaten.
“We lost all sense of time, but it must have been on July 28 at around 11 at night when my name was called. I was taken to the partition. The front screens were left open. When the police started battering me, I saw three young women in headscarves being led in front of the partition I was in. They were 20 to 25 years old. They were taken to an adjacent partition.”
“They started torturing them. The girls were screaming. At that moment, I was being tortured, too, but I forgot my agony. Swearing rudely, the police were saying they would rape the women. The women were begging them, “Don’t do that, don’t rape us.” I realized from their subsequent reactions and wailing that they had been raped. It took about 45 minutes. I will never forget the screams of those girls.
“The police who tortured me threatened to bring my daughter and my wife and rape them if I did not say what they wanted. I no longer cared about the torture I underwent that night.
“It took about 45 minutes. Then they took me away, but the torture of the women in the next room continued. Judging from their cries and screams, I am absolutely sure they were raped.
“Meanwhile, the reactions of the police next to me were very normal, as if they were doing something they had been accustomed to doing.
“Then they took me back to the gym, I began to think about committing suicide. In the morning, I went to the toilet to see if I could kill myself. I went back and forth between my faith, which prohibits suicide, and committing suicide. I gave up. Then they called the names of those to be arraigned. When I heard my name being called, I was happy. To be arrested and put in prison sounded like an award.”
Four persons corroborated Doğan’s testimony on the women’s cries
Four other people detained in the gym at the same time and contacted by Bold Medya corroborated Doğan’s accounts of the women.
Four people stated that the screams of the tortured women were clearly heard in the gym, appalling everyone in custody, Bold Medya reported.
Three of the witnesses understood the screams of the women to mean they were being raped. The fourth witness said he was more familiar with the subject due to his profession and that the women were raped with a foreign object. All the witnesses stated that they could identify the police officers in question.
Doctor could not report the torture
Doğan said all the torture in the gym was witnessed by a female doctor present there but that she did not report anything:
“When they took me to the doctor, she asked me if I had any complaints. I was soaked in blood, it was obvious that I had been tortured. I involuntarily said, ‘Don’t you see?’ The police took me away, telling the doctor they would bring me back. I was beaten once again. ‘You will not speak, we will,’ they said. Back to the doctor, who asked me again if I had anything to say. The police officer next to me replied, ‘As fit as a fiddle.’
‘I could not talk about the torture in the courtroom’
Doğan stated that the police officers who tortured him were present when he was taken to court for arraignment. “I could not tell the judge about the torture I underwent lest they torture me again. I remained silent at the hearing so that I would be arrested and sent to prison as soon as possible.”
After the coup attempt, torture became widespread and systematic, a fact evidenced by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
“[I]n the immediate aftermath of the failed coup, torture and other forms of ill-treatment were widespread, particularly at the time of arrest and during the subsequent detention in police or gendarmerie lock-ups as well as in improvised unofficial detention locations such as sports centres, stables and the corridors of courthouses,” the special rapporteur found on his mission to Turkey between November 27 to December 2, 2016.