Jailed rights advocate says he found document detailing strip-searches

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights advocate and former lawmaker who has shone a light on controversial topics including torture and strip-searches in Turkey’s prisons and detention centers, said in a message sent from prison that he saw a document detailing the practice of strip-search in prisons, Turkish Minute reported.

“I have been put in jail because I said, ‘Strip-searches are taking place.’ I found a document detailing the practice in prison. It says in the prisoner assistance booklet that ‘Even the underwear can be pulled down [during the search]’,” Gergerlioğlu, a former deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said in a tweet posted by others on April 10.

“Where are the people who have been denying it for months, saying, ‘I don’t believe it.’ You can’t compete with the truth,” he added, referring to ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy group chairperson Özlem Zengin, who had categorically denied the existence of strip-searches in Turkey and accused Gergerlioğlu of “terrorizing the parliament” with his reports about the humiliating practice.

After Gergerlioğlu brought several reports of strip-searches into the public eye in late 2020, dozens of women, including prominent writers and a politician, related their experiences of strip-search in custody during a Turkish wave of revelations similar to the international #MeToo movement in which women described past sexual harassment.

Zengin, however, accused the women of telling “fictive” stories and claimed that the strip-search reports were “made up” by followers of the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen that is accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, despite strong denial by the faith-based group.

The AKP deputy also caused an uproar after she described the victims of strip-searches in Turkey’s prisons and detention centers as “dishonorable” for failing to immediately report such incidents to the authorities.

“Criminal complaint takes place right after an incident. If you strip-searched a woman, she would immediately report her humiliation; she wouldn’t wait a year [to reveal it]. An honorable woman, a woman with morals, would not wait a year,” she said in parliament.

The 55-year-old Gergerlioğlu, who was stripped of his status in parliament on March 17 based on a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence handed down to him on terrorism charges, has been behind bars in Ankara’s Sincan Prison to serve his sentence since April 3.

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