JWF expresses concerns over extra-judicial executions of high profile detainees in Turkish prisons

The Gülen movement-affiliated Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF), which is based in New York, has expressed its concerns on “the clear trend of increasingly ‘high-profile’ detainees among those dead in suspicious circumstances in places of deprivation of liberty.”

Releasing a report titled Death in Custody- Right to Life in Turkish Prisons the JWF stated that “In particular, the family members of police officers and members of the judiciary who have in the past investigated high-level cases of corruption or other wrongdoing by individuals close to the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party), have long shared concerns that their loved ones in prisons would become the next victim.”

Over the last two years, the JWF has documented the death, under suspicious circumstances, of at least 60 individuals deprived of their liberty in the context of “measures undertaken against the coup plotters.”

Therefore, the JWF has urged the international community to ensure the protection of individuals who are at risk of arbitrary deprivation of their life because of unlawful actions in Turkish prisons by state agents acting on behalf of the Turkish government.

The JWF also called on the international community to address, as a matter of priority and importance, the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey, including in relation to the arbitrary deprivation of life in Turkish prisons, through relevant and appropriate United Nations, Council of Europe (CoE) and other international and regional mechanisms as well as through country visits and bilateral diplomatic engagement.

The JWF strongly urged Turkish authorities to respect and ensure the right to life of persons within their jurisdiction, including when such persons are held in custody and also urged them to organize all state organs and governance structures through which public authority is exercised, including law enforcement agencies, security forces and the military, in a manner consistent with the need to respect and ensure the right to life.

The JWF also strongly urged the Turkish government to ensure adequate conditions of detention for all those deprived of their liberty, including adequate medical care, and to conduct prompt and independent investigations whenever a person dies in custody.

Stating that since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government have gone to the extreme many times by declaring that Gülen movement members do not have a right to life and will beg for death in prisons, the report said, “He and members of his government have repeatedly and publicly discussed the idea of reinstating the death penalty specifically for the members of the Gülen Movement.”

“While the reinstatement of the death penalty may not be legally feasible and would in turn further isolate Turkey, an avenue that the authorities seem not to be willing to follow, the analysis of this increasingly concerning issue and also empirical evidence show that the same “result” is been pursued through extrajudicial executions, both in places of deprivation of liberty and in the streets of Turkey, in suspicious circumstances and also through enforced and involuntary disappearances,” said the JWF report.

Reminding that the Turkish government removed all the safeguards against torture during the first days in the aftermath of the attempted coup, effectively writing a blank check to law enforcement agencies to torture and mistreat detainees, the report stated that “Even though the government has vehemently denied that torture and ill-treatment has played a role to deaths under custody and autopsy reports, as well as investigation files, have been kept confidential, it is beyond doubt that at least several of the deaths under police custody were a direct consequence of widespread, systematic and deliberate torture by the government of Turkey.”

The report underlined the fact that “[s]everal months after the attempted coup it appears that plans were made for many detainees, real or perceived members or the Hizmet/Gülen Movement to be summarily executed by allegedly opening prison gates with deployed soldiers or members of the SADAT militia shooting down prisoners ‘escaping’ in a staged prison break.”

“Widespread claims in social media claimed that militants planned to launch a killing spree in prisons under the pretext of an orchestrated escape plan, aiming to kill those involved in coup plot rendering any insight into the truths behind the coup attempt useless. The plan was aborted, allegedly due to public exposure,” reported the JWF.

“Suspicious deaths of alleged members of the Hizmet/Gülen Movement in places of deprivation of liberty however only intensified. From the information contained in the enclosed lists, it can be concluded that the most common causes of death made public by the authorities are suicide, heart attack of seemingly healthy individuals and death as a result of lack of medical care. In all the cases no prompt or independent official investigations have been conducted.”

The JWF expressed its concerns on “the clear trend of increasingly ‘high-profile’ detainees among those dead in suspicious circumstances in places of deprivation of liberty.”

“In particular, the family members of police officers and members of the judiciary who have in the past investigated high-level cases of corruption or other wrongdoing by individuals close to the ruling AKP, have long shared concerns that their loved ones in prisons would become the next victim,” said the report.

Some other excerpts from the JWF are as follows:

“Based on the 2016 statistics released by the Ministry of Justice, the number of investigations on offenses listed under the Anti-Terror Law and those provided for under the Title ‘Offences against the Nation and the State’ increased fivefold compared to the preceding year, reaching 229,662 investigations. Out of them 67 percent (155,014) of those investigations were initiated based on Article 314 (1) of the Turkish Penal Code.

“The sheer number of 228,137 individuals taken into custody and detained on remand as a result, and over 79,774 arrests since the attempted coup with little or no clarity about the charges, is highly disturbing. The occupational profile of those detained reveals that the majority are members of the judiciary, public officials, members of the parliament, mayors, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, teachers, lawyers, businessmen, students and members of the military. From the number of detained persons, including immediately in the aftermath of the attempted coup, it is evident that reasonable suspicion, an essential requirement for the imposition of pretrial detention, has not been present at every stage of individual detention.

“Even before the July 15 coup attempt, Turkey’s criminal system was overstretched, with crowded prisons and backlogged courts. Prisons quickly filled to capacity in the days and weeks after the coup attempt, and many detainees found themselves sleeping in shifts, even in the communal spaces, often without any bedding. Authorities also used sports arenas, temporary tents and other unofficial detention facilities to house the tens of thousands rounded up in alleged connection with the coup attempt.

“Detainees were reportedly kept naked and handcuffed as they were deprived of their basic human rights, including sufficient water and food. In August 2016, acting under powers granted by the state of emergency, authorities announced (and implemented) plans to release 38,000 prisoners (roughly one in five in Turkish prisons, convicted of fraud, rape, theft, looting extortion and other serious crimes), to make room for the wave of journalists, teachers, lawyers, civil servants and judges detained after the coup attempt.

“As of March 20, 2018, at least 224,974 inmates and detainees were deprived of their liberty in Turkey. Out of them 57,5 percent (129,472) were inmates having received final sentences, 11 percent (24,813) deprived of liberty and awaiting the outcome of respective appeals and 33,2 percent (70,689) detainees pending trial or investigation. In comparison, in 2015 the total number of those arrested/convicted/sentenced was 178,089 and 154,179 in 2014. When the AKP came into power, this number was around 59,429, or only one-fourth of those currently deprived of liberty.

“Based on the information provided by the Ministry of Justice General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses, there are currently 389 penitentiary institutions prisons with a total capacity of 210,882 individuals. A comprehensive study carried out in 2017 on prison conditions in Turkey by the Platform for Peace and Justice (PPJ) reveals that 72 out of 80 prisons are inadequate for accommodating individuals deprived of their liberty.

“None of the arbitrary restrictions and limitations imposed in particular on those allegedly linked to the Hizmet/Gülen Movement have any penological goal, other than intentional infliction of unwarranted and unlawful pain and suffering. Among the restrictions are also the ban of watching TV or listening to the radio, access to books, access to cultural and art events, attendance of courses, use of sports facilities, incoming and outgoing communications etc.

“The JWF is seriously concerned that those deprived of their liberty face significant obstacles and the required medical personnel and equipment are not available. In this connection, a recent study from the Human Rights Association of Turkey (İHD) found that there are 1,154 sick prisoners, including 401 seriously ill in Turkey’s prisons. Measures undertaken against the alleged members of the Hizmet/Gülen Movement have had an adverse effect on family members, and it is believed, in all instances in particular on children.

“The denial of the right to life has been ‘extended’ to include children born in discriminated families, through intentional, targeted discriminatory policies in the provision of health care and other necessary services to children. In many cases, unborn children have not survived due to government’s victimization and the psychological pressure on their parents. The government has cut off disability and social benefits to spouses or children of parents detained or arrested over alleged links to the Hizmet/Gülen Movement. Children of individuals perceived close to the movement are also denied health care in hospitals and health centers.

“The government has resorted to intentional methods and practices of violence that are particularly harmful and dehumanizing against alleged members or sympathizers of the Hizmet movement, with the intention of causing humiliation, fear, and terror. As a direct result of these policies, children of individuals accused of being close to the Gülen movement have increasingly resorted to changing their last names, in order for them not to be associated with their parents [Hizmet movement] and avoid, inter alia, discrimination, harassment, and pressure at schools, in their neighborhoods and beyond. In several cases brought to the attention of the JWF, children have succumbed to the immense psychological and other pressure. Some also appear to have committed suicide.

“The comprehensive report of the JWF on the rights of children also found that by the end of August 2017, six hundred sixty-eight (668) children under the age of six were deprived of their liberty across Turkey with their mothers, detained or arrested as part of the government crackdown on the Hizmet Movement. One hundred forty-nine (149) of those children were infants under a year old. Growing up in prison conditions, sometimes lacking adequate food, necessary health care, and other services, their physical and psychological development is at serious risk.

“On the basis of numerous interviews and credible reports, OHCHR identified a particularly alarming pattern of detaining women just before or immediately after giving birth. OHCHR estimates that approximately 600 women with young children were being held in detention in Turkey as of December 2017. Numerous reports of ill-treatment during childbirth in health facilities across Turkey provide a deeply distressing picture of the extent of the exposure of discriminated women to degrading treatment, verbal and physical violence. Many women have as a result lost their unborn babies and suffered a miscarriage.

“Persons with disabilities, elderly and the sick have also been disproportionally targeted, following the attempted coup. As a State Party to the CRPD, Turkey has the obligation to recognize the rights of persons with disabilities and take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of their rights without discrimination. Instead, disabled persons in prisons, alleged members of the Hizmet Movement, face unnecessary suffering and humiliation, solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, denial of medical treatment and adequate nutrition – a situation which in itself amounts to torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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