Kurdish inmates on hunger strike subjected to strip search and abuse in prison

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Four Kurdish inmates on a hunger strike were on Wednesday subjected to an unlawful strip search and abuse at Kayseri Bünyan Prison in central Turkey, local Turkish media reported.

Former university students Cumali Yıldırım, Feyyaz Gürsoy, Ali Saday and Emre Kına were serving prison sentences in Kırşehir Prison in central Turkey for affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK). They started a hunger strike in June to protest the poor treatment of inmates and unsanitary prison conditions. They were transferred to Kayseri Bünyan Prison, 138 kilometers from Kırşehir, without the knowledge of their families. Upon arrival, they were ordered to undress for a strip search. The students claimed the guards forced them to undress when they refused.

The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

In a phone call to his sister, Yıldırım said: “We were beaten by a number of guards on our first night. We are under immense pressure here.”

According to Turkish regulations, strip searches can only be conducted in exceptional cases, such as when there are credible indications that the person has contraband materials on him. In such cases the search must be conducted in a manner so as not to humiliate the person and as quickly as possible. When there is a credible suspicion that something is hidden in the person’s body, officers are required to ask the person to remove it himself and inform him that if he disobeys, the removal will be done by the prison doctor.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found strip searches to constitute degrading treatment when not justified by compelling security reasons and/or due to the way they were conducted.

But the practice has been used frequently by Turkish security forces against people suspected or convicted of political crimes. In August it was reported that Eylem Oyunlu, who was detained with her 10-day-old baby on the charge of aiding a terrorist organization, was strip searched in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. In May 2018 Pınar Aydınlar, a famous folk singer and party council member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was beaten by guards at İstanbul’s Bakırköy Prison for Women after refusing a strip search.

In a guide published by the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force in March 2014, it is stated that any counter-terrorism measure related to the searching of persons must be prescribed by law, and strict and precise guidelines must clearly specify the circumstances in which such measures may be used and specify the conditions that must be obeyed by those applying the procedure. Even if a law authorizes — within the context of a personal search or a strip search — an agent to request a person to remove an overcoat, jacket, gloves, hat, sunglasses or any other item that may be used to conceal the person’s identity, the request may only be made when the agent seeks to confirm the identity of a person, or has reasonable suspicion that the person is hiding a weapon underneath items.

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