Kurdish man feared abducted by Turkish intelligence turns up in detention after 45 days

Photo Credit: Bahtiyar Fırat | MA

Bahtiyar Fırat, a Kurdish man who had been missing since October 14, has re-emerged in detention at the organized crimes bureau of the İstanbul police and seems to have suffered physical trauma during his time in custody, according to his family, the Duvar news website reported.

His family said Fırat had lost a lot of weight and had marks of beating and torture on his arms and face. “We have been searching for him for 45 days. The prosecutor’s office claimed they did not know where he was, but we got a phone call on November 26 from a police station telling us that he was with them.”

The family also said they did not know why Fırat was held in detention. “He can barely speak because of the trauma he experienced. Whatever he has done, it does not justify torture.”

Bahtiyar Fırat, a school bus driver who lived in the southeastern city of Hakkari, was on his way to Tehran when he was detained by airport police at İstanbul Airport. He was told he was going to be handed over to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Fırat was released a few hours later but had already missed his flight. On the way to a hotel, he noticed his taxi was being followed by another car.

He immediately called his wife, Esra Fırat, and told her he was being followed and asked her to contact the public prosecutor’s office if she could not reach his phone. Esra Fırat said she had not heard from her husband since this last call.

Fırat said they were anxious about her husband’s well-being. “Even if he did commit a crime, we need to know where he is. We have been waiting for the prosecutor to give us details about his situation for a week,” she added.

Nearly 30 people have reportedly been abducted by Turkish intelligence since 2016. Two of them were able to flee the country and told foreign media about the torture they had endured during their enforced disappearances.

Most of the abductions after 2016 targeted members of the Gülen movement. The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup or any terrorist activity.

Seven people went missing under suspicious circumstances in Turkey in 2019. Six of them — Salim Zeybek, Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen — mysteriously reappeared in police custody in Ankara after six to nine-month absences. Salim Zeybek’s wife, Fatma Betül Zeybek, was with him when three men in a vehicle forced them to stop their car and abducted her husband.

Apparently intimated, all of them except two kept their silence after their reappearance. Türkmen, however, revealed in a court hearing on February 10, 2020 that he had been held incommunicado at a black site in Ankara run by Turkey’s intelligence agency and subjected to severe torture during his 271-day stay. Türkmen was the object of threats and was sexually harassed and abused during his enforced disappearance. He also alleged that he was visited in prison and threatened no less than six times by officials who introduced themselves as intelligence officers, pressuring him to retract his allegations of abduction and torture made at the February hearing.

The other man, Yasin Ugan, also testified at a court hearing on June 23 that he had been tortured for six months after being abducted on February 13, 2019 by security officers, with his head covered with a black plastic bag most of the time.

One of the men, Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who disappeared in broad daylight on August 6, 2019, is still missing. All the efforts of his family and human rights defenders to find out what happened to him have proven to be of no avail.

The authorities have turned a deaf ear to inquiries from international courts and organizations concerning Tunç’s whereabouts, dismissing a UN query by saying that they were also searching for him while leaving questions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) with an October 2020 deadline still unanswered.

According to Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, the government will not respond to the ECtHR’s queries as was the case with the six other abductees.

“They reappeared all of a sudden in police custody just before the ECtHR deadlines passed,” he said.

In a recent joint letter UN special rapporteurs expressed their concern about the “systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals suspected of involvement with the Gülen movement from multiple States to Turkey.”

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