Kurdish politician allegedly strip-searched in western Turkey prison

Berna Çelik

The guards in an İzmir prison allegedly strip-searched and verbally assaulted Berna Çelik, a provincial executive of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who was recently arrested on terrorism-related charges, the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Thursday.

According to the report Çelik was rear-handcuffed while being taken to prison and strip-searched upon entering the facility. When she objected, the guards reportedly responded with sexist insults. She was also denied breakfast the next day, Gazete Duvar said.

Detained in house raids carried out by the İzmir police on Oct. 6, Çelik was arrested by a court last Monday on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

She announced her mistreatment in prison through her lawyers, with whom she met on Wednesday, the report said.

Although Turkey’s laws limit the use of strip-searches to specific situations where it is deemed necessary for security reasons, the practice is commonly used in police detention centers and prisons against political prisoners with no track record of violence.

The issue caused widespread public controversy in late 2020 when several women came forward to talk about their experiences in videos shared on social media, in reaction to the denial of the practice by a ruling party deputy.

It is also common for Turkish authorities to target the Kurdish political movement through terrorism-related investigations and trials where they accuse politically active Kurds of links to or propaganda on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed guerilla group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Turkey’s anti-terror legislation is often criticized by experts as being overly broad, allowing the authorities to interpret speech as terrorist propaganda and social affiliation as involvement in a terrorist network.

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