Servet Turgut and Osman Şiban, two Kurdish villagers allegedly thrown from a military helicopter in the southeastern province of Van, were in fact assaulted by a mob of more than 100 soldiers, a report by independent deputy and investigative journalist Ahmet Şık revealed.
Initial reporting on the incident by rights groups and media outlets cited a medical report giving the reason for their admission to the hospital as a “fall from a helicopter.”
According to Şık, the villagers were in fact thrown out of the helicopter but only after it had landed. The claim that they were thrown out of helicopter when it was airborne was based on an “official lie” told by the gendarmes to cover their crimes.
Şık’s research revealed that gendarmes in civilian clothes took Turgut and Şiban to two separate hospitals and told the doctors that the two were terrorists who clashed with them and later jumped out of a helicopter when they were being transported after detention.
Hospital personnel later recorded this account as the cause of hospitalization as “fall from a height” and “fall from a helicopter.” According to Şık the lie became widespread because the rights activists and lawyers who spoke to the press thought the victims had in fact been thrown from a helicopter.
In a statement on September 21 the Van Governor’s Office had denied the torture and claimed that the villagers were hospitalized after they fell from a cliff while running away from security forces despite an order to halt.
Şiban was discharged from the hospital on September 20 and later received a medical report stating that he was not able to provide an official statement to the authorities, according to Turkish Minute.
On September 30, 55-year-old Servet Turgut, a father of seven, succumbed to his injuries in the Van Regional Teaching and Research Hospital’s intensive care unit.
According to Şiban, who had suffered partial memory loss due to his injuries, a group of Turkish soldiers had detained him and Turgut in the Van countryside on Sept. 11 and taken them to the Van Gendarmerie Command by helicopter.
Speaking to the Mesopotamia News Agency, Şiban’s brother Cengiz claimed that both victims were taken by gendarmes in view of all the villagers, who were forced to remain on their knees during the detention of the two men. While they were being taken away, villagers who tried to follow them were threatened with death by the soldiers, Cengiz added.
On the way, Şiban says, soldiers had shown him the dead body of a militant, purportedly a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), claiming that Şiban knew him. When he said he didn’t recognize the body, he was battered by the soldiers.
Şiban recalls one voice saying, “Don’t hit the elderly one [Servet Turgut], he might die.”
“The helicopter landed. I saw many soldiers out there. Maybe 100 or 150 soldiers were there; they were armed and ready. They first threw the dead bodies [of militants] out of the helicopter, and then us,” Şiban was quoted as saying in narrating the incident.
“I heard someone shouting, ‘This terrorist is still alive!’ Then all the soldiers mobbed us. Ten or 20 of them came for each of us. I don’t know what they did to us. I don’t know what they did to me. They threw us on the ground and then started hitting us. ‘Terrorists,’ they called us as they battered us. We are villagers; we are citizens. I don’t know how long it went on. I passed out.”
“The fact that Van’s top military commanders waited in front of the Van Council of Forensic Medicine for the autopsy of Servet Turgut is very telling,” Şık’s report said. “Were you there to cover up your crimes?”
“Although it has been 53 days since the incident, instead of identifying the perpetrators of this torture, the fact that journalists who reported on the incident were arrested is evidence of this coverup. Surprise us if we are wrong,” Şık concluded.
Four journalists were arrested on Oct. 9 over their reports on the incident on charges of disseminating propaganda on behalf of the PKK.