Neighborhood watchmen allegedly harass 16-year-old girl in Istanbul

A 16-year-old girl was allegedly harassed and detained on Monday night by neighborhood watchmen in Istanbul, the Medyaport news website reported.

The young girl, whose name was not disclosed, was sitting outside with her boyfriend when three watchmen asked for identification. At that point one of the watchmen said if she wanted a sexual experience she could experience it with him, after which she was detained with her friend.

According to the girl’s lawyer, Düşün Altuntaş, she is currently still in detention in a police station in Kadıkoy. “My client was mistreated in detention when she said she was harassed,” said Altuntaş. “The police threatened to press charges if she did not take back her harassment claims.”

Ill-treatment and torture have become widespread and systematic in Turkish detention centers and prisons. Lack of condemnation from higher officials and a readiness to cover up allegations rather than investigate them have resulted in widespread impunity for the security forces.

Altuntaş added that they would file a complaint against the police and the watchmen. “I wasn’t even allowed to see my client at first, even though she was a minor,” she said. “I had to cause a scene to be allowed entry.”

Neighborhood watchmen have been previously criticized for their abuse of power. Last year, three journalists were attacked by nightwatchmen while reporting on a toddler who went missing in Istanbul and later died in the hospital.

Once disbanded, the nighttime neighborhood watchmen were revived by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and began patrolling city streets in 2017, a year after an attempted coup. The opposition strongly criticized the government for giving them the authority to demand that people present identification as well as use force, carry weapons and apprehend suspects.

In response to questions posed by Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Süleyman Bülbül, the Interior Ministry refused in 2020 to disclose any information about the number of nightwatchmen who have been investigated or disciplined for battery, mistreatment or abuse of power in the last four years.

Human rights advocates and opposition politicians have tried to raise public awareness of mistreatment. According to recent data from the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), Turkish police employed unlawful tactics including mistreatment and beating while detaining 13,935 people between 2018 and 2021.

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