Pro-Erdoğan Turkish columnist Nagehan Alçı receives jail term for torture comments

A pro-government Turkish columnist said on Wednesday she had been given a 105-day prison sentence for saying that torture in a prison in the mainly Kurdish Southeast of the country in the 1980s, which the government admits took place, was one of the reasons for the rise of a Kurdish armed group that has fought for self-rule in the region since that time.

During the period of military rule following Turkey’s 1980 military coup, thousands of Kurds were sent to Diyarbakır Prison, where they were subjected to torture.

According to a report by online news outlet Ahval, Nagehan Alçı wrote in her column for the pro-government Haber Türk daily that she had been sentenced due to comments she made on a television programme in which she said, “Horrifying acts of torture took place” at the prison and that this was one of the reasons why the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had gained so much power in the region.

The court found Alçı guilty of aiding a terrorist organisation.

More than 40,00 people, most of them Kurds, have been killed in fighting between security forces and the PKK, which began its armed campaign in 1984.

“There are jokes about the janissary band and Turks; both take two steps forward and one step back,” Alçı said in apparent criticism of the court verdict, which has yet to be enforced.

“The state, on the one hand, has formally accepted the heavy and disgusting torture against our Kurdish citizens in Diyarbakır Prison, even apologising for it. On the other hand, it protects the viewpoint which turns a blind eye to inmates being forced to eat faeces and drink urine everyday,” she said.

The courts should not stop with her, Alçı said. “They should sentence Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said he would turn the Diyarbakır Prison into a museum.”

Torture and mistreatment in police custody, which have never been reported by Turkey’s pro-government media, of which Nagehan Alçı is a part, increased in Turkey in 2017 despite the presence of closed-circuit cameras installed by the Turkish government in 2012, and police abused detainees outside police station premises, according to a report by the US State Department.

The State Department released its 64-page Turkey 2017 Human Rights Report in April 2018 which stated that based on human rights groups’ reports on violations in Turkey, during the first 11 months of 2017 the Human Rights Association (İHD) received 423 complaints related to abuse while in custody. It also reported that intimidation and shaming of detainees by police were common and that victims hesitated to report abuse due to fear of reprisal.

According to the report, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV-HRFT) reported that in the first 11 months of the year, it received 570 complaints, including 328 allegations of torture and inhuman treatment by government authorities. The government declined to provide information on whether it undertook investigations into allegations of mistreatment in prisons or detention centers during the year.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in late March 2018 also exposed the details of torture cases in Turkey last year and called on the Turkish government to enforce its proclaimed policy of zero tolerance for torture.

A 28-page report issued by the OHCHR quoted the wife of a man suspected of being part of the Gülen movement: “They took me to the police station, terrorism unit … They called the prosecutor and told him on the phone, ‘We have got the wife of a terrorist.’ … Then the police officer started threatening to take off my clothes and that they would show me to the detained male soldiers. He put his hands under my T-shirt and started to take it off. … I was numb, silent.”

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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