Saturday Mothers demand justice for their disappeared children at 802nd meeting

The Saturday Mothers met for the 802nd time on Saturday to demand justice and truth for their children and loved ones who disappeared while in the custody of Turkish security forces, commemorating this week Ferhat Tepe, then a 19-year-old journalist working for the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper who went missing in 1993 under suspicious circumstances.

The Saturday Mothers, who have been fighting since 1995 for the truth to be revealed about the fate of their children and relatives who disappeared while in detention and for the perpetrators to be punished, had to meet online due to coronavirus measures in force in Turkey.

The Saturday Mothers have been barred by the Turkish Interior Ministry from conducting their usual sit-in at İstanbul’s Galatasaray Square for 103 weeks.

“The state’s denialist approach not only leaves what happened to the disappeared persons unknown, but leads to a policy of impunity,” the group said in a statement read on behalf of the group by Sevil Turgut, a board member of the Human Rights Association’s Ankara chapter, calling for justice for Ferhat Tepe.

Tepe’s mother, Zübeyde Tepe, father İshak Tepe and sister Ayşe Tepe participated in the meeting.

According to the statement Ferhat Tepe was a correspondent for the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper in the east Anatolian city of Bitlis, which is largely populated by members of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. He was reporting extensively on human rights violations including village burnings committed by Turkish security forces in the region, which witnessed intense clashes between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed group that has been waging an insurgency against Turkey since the ’80s in Turkey’s east and southeast.

Tepe was kidnapped on July 28, 1993 in Bitlis city center by three armed men carrying radios. Immediately after the incident, a person who called Tepe’s father, the head of the Bitlis branch of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish Democracy Party (DEP), told him to close the DEP’s Bitlis branch and pay a ransom in return for his son’s life.

The father likened the voice on the phone to that of Brig. Gen. Korkmaz Tağma, commander of the Tatvan 6th Armored Brigade headquartered in Bitlis province.

The Tepe family applied to the authorities and asked that their son be found; however, the authorities refused to admit that Tepe had been detained by security forces.

Thirteen days later, on August 8, 1993, his body was found by fishermen on the shores of Lake Hazar in Elazığ province hundreds of kilometers from the place where he was abducted. He was buried as an “unknown person” in a graveyard where people having no relatives were buried after an examination by a family doctor and with no autopsy being performed.

All the applications made by the family regarding the kidnapping, disappearance and death of Tepe have failed to result in any light being shed on the incident. The authorities refused to hear multiple witnesses who said they saw Tepe during an interrogation at the Diyarbakır Gendarmerie Regiment Command several hundred kilometers away.

No effective investigation was conducted to shed light on the incident and reveal those responsible, the family claimed. The file was closed by the Elazig Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2013 due to the statute of limitations.

Tepe’s family applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and Turkey’s Constitutional Court claiming that Ferhat Tepe was kidnapped by state officials or those acting with their knowledge, was tortured to death in custody and that the government had not conducted an effective investigation.

The ECtHR ruled on May 9, 2003 that Turkey had not conducted an effective investigation into the death of Tepe that would identify those who were responsible for his death, finding a violation of the right to life.

The Turkish Constitutional Court on June 16, 2016 found a violation, too, declaring that the prosecutor failed to give concrete instructions to expand the investigation, did not take any action to enlighten the incident, did not show due diligence in the collection of evidence and remained inactive except for routine correspondence.

The Constitutional Court, however, did not order a reopening of the investigation, citing the statute of limitations.

His family is still looking for the truth about their son’s disappearance and demands justice for him.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the 1990s, during the armed conflict between the Turkish military and the PKK in southeastern Turkey, the security forces compelled hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their villages and carried out the enforced disappearances and killings of thousands of civilians.

Human Rights Watch also said Turkey’s 20-year statute of limitations on the prosecution of unlawful killings in the 1990s remains a major obstacle to justice.

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