Torture, ill-treatment rampant in Turkey following 2016 coup: report

A report jointly published by London Advocacy and Human Rights Solidarity shows how, based on interviews with victims as well as reports from prominent rights groups, Turkish law enforcement and judicial officials employed acts of torture and ill-treatment against people who faced prosecution in the aftermath of a failed coup in the country in 2016, Turkish Minute reported.

The report, titled “Politically Motivated Systematic Torture in Turkey and its Survivors: Interviews with UK-based torture survivors,” is the result of the joint work of London Advocacy, a non-profit organization that promotes human rights education and is involved in work to raise awareness about human rights violations worldwide, and Human Rights Solidarity, a London-based rights group.

The report contains excerpts from interviews with 10 victims of torture or ill-treatment in Turkey who were detained or prosecuted in the aftermath of the failed coup due to their perceived links to a faith-based group, the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government, which accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup, labelled the movement as a terrorist organization and launched a massive crackdown on its followers following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The movement, however, strongly denies any involvement in the failed coup or any acts of terrorism.

Although Turkey is party to international conventions on the prohibition of torture, and its own constitution and laws ban the practice, the country saw a return of reports of torture and ill-treatment under police custody or in prisons following the coup attempt.

In order to avoid torture or mistreatment at the hands of the police or judicial authorities, thousands of people fled the country following the coup attempt and taken refuge in Europe, the US or Canada.

According to the report more than 5,100 people from Turkey applied for asylum in the UK between June 2016 and June 2022, while an estimated 110,000 sought asylum in the EU between 2016 and 2021.

Following the coup attempt Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government officials as well as some religious leaders employed hostile rhetoric against Gülen followers, portraying them as deserving of acts of torture and mistreatment.

President Erdoğan had likened the Gülen movement to a cancer in a speech in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak in April 2017 and said its followers would not be allowed to enjoy the right to life.

“Our fight against them will continue until the end. We will not leave them wounded,” Erdoğan said.

Moreover, government decrees issued during a two-year-long state of emergency imposed in the aftermath of the coup attempt afforded impunity to those who engage in acts of torture and ill-treatment under the pretext of fighting terrorism or the coup.

For the report 30 survivors of Turkey’s post-coup acts of torture or ill-treatment completed questionnaires, and 10 of them agreed to give interviews about the ordeals they went through. Participants of the survey included 30 Turkish adults (25 men and five women) who arrived in the UK after the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey to seek asylum. The mean age of the participants was 41. The oldest participant was 58 years old and the youngest was 29.

All 30 participants were charged in Turkey under Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code, which concerns membership in a terrorist organization, due to their real or alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement. The names of the participants of the survey were kept anonymous due to security concerns.

One of the torture victims, a female teacher referred to in the report as Interviewee 6, said she was blindfolded and that a garbage bag was put on her head at the Ankara Police Station, where she was taken to along with her husband following their detention in İstanbul in August 2016. The teacher said she had a hard time breathing and thought she would die when she refused to give names of other Gülen-linked people to the police.

The teacher said she was unable to report the ill-treatment to a doctor during a compulsory medical examination because of the presence of police officers in the room.

She also said she saw sinks covered with blood in the bathroom and other detainees with apparent signs of ill-treatment on their bodies after they were interrogated.

The victims of torture complained that they were taken to informal interrogations in the absence of a lawyer during which they were insulted, threatened and forced
to give the names of others, while some of them said they were subjected to beating, blindfolding, asphyxiating and undressing accompanied by the threat of rape during these interrogations.

“Each and every one of these accounts provides direct evidence of torture and ill-treatment, contributing to the slow disclosure of torture present in Turkey following the 2016 coup,” said the report, which also included recommendations for the Turkish government and international bodies dealing with torture about how acts of torture and ill-treatment in Turkey can be brought to an end.

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