Police officers threatened me with sexually assaulting my daughter, who was brought with my wife for interrogation, said Mehmet Eren when talking about the brutal torture and inhuman treatment he was subjected to at the Afyon Police Department.
Speaking to Cevheri Güven of Turkish Minute, Eren, a former teacher, talked about how he was exposed to torture that involved beatings, electric shock and a feigned rape at a police station in Turkey after being detained in the aftermath of a coup attempt in 2016.
Eren was detained for the first time on April 23, 2016 for being the manager of a private dormitory in Turkey’s Afyon province affiliated with the Gülen movement and was released after 73 days in jail without being subjected to any kind of maltreatment.
“But everything changed after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016,” the 37-year-old Eren told Turkish Minute, referring to his second detention on October 15, 2016 as well as to his affiliation with the movement.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on followers of the Gülen movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations.”
“After the detention, I was kept alone in a cell for five days. I was then sent to the anti-terror unit upstairs at 9:30 a.m. on October 20. I was brought in front of the office of a police officer named Teoman Yaman and told to wait, standing with my face against the wall and leaning my head on it. Teoman Yaman told me to come in and tell him everything I knew or that I should accept everything he said. When I told him I was innocent, he made me wait again. I don’t know how many hours I waited in that position,” Eren said.
He added that Yaman threatened to torture him to death when he called him into his office again.
“He threatened me, saying, ‘You cannot survive here. If you don’t talk, I will call for the torture team from MİT [National Intelligence Organization].’ I could hear the screams of other people being interrogated [with acts of torture]. It was frightening.”
The former teacher said a younger police officer took him out of the room and started banging his head against the wall while shouting some words at him that he was unable to understand before he was made to return to the room again.
Eren elaborated on police officer Yaman’s repeated threats to torture both him and his wife.
“He told me, ‘We rented an empty factory for torture. If you refuse to talk, we’ll take you there, strip you naked and rape you with a truncheon. We’ll do the same with your wife, too. We’re expecting two torture officers from MİT. They’re animals, and I won’t be able keep them away from your wife.’ He then let me out again to think, and I waited for a few more hours.”
When he was back in the room, Eren said he was asked to reveal the names of people who gave him orders about the coup attempt, and the police officers refused to listen to him when he tried to explain he was just a teacher with no connection to the abortive putsch.
“Two people came into Teoman Yaman’s room soon afterward. One of them asked what my profession was and slapped me in the face and swore when I told him I was a teacher. The other one pulled my hair and started punching me in the temples, saying, ‘I will do the same to your wife. I’ll send your child to an orphanage so that she won’t turn out to be a terrorist like you’,” Eren said.
Eren also told Turkish Minute that another police officer named Barış came into the room and threatened him with rape before the other officers continued to torture him by putting a plastic bag on his head.
“They laughed at me when I said I couldn’t breathe. I fell to the floor when they let me go. Then, someone came into the room. I was on the floor and I felt pain in my leg so acute that I thought they had stabbed me.”
The former teacher said he realized electric shock was being applied only after the officers repeated it on other parts of his body.
“They applied electric shock to my back, kidneys, sexual organ and testicles. I remained on the floor for a while.”
Eren said the hours-long torture he was exposed to then turned into a feigned rape that made him lose consciousness by the police officer named Barış, who had threatened him with it earlier.
“They picked me up and made me lean my hands on the wall. The plastic bag was still on my head. Barış started to pull down my pants from behind. I grabbed one side of my pants with the other hand still against the wall. My feet were trembling while I was screaming, ‘Don’t do this.’ They shocked my hand and I fell to the floor. I was no longer able to stand.”
Eren went on to say that what scared him the most was the officers’ understanding of torture as some kind of religious obligation.
“When I regained consciousness and told them I wanted to pray, they said, ‘Do you think we don’t perform prayers just because we do this?’ I said my prayer and so did they. That was what scared me the most. They tortured me as if it were a religious duty, just like ISIL does.”
According to Eren, the torture that began around 9:30 in the morning ended at 9 p.m., and he was allowed to go back to his cell only after signing a statement given to him by the officers without the presence of his lawyer.
“Three or four days later, they took me upstairs again, but this time to the office of Talat Eryılmaz, where I saw my wife and my daughter. They said they were going to interrogate my wife while my daughter was crying, ‘Dad, get us out of here.’ Then the lawyer came and told me to ‘accept anything they say’ and he went to see my wife.”
“One of the officers who tortured me implied he could hurt my daughter sexually, telling me that he realized how grown up my daughter was,” he added.
Four days later, Eren was referred to Afyon Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Osman Çabuk but decided not to tell him about the torture he endured because he thought Çabuk already knew about it.
After hiding in Turkey for two-and-a-half years following his release, Eren fled to Greece with his wife and daughter. They then moved on to Germany, where they now live as refugees.
Eren says he still has nightmares about the torture a few times a week and feels uneasy around police officers.
Emphasizing that he will do anything he can to have the Turkish police officers who used torture tried in both local and international courts, the former teacher urged all the victims of police torture in Turkey to speak out about it.
After the abortive putsch, ill-treatment and torture became widespread and systematic in Turkish detention centers as was evidenced by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in a report based on his mission to Turkey between November 27 and December 2, 2016.
“[I]n the immediate aftermath of the failed coup, torture and other forms of ill-treatment were widespread, particularly at the time of arrest and during the subsequent detention in police or gendarmerie lock-ups as well as in improvised unofficial detention locations such as sports centers, stables and the corridors of courthouses,” the special rapporteur found.
A delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a Council of Europe-affiliated body, was in Turkey to conduct inspections between August 28 and September 6, 2016 and recorded some of the victims’ statements in its report. The delegation’s visit came amid widespread allegations first raised by Amnesty International, which stated that it had collected credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were beaten, tortured and on some occasions raped in official and unofficial detention centers across the country.
However, the details of the CPT report were never made public because Turkey vetoed the publication of the report and has not lifted its objection since 2016. In fact CPT President Mykola Gnatovskyy stated in 2017 that even though he “[wanted] to discuss the findings,” he could not comment on the report due to Ankara’s decision.
Unlike the 2017 and 2019 reports, the Turkish government prohibited the publication of CPT’s 2016 Turkey report based on its inspections between August 28 and September 6, 2016 in Turkish detention centers after the failed coup.