Turkey defies UN on abductions with cases of disappearances piling up

Mustafa Özben's wife Emine Özben posted a video of herself on Twitter with her 5-month-old baby and her mother, asking for a help from authorities.

Defying the United Nations that slammed Turkey last year for enforced disappearances and urged the country’s leaders to offer guarantee of non-repetitions, Turkish government has increasingly turned into this unlawful practice with eleven confirmed cases of abductions registered so far.

The abductions appear to have been perpetrated by elements linked to the Turkish government as part of an intimidation campaign targeting critics and opponents of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Most victims are believed to be affiliated with the Gülen movement which is inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen who has been a vocal critic of Erdoğan on corruption and Turkish government’s aiding and abetting of Jihadist groups.

In one case confirmed by Stockholm Center for Freedom, an abductee was kept as a hostage and tortured for 42 days in an unknown location by men who identified themselves as police. Yet, he was later turned over to police for official custody and forced to sign a confession to a crime he said he had not committed. In many cases, the evidence such as CCTV footages by suggest a similar pattern by which a black Transporter Volkswagen was used in whisking away innocent people.

The government has never made any statement to these reports despite it was raised in the Parliament by an opposition lawmaker. Families of victims complain that prosecutors and police show indifference to their complaints and they claim that authorities are unwilling to investigate cases.

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances criticized Turkey last year on these practices that are reminiscent of 1990s during which many Kurds were abducted and believed to be killed by elements linked to the Turkish state. Their fates are still unknown as of today.

“Turkey needs to come to terms with past disappearances, and it needs to do so in a comprehensive manner,” said a delegation of the UN group following an official five-day visit that was held between 14 and 18 March 2016.

“This comprehensive approach should be the result of a clear State policy fully recognizing the past enforced disappearances and dealing with all aspects related to them, namely truth, justice, reparation, memory and guarantees of non-repetition,” noted Houria Es-Slami, who chaired the expert group, along with Vice-Chair Bernard Duhaime and Henrikas Mickevicius, member of the Working Group.

Over the years, the UN Working Group has transmitted 202 cases to Turkey, of which 79 are still outstanding. The cases with the Working Group mainly relate to disappearances occurred between 1992 and 1996 in the South-East.

It appears the unlawful abduction by security services has made a comeback in Turkey with 10 cases reported since January 2016. At least six cases were reported in the last three months.

Erdoğan’s Islamist government has labeled the Gülen movement as “FETÖ,” a derogatory term and acronym for the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization.” The movement, inspired by US-based Turkish Muslim intellectual Fethullah Gülen, rejects Turkish government’s accusations as politically motivated. Gülen has been decades-long advocate of science education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and community contribution. The movement he inspired is active in 180 countries with schools, dialogue centers and cultural institutions.

The movement faces an unprecedented persecution in Turkey where the rule of law has effectively ended with Erdoğan fully controlling all levers of the powers including the judiciary without any checks and balances. Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 2 that 47,155 people have been jailed over alleged links to the Gülen movement since July 15, 2016. According to Soylu, 113,260 people have also been detained on the same accusation. On May 6, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said 149,833 people have been investigated and 48,636 have been jailed as part of an investigation targeting the Gülen movement.

On July 27, 2016, the UN issued a scathing report on Turkey with regard to enforced disappearance. It said “Turkey has not come to terms with past enforced disappearances in all relevant areas, namely truth, justice, reparation, and memory of the victims. There has been no comprehensive policy to address disappearances. Many families do not know the truth about what happened to their loved ones, there has hardly been a single case of criminal responsibility or civil liability for an act of enforced disappearance, there are no reparation programmes independent from the compensation that may be awarded by a court, nor any effective and accessible social or psychological support for families, and there is no public memorial site or symbolic place for the families — and for society as a whole — to remember the victims and pay tribute to them. This lack of measures to address disappearances results from a combination of factors: mainly the lack of clear political will in all spheres to seriously tackle the issue, combined with legal and other obstacles.”

Turkey is not a party to the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (ICED).

The last eleven cases that were documented by SCF so far are as follows:

DURMUŞ ALİ ÇETİN: MISSING SINCE MAY 17, 2017

Police officer Durmuş Ali Çetin

Durmuş Ali Çetin, a police officer who was earlier dismissed from his job with a post-coup emergency degree, has been missing for the past five days with his family concerned about the security of his life. His family has not heard from Çetin since he left home Wednesday morning.

The father of three moved to Afşin district of Turkey’s eastern province Kahramanmaraş after he was dismissed from his post in İstanbul over his alleged links with the Gülen movement 7 months ago. Suffering from financial and physiological problems since he lost his job, Çetin went outside five days ago, leaving his cell phone back home. Family members are mobilized to track down Çetin’s trail, voicing concern over his life.

Çetin’s disappearance came amid a series of recent disappearances in which victims are mostly those dismissed from their jobs in the aftermath of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.

FATİH KILIÇ: MISSING SINCE MAY 14, 2017

Teacher Fatih Kılıç

Fatih Kılıç, a teacher who was dismissed from his job under post-coup emergency rule, went mission on May 14, 2017 in Turkish capital. He has not been located anywhere since the last CCTV footage he appeared in shows him getting into a vehicle bound for Ankara’s Kızılay district.

“My husband is a victim of a post-coup government decree. He has been unemployed for seven months. We have no source of income. We depend on assistance from our families. I was together with my husband and four children on May 14. We had a lovely Sunday. Then we prepared for our trip. He took us to AŞTİ (Ankara bus terminal) in the evening. I was going to visit my grandparents along with my kids. He was to join us after a while. He left us, waving goodbye at around 22.50,” Fatih Kılıç’s wife Nihal Kılıç wrote in a series of tweets on May 19, 2017.

 

MUSTAFA ÖZBEN: MISSING SINCE MAY 9

Lawyer Mustafa Özben

Mustafa Özben, a lawyer, was reported missing on May 9, 2017. His wife Emine Özben posted a video of herself on Twitter with her 5-month-old baby and her mother, asking for a help from authorities.

“I am a housewife. My husband is a Bar registered lawyer. He is a legal expert and an educator at the same time. My husband has not been home since he took our daughter to school on Tuesday, May 9. The following day I went to the police, gendarmerie and many other places, but I came away with nothing. We have three daughters, aged 5 months, 4 years and 10 years. Every day they ask me where their dad is. I cannot give them an answer. Please help us in the name of humanity,” Emine said before bursting into tears. “I am concerned for his life,” she added.

ÖNDER ASAN: MISSING SINCE APRIL 1, 2017; LOCATED ON MAY 12

Tecaher Önder Asan

Önder Asan (41), a philosophy teacher who was abducted in Turkish capital on a broad daylight in April and reported missing by his wife turned up in Ankara police department as traumatized and tortured 42 days later. He mysteriously disappeared in Ankara’s Şentepe neighborhood on April 1, prompting his wife to file a missing person report and pleading authorities to find her husband. Asan was working in a secondary school that the government shut down over its alleged links to the Gülen movement that is subject to unprecedented persecution in Turkey led by autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Hs wife, Fatma Asan, said she found her husband’s car parked near Şentepe with its tires slashed. Worried about well-being of her husband, she filed petitions with police and the prosecutor to investigate possible kidnapping. Yet authorities were reluctant to look into his case and they have not even bothered to check CCTV cameras around the neighborhood where the incident took place. She filed a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor’s office and launched a social media campaign appealing public to help her locate her husband. She was frustrated that nothing came out of her efforts.

On May 12, Fatma Asan received a phone call from Ankara police department that her husband was in detention in the Organized Crime and Smuggling Unit (KOM). She was very happy to learn that her husband is alive after 42 days of missing and rushed to the police station to see her husband. But she was denied from seeing her husband and told to come back a day later. Only the family lawyer was granted an access for 20 minutes.

According to Önder Asan, who was able to tell his abduction in a brief meeting with the lawyer, on the day of he went missing, he saw his car’s tires slashed in Şentepe neighborhood and had to take a cab to get to the place he planned to go. “On the way, the cab was cut-off by four vehicles on Vatan street. The people who came out of the cars said they are the police and forced him to get into Volkswagen Transporter van. I was blindfolded and beaten on the way to a place that I did not know. Then I was handcuffed and put in a cell. The torture went there for days,” he said.

“On May 12, I was put in a van blindfolded again. When we stopped, I was taken out of the van and they removed my blinds. I realized we were near Eymir Lake [some 20 kilometers south of Ankara city]. They called the Ankara police department and forced me to say on the phone “I am a Önder Asan, a member of Fethullah Terrorist Organization [FETÖ], I want to surrender myself. Please come in and take me in.” Then they compelled me to sign a paper stating that I wanted to take advantage of repentance law. Then the police officers came and picked me up”.

When Önder Asan was brought to the police station, he had great difficulty in standing and walking. He barely walked to the room to meet his lawyer by holding unto the walls. Although the police was present during his brief meeting with the lawyer, he had the courage to tell some parts of his story and asked for a treatment. “My psychological well being is so terrible,” he told the lawyer.

Burak Çolak, a lawyer representing Önder Asan, was also detained for rejecting to sign a false testimony prepared by the police on behalf of his client Asan after he was handed over to the police by thugs who tortured him for 42 days. Police tried to force the lawyer to sign the document that included a false testimony by his client. He was later released after a detention.

CENGİZ USTA: MISSING SINCE APRIL 4, 2017

Teacher Cengiz Usta

Cengiz Usta, a 44-year-old teacher in the district of Torbalı in Turkey’s western province İzmir was dismissed from his job by the government on September 1, 2016. He has been missing since April 4. Usta was a teacher at Cumhuriyet Primary School in Torbalı district.

“My brother left his daughter at home and went out to pay the elevator maintenance fee. He has not come back home yet. A witness claims that my brother was forced into a car by two men on Abdulkadir Street. This was recorded in police records as well,” the teacher’s elder brother, Selim Usta, told local media.

 

TURGUT ÇAPAN, MISSING SINCE MARCH 31, 2017

Turgut Çapan

Turgut Çapan, a former employee of Turgut Özal University, which was shut down by the government over its alleged ties to the Gülen movement, was abducted on March 31, according to his wife Ülkü Çapan, who runs a Twitter account to speak up.

Ülkü Çapan released a video clip in which she explained the story in detail. She said a friend of her husband dropped by her home on April 1 to say that Turgut Çapan had been abducted.

Turgut Çapan was the head of the Culture, Sport and Art Affairs Department at the university until it was shut down by the government.

 

MESUT GEÇER, MISSING SINCE MARCH 26, 2017

Mesut Geçer worked at the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) until he was dismissed as part of the government’s post-coup crackdown.

His car was stopped and he was reportedly abducted in the Çakırlar quarter in Ankara’s Yenimahalle district, on March 26, 2017. His family members have been having difficulty even in submitting petitions to ask about Geçer’s whereabouts as officials often refuse to cooperate with them.

HÜSEYİN KÖTÜCE, MISSING SINCE FEB. 28, 2017

Hüseyin Kötüce, an employee for the government-run Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK), was reportedly abducted at the parking lot of the Batıkent subway station in Ankara after he got off work on Feb 28, 2017. Family members found his winter coat and a cake he had bought in the back of Kötüce’s car, parked in the parking lot.

Despite successive requests, family members have so far failed to get police to carry out a fingerprint examination on the car, while no CCTV footage was collected from nearby locations overseeing the park.

MUSTAFA ÖZGÜR GÜLTEKİN, MISSING SINCE DEC. 21, 2016

Mustafa Özgür Gültekin, a Competition Authority employee, was followed by at least four cars to a convenience store in Ankara’s Beştepe neighborhood at 18:15 on Dec. 21, 2016.

Immediately after Gültekin left the store, he was surrounded by a group of men who later forced him into a Volkswagen Transporter van with tinted windows.

Family members have so far managed to obtain nearby CCTV footage in which Gültekin was seen while being forced into the car.The family complained that police did not investigate the incident despite the footage showed clearly identifiable kidnappers from facial figures.

AYHAN ORAN, MISSING SINCE NOV. 1, 2017

Having started work at MİT in 2005, Ayhan Oran was dismissed over his alleged ties to the movement on Aug. 2 of last year.

He was last seen leaving the compound he was living in at 12:38 on Nov. 1, 2016. The signal on his cell was active only before 16:00 the same day. While he had no money in his pocket, he did not even bid farewell to his wife before he went out. Oran worked in Turkey’s Şırnak and Diyarbakır provinces as well as in Greece. Oran reportedly has the intimate knowledge on the assassination of three Kurdish activist women, Sakine Cansız, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Şaylemez in Paris on 9 January, 2013. The murders are alleged to have been perpetrated by the MİT.

 SUNAY ELMAS, MISSING SINCE JAN. 27, 2016

An Ankara resident named Sunay Elmas is also reported to have been abducted on Jan. 27, 2016 in Ankara CEPA shopping mall while he was returning from dropping his kids at home in Sincan district. Elmas had also been forced into a Volkswagen Transporter with tinted windows. His family has not heard from Elmas since then.

 

His family could have not heard from Durmuş Ali Çetin, a police officer dismissed by Turkish government’s executive decree under the state of emergency since May 17.

May 21, 2017

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