Turkey drops investigation into demise of teacher who was tortured to death

The Istanbul chief public prosecutor has decided to drop an investigation into the death of Gökhan Açıkkolu, a teacher who died after enduring 13 days of torture and abuse in police custody in İstanbul, the Kronos news website reported.

Açıkkollu died under suspicious circumstances on August 5, 2016 while in police custody after suffering a heart attack. It has previously been documented with witness statements and medical reports that he had endured torture during his 13 days in custody.

The prosecutor’s office decided that there was no evidence or finding indicating the existence of an external factor that could have had an impact on Açıkkollu’s death. According to the prosecutor there was no violation of the law in the case that would require criminal prosecution.

In reaching its decision of non-prosecution the public prosecutor did not see the value in hearing witnesses bearing testimony to his having been tortured during his interrogation in police custody. Nor did the prosecution take into consideration the 13-day CCTV footage recorded during his detention.

An additional autopsy report written by Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, chief of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) and a forensic expert by profession, was not among the evidence of the prosecution. Professor Fincancı found in the report that Açıkkollu died of a heart attack on August 5, 2016 due to the torture he was exposed to in detention.

Previously, public prosecutor Burhan Görgülü, who led the investigation into the allegations of torture, had also closed his file without hearing witnesses presented by the family or looking into the report drafted by Professor Fincancı. A lawyer for the family objected to the decision of non-prosecution, and a court ruled that a fresh investigation must be launched.

Tülay Açıkkollu, the wife of Gökhan Açıkkollu, who shared the prosecution’s decision, said: “Damn your order… The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office decided for non-prosecution on May 9, 2020. Again, without hearing the witnesses, without reviewing the 13 days of camera recordings, without taking into account the additional autopsy report.”

SCF previously studied the death of 42-year-old history teacher Açıkkollu and documented the torture and abuse he had endured in his 13 days in police custody. The government documents, medical reports, independent opinions and witness statements obtained by SCF and revealed in its report titled “Tortured to Death” showed his death was not due to natural causes.

Under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, torture and inhuman treatment have been resorted to as state policy by Turkish security officials, a fact documented by international and regional organizations as well as NGOs. The Turkish government refused to allow the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to publish its findings gathered during a visit between August 29 – September 6, 2016 to prisons in Turkey to inspect the treatment and conditions of people detained in connection to a failed coup on July 15, 2016.

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