Turkey forced 160 people to become informants in first 10 months of 2020: rights watchdog

A total of 160 people in Turkey were forced to become informants by government officers who used coercion and threats in addition to abduction and torture during the first 10 months of 2020, Turkish Minute reported, citing a special report published by Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) on Thursday.

The report, titled “Testimonies, Interviews, Forced Informing through Coercion and Threat, and Abduction Cases” is based on 160 cases detected by the association and includes 29 people threatened on social media, four while serving prison time and 72 in custody and other places.

The report underlines that although the actual number of people forced into becoming informants in Turkey in the first 10 months of 2020 is much higher than 160, many of those victims refrain from submitting complaints to a prosecutor’s office or the İHD in order to protect themselves and their loved ones.

The association says people who are abducted and threatened into becoming informants for the Turkish government are mostly activists, students, political party members, journalists and family members of political prisoners.

“Intelligence and counterterrorism officials threaten those people and engage in psychological torture by promising to help them on issues they are sensitive about, since they know a lot about the victims’ personal lives. Then they force the victims to become illegal informants [for the Turkish government] by arresting and abducting them as well as threatening to kill or torture them.”

In some cases the situation is worse, with abducted victims being subjected to physical and psychological torture for months without knowing where they are being kept against their will, the association added.

The İHD also said other civil servants take part in some cases of coercion and threat in addition to law enforcement officers, giving the example of a high school student in İzmir, identified only by the initials M. T., as having been interrogated by three police officers after being instructed by the school’s vice principal to come to his office on January 13, 2020.

The report also said no effective investigations were carried out into the cases of six people — Salim Zeybek, Gökhan Türkmen, Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya and Mustafa Yılmaz — who were forcibly disappeared and kept against their will for six to nine months before mysteriously resurfacing in police custody in Ankara in 2019.

“For the first time in 2020, victims Türkmen and Ugan stated they were abducted and tortured [by government officers]. An effective investigation into their claims is not being carried out although they have spoken out about the abduction and seven-month torture they endured and have filed complaints regarding those incidents,” the report said.

It added that the whereabouts of Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who was also allegedly abducted by government agents on August 6, 2019, remain unknown despite his family’s repeated pleas to Turkish authorities for information.

The seven men had been summarily removed from state jobs due to alleged ties to the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

As part of the crackdown, Erdoğan dismissed some 150,000 public servants including members of the armed forces, police officers, teachers, doctors and academics by emergency decree-laws, locking up tens of thousands and seizing their assets.

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