Turkey prosecutor drops probe into torture-led death under police custody

Gökhan Açıkkollu

Public prosecutor in Turkey decided to drop investigation into a death of teacher who had been subjected to torture during a detention in police headquarters in İstanbul.

Gökhan Açıkkollu, 42-year-old history teacher, was detained on July 24, 2016 and kept under police custody for 13 days before he fell ill. He was rushed to the hospital but taken back immediately to the police station where he was further questioned allegedly under torture. He developed health troubles again and taken back to the hospital only to be pronounced dead.

Based on medical reports that showed he suffered from broken ribs and blunt head truma, Açıkkollu’s family believes he was killed by the police due to torture he sustained for days in the custody.

Yet, public prosecutor Burhan Görgülü closed the investigation file on the grounds that “there was no malicious intent or negligence” even though the family provided witnesses who offered their testimonies confirming that they saw Açıkkollu was beaten to the death in the police station.

Açıkkollu himself complained to the doctor when he was taken to the hospital for medical screening on July 26, 2016 during which he informed the doctor how his head was banged to the wall and he suffers from the pain in his ribs because of kicks and beatings he had received in the custody. His grievances were recorded in the medical doctor’s visit, but was taken back to the police station nonetheless.

The teacher got detained by the police on July 24, 2016 on coup plotting charges, a claim his family rejected saying that he did not know any soldier let alone an officer in Turkish military. He was also accused of belonging to the Gülen movement, a civic group inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen whom Turkish government claims masterminded the coup. Both the movement and Gülen strongly denied these charges and the government failed to present any evidence so far.

The family also said they noticed that the medications Açıkkollu was supposed to take on regular basis because of diabetes were not given to him when they looked into his personal belongings that returned to the family after his death.

The official autopsy report done by the forensic medicine institution (Adli Tıp) acknowledged that there were rib fractures and bleedings inside Açıkkollu’s body. Yet, the report cited heart attack for his death without elaborating on what might have caused him to suffer heart failure.

The family challenged the findings, produced key witnesses that testified torture and enlist the help of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, who wrote on Jan 18, 2017 that the findings of Açıkkollu’s reports should be re-evaluated in the light of torture findings. Fincancı explained that Açıkkollu had diabetes mellitus and that should be considered to be a trigger for the heart attack.

Açıkkolu’s wife filed a criminal complaint over torture claims with public prosecutor’s office, asking the prosecution of officials who are responsible for the death of Açıkkollu. The family also listed two witnesses who said they are ready to testify torture claims if they are summoned by the prosecutor. Açıkkolu’s lawyer did not apply for any complaint regarding these events.

Açıkkollu told the doctors during the visits to the hospital that he had been subjected to violence almost everyday. Açıkkollu was transferred to Haseki Hospital because he suffered from a diabetic crisis while he was held in custody. Despite serious and chronic illnesses, the doctors assessed his mental and physical condition fit to reman in custody.

According to the information given by the cell mates, he could not tolerate being exposed to the violence, getting threats and insults to his family, he screamed, “I cannot bear any more. I will say whatever you want. It is enough. Stop.” But yet his police statement was not made official.

Lawyer Engin Emrah Biçer said “We stayed together with Gökhan Açıkkollu. He was beaten to death under custody. More than fifteen people witnessed to this event.”

Another witness was a forensic medicine expert who was also detained at the same time with Açıkkollu and witnessed the beatings under the police custody. His lawyer reached to the Açıkkollu’s family and said “My client wants to bear testimony [for the victim]. He wants to give information about the death of Gökhan Açıkkollu who was subjected to violence.”

The lawyer also said, “He told that one of the witnesses was a journalist who is still jailed in Turkey. He told that he and the journalist would testify for what they saw if the torture case was opened.”

Ayhan Açıkkollu, Gökhan Açıkkolu’s father

However, prosecutor Burhan Görgülü concluded that there was no foul play in the death of suspect in the custody and dismissed the probe. He did not bother taking the depositions from witnesses who said they were ready to testify.

Açıkkollu, was graduated from the Department of History at Konya Selçuk University. He was married with two children. He took a job in public vocational high school in İstanbul in 2012 as a history teacher after he worked in private teaching institutions affiliated with the Gülen movement

July 15,  2016, the day the failed coup bid took place in 2016, was in fact the birth day of Açıkkollu’s son who was preparing for the University Entrance Exam (YGS). The family had planned to cut the cake in the evening as they brought presents for the son. But everything was turned upside down when the terrible events started unfolding on that day.

The wife of Açıkkollu, Mümine Açıkkollu, a government employee with 23 years in service, was also discharged from the civil service with the Decree Law No. 675, which was issued on Oct 29, 2016. She was detained by police officers coming to their home on Feb 24. She was questioned by the same prosecutor Can Tuncay who had detained, and questioned Gökhan Açıkkollu. She was released on the grounds that she had no ties with the Gülen movement.

Gökhan Açıkkollu’s mother (center)

During the interrogation by prosecutor Tuncay, she was questioned about where they were on July 15 and how did she meet with her husband. Tuncay alleged that her husband gave orders to the tanks going into the action on the coup night. In response to those allegations, she told prosecutor that “My husband did not take even own a blank-firing pistol. He had nothing to do with giving military orders. There was not even one soldier that he knew.”

Severe trauma has taken a toll on children as well. Their son succeeded in getting high marks from the University Entrance Exam but gave up his dream of becoming an engineer. He wants to study law instead now to fight against injustice. The youngest member of the family is in the 3rd grade of an elementary school. Although she has received psychological support, she cannot sleep without hugging his father’s photograph at nights.


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