Turkey’s top court fines gov’t for torture in Afyon province, demands investigation into perpetrators

File photo.

Turkish Constitutional Court ruled in favor of an applicant who claimed that he was tortured for 25 days during his detention at Afyon police headquarters in 2016, ordering the Turkish government to pay TL 50,000 ($6,000) in non-pecuniary damages and to launch an investigation into the perpetrators.

According to the Bold Medya news website, the applicant, identified as A.A., was detained on August 26, 2016 on charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement. He was asked to testify against someone he later learned was a soldier. When he refused, he was severely beaten and sexually assaulted.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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. He 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.

A.A. talked about his ordeal in his testimony. “I was taken to a room where they removed my pants and underwear and made me bend in front of a couch, and a tall, well-built police officer with grey hair [I later learned that his name was B.] tried to rape me by forcing his penis into my rear,” he said. “Other police officers watched this, and one of them recorded the incident. ‘You will say you know this man,’ they said, referring to the soldier that they showed me before.”

When A.A. said he didn’t know the person in question, police officers continued their threats. “You are with us for 30 days, tomorrow we will rape you with a truncheon if you don’t say you know him,” they told him, but A.A. said he didn’t recognize the man in question.

The beating continued after he was transferred to a gym that was being used as a detention center. He asked the officers not to hit one of his ears where he had had surgery. An inspector then deliberately slapped him 50 or 60 times on his ears.

A.A. was later taken to the counterterrorism department of the Afyon police, where he was badly beaten by several officers. He was shown a couple of photos and was asked to testify against them. When he refused, the officers said, “If you don’t, we will also take your wife and she will become a mistress to others.” To intimidate A.A. further, they brought his wife to where he was being held and said she would be detained as well. A.A. decided to sign testimony that the police had prepared, fearing his wife would get hurt.

After the abortive putsch, ill-treatment and torture became widespread and systematic in Turkish detention centers as 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. Lack of condemnation from higher officials and a readiness to cover up allegations rather than investigate them have resulted in widespread impunity for security forces.

A.A. said he couldn’t let the doctors know he was beaten during compulsory medical checkups because there were police officers present. He was only able to do so when he was arrested and sent to prison. He still bears signs of torture, which a doctor has recorded.

A.A. filed a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office. But in December 2017 the prosecutor’s office decided not to prosecute the case, claiming that the allegations were not substantiated and that “lying [is] an important strategy for [this terrorist organization].”

The prosecutor in fact brought a criminal case against A.A. for slander, arguing that the complaint was part of an organized effort to undermine investigations into the Gülen movement.

The Afyon Police Department is notorious for such cases. In October 2020 another victim, Mehmet Eren, talked about his ordeal and how police officers threatened him with sexually assaulting his daughter and brought his wife in for interrogation.

In his defense in the case of A.A. a police officer admitted that the spouses of suspects in detention were at times brought to police headquarters to visit the detainees with the idea that “they would soften up and their patriotic feelings would be triggered, convincing them to speak out.”

In September 2020 Müberra and Murat Boşcu, who were detained by the Afyon police department on October 17, 2016, talked about how they were subjected to torture including electroshocks and beatings.

Last week another victim, Şaban Sarıkaya, spoke about how he was subjected to torture and witnessed others being tortured during the time he was in police custody in Afyon province.

In addition to torture and ill-treatment, the Afyon police department also made headlines over accusations of theft of detainees’ money and valuables. According to a court document dated July 1, 2020, a public prosecutor said the former head of the police counterterrorism department (TEM), Arif Alpaslan, spent the money and valuables of detainees on an online gambling site.

Alpaslan was found dead in his car on October 14, 2019, a day after he was suspended due to an investigation into allegations of stealing the money and valuables of 48 detainees accused of membership in the Gülen movement.

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