Turkish prosecutor seeks 15 years for widow of Gökhan Açıkkollu, tortured to death in police custody

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office is seeking a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for teacher Mümüne Açıkkollu, the widow of teacher Gökhan Açıkkollu, who was tortured to death in police custody in the wake of a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, on charges of alleged membership in the Gülen movement,

The Aktif Haber news website on Wednesday reported that an indictment was drafted by the prosecutor’s office for Mümüne Açıkkollu as part of an investigation targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement.

The indictment reportedly accuses Mümüne Açıkkollu of membership in a “terrorist organization” and having used mobile phone messaging applications ByLock and Eagle. It was also alleged that she deposited money in her personal account at private lender Bank Asya, which was closed down by the government over its affiliation with the movement. Mümüne Açıkkollu was also dismissed from her civil service job due to alleged links to the movement.

Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among the followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been fired or arrested for using ByLock since the military coup attempt in July 2016.

Stating that the role of Mümüne Açıkkollu in the alleged terrorist organization was “teacher,” the indictment said that “Due to the death of her husband Gökhan Açıkkollu and the fact that her children are in need of care, she has been subjected to proportional measures such as a judicial probe.”

However, the indictment sought a sentence for Mümüne Açıkkollu of between seven-and-a-half years and 15 years in prison on charges of alleged “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”

It was revealed last week that Gökhan Açıkkollu was found innocent one-and-a-half years after his death and was reinstated to his job at a public school.

Açıkkollu was detained on July 24, 2016 on trumped-up charges of coup plotting and terrorism and remained in police custody for 13 days, during which time he was subjected to both physical and psychological torture. He was never officially interrogated, and the police did not even take a statement from him. Instead, he was taken from his detention cell every day to face torture and rushed to the hospital when his condition deteriorated, only to be shipped back to detention. He told doctors about the abuse and torture; yet, in some cases his statements were not even registered in the medical reports, and evidence of physical abuse was covered up under pressure from the police.

Açıkkollu was beaten, slapped in the face, kicked in the rib cage, kneed in the back and his head banged against the wall. His medical check-up before he was put in detention showed no signs of any heart trouble; yet, he was pronounced dead due to heart failure. When he collapsed in his cell, emergency services were belatedly called and he died in detention, although official records were doctored to say that he died at the hospital.

Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), emphasised in a report that Açıkkollu died of a heart attack due to the torture he was exposed to in detention.

His family had found out about his death when they were called to the İstanbul Institute of Forensic Medicine. The ill treatment of Açıkkollu continued here as well. They were told that the funeral could be held on condition that he be buried in “a graveyard of traitors,” prepared by the Greater İstanbul Municipality for alleged “traitors,” despite the fact that he had not been tried nor even interrogated. Imams assigned by the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) refused to say a funeral prayer for Açıkkollu.

His family had to embalm the body themselves and was obliged to take him to his hometown in Konya province in their own vehicle. Here too, the imam of the local mosque would not perform the funeral prayer because of instructions from the Religious Affairs Directorate that the “funeral prayer will not be said for traitors.” So the last rites was also performed by his close relatives.

In a report titled “Tortured to Death” SCF investigators on Nov. 21, 2017 exposed the case of 42-year-old history teacher Gökhan Açıkkollu, who died after enduring 13 days of torture and abuse in police detention in İstanbul.

The torture, ill-treatment, abusive, inhuman and degrading treatment of people who are deprived of their liberties in Turkey’s detention centers and prisons have become the norm rather than the exception under increased nationalistic euphoria and religious zealotry in the country in the wake of the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported in one of its studies titled “Suspicious Deaths and Suicides In Turkey” that there has been an increase in the number of suspicious deaths in Turkey, most in Turkish jails and detention centers where torture and ill-treatment are being practiced. In the majority of cases, authorities concluded these to have been suicides without any effective, independent investigation.

Suspicious deaths have also taken place beyond prison walls amid psychological pressure and threats of imminent imprisonment and torture, sometimes following the release of suspects or just before their detention. SCF has compiled 107 cases of suspicious deaths and suicides in Turkey in a list as of Feb. 27, 2018 in a searchable database format.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on Dec. 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On Dec. 13 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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