Turkish prosecutors dismiss torture complaint by former dormitory director linked to Gülen movement

Turkish prosecutors have dismissed a complaint of torture filed by Aysun Işınkaralar, the former director of a dormitory affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, who alleges she was tortured by police and neglected by doctors while in custody in 2018, the Kronos news website reported.

Işınkaralar detailed her experience in her complaint, recounting how she was hooded, throttled and subjected to electric shocks. She also described her fear of sexual assault during the ordeal.

Despite a subsequent report from the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) supporting Işınkaralar’s claims of torture, the Afyon Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office rejected her complaint on April 22, 2024, stating that Işınkaralar’s allegations lacked sufficient evidence to warrant a new investigation. The decision cited a report by Dr. Muhammet Turan that found no signs of physical abuse.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent rights defender and a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), criticized the prosecutor’s decision, describing it as a blatant coverup of torture. “Aysun Işınkaralar has been fighting against the coverup of the torture she faced at the Afyon Police Department for years. There is clear evidence of torture, yet her complaints have been consistently dismissed,” Gergerlioğlu stated.

Işınkaralar was arrested in May 2018 for running a girls’ dormitory affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement that has since been closed down. She was sentenced to almost eight years on conviction of terrorism-related offenses and released in December 2022 after serving the mandatory 56 months in prison.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Muslim 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 an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Işınkaralar’s ordeal was documented in a report by the TİHV, which shed light on the cruel treatment of detainees and prisoners following the failed coup in July 2016.

While she was in police custody, Işınkaralar says she was subjected to electric shocks, strangulation attempts, sexual harassment and a mock execution. “They gave me electric shocks on my ankles, first on the right, then on the left, then both. I felt the electricity in my whole body, from my teeth to the roots of my hair. I thought I was going to die,” she was quoted by Kronos as saying.

Işınkaralar’s account also describes how police officers threatened to strip her naked and held a gun to her ear. This treatment only stopped when opposition deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Gergerlioğlu drew attention to allegations of torture on social media. However, Işınkaralar’s physical and mental scars remain, and she continues to receive psychological treatment and antidepressants to cope with the trauma.

Medical examinations conducted three days after the detention and subsequently at the Afyon E Type Closed Prison, where Işınkaralar was later imprisoned, confirmed the presence of torture marks, including scars on both ankles. These findings, however, were not included in the official files, to conceal evidence of torture.

The TİHV’s report emphasizes the severe psychological impact of the torture on Işınkaralar and notes that her symptoms persist despite some improvement with treatment. The TİHV says her account is credible and consistent with her medical and psychological reports.

Since her release, Işınkaralar has struggled to reintegrate into society. She is unemployed due to her criminal record and the stigma of her alleged links to the Gülen movement. Her attempts to find employment have failed even after successful job interviews due to her previous imprisonment.

After the abortive putsch in 2016, ill-treatment and torture became widespread and systematic in Turkish detention centers. Lack of condemnation from higher officials and a readiness to cover up allegations rather than investigate them have resulted in widespread impunity for the security forces.

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