Ümit Horzum released by Turkish court 145 days after his abduction in Ankara

Ümit Horzum and his children.

Turkish citizen Ümit Horzum, who was kidnapped in Turkey’s capital of Ankara on December 6, 2017 over his alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, was released by a Turkish court on Friday in his first appearance before a judge.

Horzum’s release came 145 days after his abduction. He was delivered by unknown people to the police 133 days after his abduction in Ankara. He was referred to court on Friday after 11 days in custody. Horzum was reportedly sent by the prosecutor’s office to court without informing his lawyer or family.

Ümit Horzum’s wife, Aynur Horzum, tweeted on Friday that “Allah bless you all. Thank you for your prayers. My husband was released. We are trying to get rid of the traumas that we have been living in.”

Ümit Horzum’s lawyer was not in court Friday morning. Aynur Horzum tweeted that “Ümit Horzum, who was tortured and threatened with his loved ones while he was in police custody, was taken to the court today without informing either us or his lawyer. Our lawyer encountered difficulties when went to the police station. Now the prosecutor and the court have not allowed my husband to choose his lawyer. Our lawyer told me yesterday that when he went to the police station for a deposition, they had started to take his testimony with a lawyer appointed by the bar association. However, we called the lawyer appointed by the bar association about 15-20 minutes ago, and he said he had no information about his assignment.”

Ümit Horzum, who had disappeared after he was abducted 145 days ago, is among a number of people who have disappeared because they were affiliated with the Gülen movement. Horzum, who was dismissed from his job at the Turkish Accreditation Agency (TÜRKAK) by a government decree in August 2016 under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, was abducted in Ankara by unidentified person or persons.

Horzum was abducted while driving a vehicle bearing the license plate 20 H 1931 after being waylaid. It was alleged that the vehicle used by Horzum entered the “protocol” lane, but Horzum’s wife refuted this claim by proving that he filled up his tank at an Opet dealer service station.

All the relevant authorities were asked to locate the car with license plate number 20 H 1931 that was driven by Ümit Horzum before being abducted and that apparently was abandoned, but up until now no clues had been found.

Ümit Horzum’s car was found on March 24, 2018, 112 days after his abduction, by his wife Aynur Horzum. Ümit Horzum’s vehicle was found near Celal Esat Arseven Avenue, in the Yıldıztepe neighbourhood, at 105th Street, No: 84-86, in the Altındağ district of Ankara, in the corner of the Star Park. One of the rear tyres was flat.

After the car was found, Aynur Horzum, who immediately called the police to the scene, turned the vehicle over to them for inspection and a search for evidence. However, the car was towed from the scene of the crime to the Balgat car park without any examination. Although the vehicle was found in Hasköy and Horzum’s wife lived near the Ostim police station, the car was towed to Balgat.

In addition, many residents gathered at the scene, arguing with the police during the process of towing, and asked why they hadn’t come earlier. Residents said they had called the 155 police emergency line many times, giving the license plate number and model of the vehicle at the scene, and said the vehicle had been there for three or four months and that construction trucks were unable to turn the corner because of that vehicle being parked there.

Meanwhile, the police at the scene stated that “the records of the vehicle with license plate 20 H 1931 were checked and no theft report was found, so it was ignored,” in response to Horzum’s wife and the residents gathered. The police reportedly noted that footage of the vehicle used by Horzum was recorded by the City Security Management System (KGYS, CCTV) for the last time on November 29, 2017.

Horzum had been sought by police after a detention warrant was issued for him over his alleged links to the Gülen movement, and his house had been raided by the gendarmerie on August 16, 2016. However, he had not surrendered to police because of his fear of widespread and systematic torture in detention. Horzum had reportedly not stayed at his home for a long time since he was afraid of detention.

Eventually, a friend of the family reported that Ümit Horzum was abducted near the Ankara A City Shopping Center at 6 p.m. on December 6, 2017. His wife’s efforts to learn of his whereabouts yielded no results. Aynur Horzum reportedly applied to the police department, gendarmerie and prosecutor’s offices to obtain information about him and to see if he had been detained. However, she was unable to find any trace of her husband.

After learning that there were no detention records for her husband, Aynur Horzum went to a gendarmerie station near her house and informed the authorities that her husband had been abducted. A gendarmerie commander reportedly warned her to give up looking for her husband and said: “No good can come to you from him. He is a wanted man facing life imprisonment for being an executive of a terror organisation.” The same commander reportedly registered her report as “missing” instead of “abduction.”  

After this scandal Horzum’s wife had intended to file a legal complaint; however, no prosecutor would accept her case. Eventually, a prosecutor accepted her complaint on condition that she give up trying to find her husband. The prosecutor also refused to give her an application registration number. Aynur Horzum stated that her husband had not had even a simple investigation into him until he was dismissed from his job by the government under emergency rule.

Aynur Horzum said in a letter to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and a columnist for online news portal Artı Gerçek, that “I went to the Ankara Courthouse on Tuesday, January 30, 2018, but unfortunately I learned the traffic search (HTS) report of the mobile phone that my husband used had still not been responded to by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK), although it has been 57 days since the incident.”

It has been recorded that 13 people have been abducted in Turkey, 11 of them kidnapped in Ankara by National Intelligence Organization (MİT)-affiliated paramilitary forces that work with total impunity. The mysterious kidnappings in Turkey are bringing back fears of the enforced disappearances by state agencies in the mid-1990s.

While opposition politicians put the number at eight, and Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD), an independent NGO, said it had documented 10 cases as of May. Another two abductions are alleged to have taken place in June. On Aug. 3, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül in a letter to investigate the abductions and possibly enforced disappearances in Ankara of at least four men who have been missing since March.

In the 1990s, at the height of the state’s brutal war against terrorists of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), security forces disappeared hundreds of civilians, most of them Kurds. Often, they were tortured. Some victims’ bodies were eventually found; in many cases, their fate remains unknown to this day. Over the years, the ECtHR found the Turkish state responsible in numerous cases.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the 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 civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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