UN body gives law lesson to Turkey and asks immediate release of arbitrarily jailed police chief

The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), which works under UN Human Rights Council, has called on Turkish government to immediately release police superintendent Kürşat Çevik who are arbitrarily arrested and still kept in Şanlıurfa prison over his alleged links to the Gülen movement and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law.

WGAD requests the Turkish government to take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Kürşat Çevik without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

According to WGAD, Turkish police chief Kürsat Çevik (39), who is married and the father of two children, had booked plane tickets for himself and his family to fly on the morning of July 16, 2016 from Ankara to Paris, where he was due to spend holidays with his wife and her family. On July 15, 2016, he had reportedly left his service weapon at a safe in a bank in Ankara in order to leave for his holidays the next morning.

In the meantime,  Çevik’s holiday request was cancelled, so he drove back to Mardin (1,700 km). Çevik was subsequently suspended from his duties and placed under administrative investigation on July 19, 2016, but without any supporting evidence being presented.

On July 21, 2016, Çevik was arrested together with 15 of his colleagues by the police on the basis of an arrest warrant over his alleged links to the Gülen movement and treason. He was reportedly brought to the police general headquarters in Mardin where he remained until July 29, 2016. On that day, he was brought before a judge and placed in detention, together with his 15 colleagues, reportedly without any evidence being presented against him or any grounds for keeping him detained, and transferred to the local prison. Subsequently, in late August 2016, he was transferred to Şanlıurfa prison, where he was held at the time of his submission. The Working Group stated that the indictment against Çevik was only presented to the court on January 30, 2017, namely six months after his arrest and he was kept in detention for over six months without any formal charges.

Çevik was arrested following a controversial military coup that took place in Turkey on July 15, 2016. However, the reason for his arrest is reportedly not linked to suspicions that he might have taken part in the coup, but that he had been classified as an opponent to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) many months before the coup, like most of his colleagues who were arrested with him in Mardin and elsewhere in Turkey.

Çevik was reportedly an officer of the intelligence branch of the police from 2000 to 2006 and of the organized and drug trafficking crimes branch from 2007 to 2013, which were most involved in investigating allegations of fraud and corruption against then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family and his close political allies in December 2013, after which those branches of the police (and other branches of the Turkish State institutions) were supposedly cleared of all suspected Gülen followers.

It was reported by WGAD that since 2013, Çevik has suffered intimidation and discrimination in his position. He was reportedly put under administrative investigation several times for dubious reasons, including for not wearing a tie at work; his duties were changed up to seven times in three years; and he was denied promotion. He also applied to the administrative court against most of the decisions taken against him and while not all cases were adjudicated, he won all those that were. For all these reasons, he was allegedly thought to be an opponent of the regime.

According to WGAD report, Çevik was, as were many officers like him, also said to be a Gülen follower because he had worked and lived abroad for several years. That is allegedly based on a stereotype of Gülen followers, who are supposed to be highly educated, hard-working and open to relations with the Western world. Given that Çevik had worked as a member of the United Nations Police in Liberia for one year from June 2006 to June 2007 and studied for a PhD degree at a British university from 2008-2013, he was reportedly classified as a Gülenist with no further investigation being undertaken. This is despite the fact that Çevik was part of the Turkish police contingent in Liberia at a time when the Turkish National Police was sending several dozen officers on missions every year, and that he did his PhD on a scholarship from the Turkish National Police.

He was reportedly questioned about the reasons for: Owning some books, most probably unrelated to the Gülen movement but related to his PhD thesis or his wife’s PhD thesis; Having decided to do a PhD in the UK; Having decided to work as a UN Police Officer; Having appealed to the administrative courts against the decisions taken against him in the past two and a half years; Having employed a specific lawyer when dealing with those appeals. This lawyer is also said to be accused of being a Gülen follower, has been disbarred and, according to the latest information, disappeared to avoid arrest in the days following the attempted coup.

The lists of police officers dismissed in the earliest days after the attempted coup have been published in the official gazette. A close study of those lists reveals that all the officers who took part in UN missions (mainly in Kosovo but also in Liberia, Timor-Leste, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and/or got a scholarship for a Master’s degree or a PhD abroad (mainly to study in the United States of America, but also in the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia) have been dismissed.

It is quite clear that there were pre-established lists of officers to be dismissed should an occasion occur and the attempted coup allegedly presented the Government with such an occasion. The investigation against Çevik is being held in secret and there is thus no known charge and no evidence to support a charge has been presented. It is believed that the charges are to be membership of a terrorist organization and treason. But Çevik’s lawyer has yet to gain access to his file. There are reportedly no known grounds for his continued detention and his lawyer has appealed against his detention on a monthly basis, to no avail so far.

Çevik’s lawyer also appealed to the Constitutional Court in September 2016, on the basis that some local courts had declared themselves incompetent, but the Constitutional Court has been overwhelmed with over 20,000 similar cases since last summer and has yet to rule on any of them. According to the source, there is, at this point, no recourse to justice in Turkey.

Against this background, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is also unlikely to provide recourse, because it has ruled on two cases of detention in Turkey since the coup and declared them inadmissible on the basis that recourse to national justice had not been exhausted, even though it was clear that there was no possible recourse to justice in Turkey.

On the basis of the foregoing, WGAD has commented that the detention of Çevik constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of his liberty under international human rights law and has rendered the following opinion: “The deprivation of liberty of Kürşat Çevik, being in contravention of articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary and falls within categories I and III.

“The Working Group requests the Government of Turkey to take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Kürşat Çevik without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Çevik immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.

“The Working Group recalls that the Human Rights Council has encouraged all States to cooperate with the Working Group and requested them to take account of its views and, where necessary, to take appropriate steps to remedy the situation of persons arbitrarily.”

The Working Group has also clarified that in its methods of work there is no rule applicable that impedes the consideration of communications due to the lack of exhaustion of domestic remedies in the country concerned. The applicants have no obligation therefore to exhaust domestic remedies before sending a communication to the Working Group.

With respect to the request of the Government of Turkey to the Working Group not to address the present case for the sole reason that it has some links to the law on the state of emergency in Turkey adopted in 2016, the Working Group has stressed that in conformity with its methods of work, there is no rule that impedes the treatment of any
communication related to an arbitrary detention submitted by a source when a state of emergency has been declared.

The Working Group stated that on some occasions, owing to the security concerns of a given country and to the judicial system being overwhelmed through the receipt of large amounts of cases derived from such an
emergency situation, the communications procedure of the Working Group is one of the few international mechanisms of redress for people who are held under any form of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. In that respect, the Working Group wishes to emphasize that it has a universal mandate to promote and protect the right of every individual not to be arbitrarily detained.

Furthermore, the Working Group has also reminded the Government of Turkey that in accordance with the international law applicable to situations of emergency, the domestic legislative framework should not allow for any restriction on the safeguards of persons deprived of their liberty concerning the right to bring proceedings before a court, including the right to be informed of the reasons for arrest, the right to be informed of the legal basis and of the judicial order for detention and the right to legal counsel. In addition, persons deprived of their liberty must have sufficient time to prepare their defence.

It was stated that the Working Group has not received convincing information that Çevik was in fact informed of the charges against him after his arrest, nor was he informed promptly after the judicial order that justified his detention was issued. The argument by the Government that Çevik was “reminded of the suspected offence” has not persuaded the Working Group that the right to be informed of the legal reasons for his detention or the criminal charges levelled against him have been respected.

In view of the fact that the authorities failed to formally invoke any legal basis justifying the detention of Çevik, the Working Group considered that his detention is arbitrary, falling within category I of the arbitrary detention categories referred to by the Working Group when considering cases submitted to it.

The Working Group has also noted that the Çevik’s legal counsel has not been able to contact his client frequently and in private and that the investigation against him is being carried out under certain limitations in terms of access to the file by his legal counsel.

The Working Group is also aware that Çevik only met four times with his lawyers during the nine months of his deprivation of liberty and that both he and the lawyer have had limited access to the case files to obtain samples from it, in accordance with the rules of procedure applicable in Turkey. The Working Group further notes with concern
that a lawyer hired by Çevik was accused of being a Gülen follower and disbarred.

The Working Group is not convinced that the restriction on the disclosure of information to Çevik in order to prepare his legal defence was proportionate, or that the non-disclosure of the file to the lawyer and Çevik protected the legitimate aim of national security.

In view of the foregoing, the Working Group is convinced that the right of Çevik to have effective legal representation, adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing has not been respected by the Government of Turkey, in violation of article 14 (3) (b) of the Covenant and principle 17.1 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any
Form of Detention or Imprisonment.

The Working Group further recalls that according to principle 9 of the United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on Remedies and Procedures on the Right of Anyone Deprived of their Liberty to Bring Proceedings Before a Court, legal counsel shall be able to carry out their functions effectively and independently, free from fear of reprisal, interference, intimidation, hindrance or harassment. The Working Group will refer the present case to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers for further consideration.

The Working Group notes that Çevik reportedly appealed to the Constitutional Court in September 2016 and that the Court has not yet ruled on the case. The Working Group considers that such a delay in addressing the matter by the State violates the relevant rules of international law, in particular the right to bring proceedings before a court without delay to challenge the lawfulness of the deprivation of liberty (article 9 (4) of the Covenant). In addition, the Working Group would like to recall that no substantial waiting period, de jure or de facto, shall exist before a detainee can bring a first challenge to the arbitrariness and lawfulness of the detention.

Furthermore, the Working Group wishes to recall that the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court is a self-standing human right, which is essential to preserve legality in a democratic society. That right, which constitutes a peremptory norm of international law, applies to all forms of deprivation of liberty, to all situations of deprivation of liberty, including not only to detention for purposes of criminal proceedings but also to situations of detention under administrative and other fields of law, including military detention, security detention and detention under counter-terrorism measures.

The Working Group wishes to reiterate the position of the Commissioner for Human Rights on the “urgency of reverting to ordinary procedures and safeguards, by ending the state of emergency as soon as possible. Until then, the authorities should start rolling back the deviations from such procedures and safeguards as quickly as possible, through a nuanced, sector-by-sector and case-by-case approach.”

The Working Group consequently finds that the non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial, established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the relevant international instruments ratified by Turkey, is of such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty of Çevik an arbitrary character and falls within category III of the arbitrary detention categories referred to by the Working Group when considering cases submitted to it.

Turkey survived a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President 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 participants of the Gülen movement in jails.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. At least 161,751 people were detained or investigated and 50,334 people were arrested in Turkey in the framework of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt campaign targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement since the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, according to statistics reported by state-run Anadolu news agency by basing on information taken from the officials from Turkey’s Justice Minsitry on June 13.

July 2, 2017

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