Yusuf Bilge Tunç disappeared in broad daylight on August 6, 2019, leaving no trace behind. He has not been heard from since. All the efforts of his family and human rights defenders to find out what happened to him have been of no avail.
Tunç’s car was found eight months ago in the GİMAT shopping mall in Ankara. His wife immediately called the police. Yet the police showed no real interest in his disappearance. They dismissed his wife’s claims, saying, “He might have fled and left his car behind. Take a look at the CCTV footage. He will return,” thus declining to launch an investigation into the circumstances of his disappearance.
He has a grieving wife and three children who still wait for a sign that he’s still alive. The appeals of Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a prominent human rights activist, addressed to the Ministry of Interior to obtain information on his whereabouts have thus far elicited no response from government authorities.
There’s good reason to believe that Tunç, a former employee of the Ministry of Industry who was dismissed by a cabinet decree, has been kidnapped by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and held incommunicado in detention at one of MİT’s black sites.
As a matter of fact, his disappearance bears all the signs of a series of kidnappings reportedly carried out by the Turkish secret service in 2019. Six people went missing under similarly dubious circumstances. With the exception of Tunç all of them — Salim Zeybek, Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen — reappeared in police custody in Ankara after six to nine-month absences. Salim Zeybek’s wife, Fatma Betül Zeybek, was with him when three men in a vehicle forced them to stop their car and abducted her husband.
The families had consistently complained about the lack of cooperation from officials to find their loved ones, as wives unearthed details indicating that their husbands had been abducted.
Apparently intimated, all of them kept their silence after their reappearance, a fact evidenced by lawyers from the Ankara Bar Association’s Human Rights Center who went to Ankara’s Sincan Prison to speak with the once-missing men on August 27, 2019. The lawyers were able to meet only with Salim Zeybek; the others, according to the prison administration, refused to see them. Yet the minutes of the meeting with Salim Zeybek were seized by the prison guards.
According to a report drafted by the bar’s Human Rights Center the lawyers themselves were intimidated by the prison management and threatened by the guards. The once-missing prisoners have never been allowed to have face-to-face meetings with their lawyers or families, and in any meetings they do have, a government official must be present; therefore, they have not had the opportunity to recount the torture and inhuman treatment they endured.
Furthermore, those families that conducted social media campaigns to find their loved ones were told to halt their campaigns and stop seeking answers that may shed a light for their disappearance. One of them, Gökhan Türkmen, however, revealed details of the torture he had been subjected to during his 271-day detention at a black site. Türkmen was the object of threats and was sexually harassed and abused during his enforced disappearance, the Yeni1mecra news website reported.
Nearly 30 people have reportedly been abducted by Turkish intelligence officers since 2016. Two of them were able to flee the country and told foreign media about the torture they had endured during their enforced disappearances.
Given this track record we are deeply concerned about the fate of Yusuf Bilge Tunç. We remind the Turkish government of its obligations and commitments emanating from international human rights law. Therefore, we strongly urge the Turkish government to find Yusuf Bilge Tunç, to conduct a transparent and extensive investigation into the circumstances of his disappearance and to bring those responsible for his disappearance to justice.