Zehra Türkmen, the wife of Gökhan Türkmen, who was allegedly abducted by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), was arrested on October 1 to serve out a previously handed down prison sentence, according to a report by Bold Medya.
Zehra Türkmen is the mother of two children aged seven and 12. She was summarily fired by an executive decree from her job as a teacher and sentenced to six years in prison for alleged membership in the Gülen movement. Her sentence was just upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Known for her activities trying to raise awareness of her husband’s enforced disappearance, she told Human Rights Watch that she had faced intimidation from unknown sources who hacked the Twitter account she had set up in her husband’s name to campaign for information of his whereabouts when he disappeared and set up a second one also in his name.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. Gülen and the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
The family sought information from various government institutions on Türkmen’s whereabouts in vain and appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. After nine months of absence Gökhan Türkmen suddenly reappeared in police custody in Ankara. At a court hearing on February 10, 2020 Türkmen claimed he had been abducted by Turkish intelligence, held incommunicado in detention and tortured. He also alleged that he was visited and threatened no less than six times in prison by people who introduced themselves as intelligence officers.
In a statement in April Human Rights Watch had called on the Turkish authorities to investigate the circumstances surrounding the abduction of Türkmen. “Turkish authorities should urgently carry out an effective investigation into credible testimony from a man in pretrial detention that state agents forcibly disappeared him for nine months and tortured him,” the human rights watchdog said.
Türkmen is one of at least two dozen people over the last three years whose families, or in a few cases the individuals themselves, have said they have been abducted and forcibly disappeared by government agents for many months.
Türkmen’s lawyer has also filed complaints that men who introduced themselves as MİT officers have visited him in prison six times since November 15 and threatened him and his family. During a March 2020 visit, the men pressured him to retract his allegations about abduction and torture at the February court hearing. On April 16 the Ankara prosecutor issued three decisions saying there was no need to investigate the complaints. Türkmen’s lawyer is appealing.
An enforced disappearance occurs when state agents, or people or groups acting with government authorization, support, or acquiescence, deprive a person of liberty and then refuse to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or conceal the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.
Enforced disappearances are serious crimes under international law and are prohibited at all times. The prohibition not only requires preventing them but entails a duty to investigate allegations of enforced disappearance and prosecute those responsible. Enforced disappearances may also constitute and be prosecuted as a crime against humanity if they form part of a state-sponsored policy or practice or are part of a broader attack against civilians by state authorities.