A veteran woman Turkish journalist who remained in nine month long pre-trial detention has been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment at the police custody after she got re-arrested on trumped-up charges when the court decision to release her was not enforced by the government, resulting in a traumatic experience that her lawyer says she has been unable to cope with.
Hanım Büşra Erdal, a court reporter and a lawyer, was subjected to intrusive naked search at the police station and humiliated by the police officers when she was picked up from the prison cell where she was preparing to walk away after the judges ordered her release from nine-month pre-trial detention. Erdal whose indictment lacks merit for any evidence of violence and terror except her published articles in critical Zaman daily was ordered to be released on March 31 pending trial. Yet, the government intervened in her release amid outcry by pro-government circles including propagandist journalists who wanted her to remain in jail indefinitely. As a result, another arrest warrant was issued against her on the same day before she managed to make one step outside the walls of the prison.
As if crushing her hopes to be free is not enough, Erdal was taken to the police station and detained there for a day before she was placed into the prison again. Despite she did not present any risk of possessing a contraband or a weapon as she was directly transferred from her prison cell, police forced her to get naked in the detention, subjected her to intrusive search and humiliated her dignity for hours as part of an unlawful punishment that amounted a torture. Erdal was traumatized with this terrible experience according to her lawyer who gave a statement to that effect in the courtroom.
Ümit Kardaş, the lawyer of the journalist, told the court on April 27 hearing that “my client was subjected to the inhuman treatment. She won her freedom but put back to jail again. A month passed since her terrible ordeal in police station but she has not covered from that trauma yet.” While the lawyer is defending her in the courtroom, Erdal burst into tears. “You could say this was a torture and abuse,” Kardaş emphasized.
He said the naked search is allowed only if it the circumstances warrant such practice. “She is a journalist and was picked up from the prison. She was routinely going through checks and searches in the prison already. By forcibly removing her clothes in police detention, the government wanted to humiliate and abuse her,” Kardaş explained. He said the independence of the judges were also violated as they were dismissed right after the release decision. “The logic here is clear: these people won’t get released no matter what,” he alimented.
Erdal was arrested on July 29, 2016 on terror charges, indicted and now faces ten years jail time on her published articles in one-time Turkey’s largest daily Zaman which was unlawfully seized by the government on March 2016 and shut down later. The journalists surrendered herself despite the fact that she had multiple visas from European countries and the United States to flee the country. She was placed in pre-trial detention since then. During the first hearing in the case, she was released along with other 21 journalists who also faced similar false charges of terror for articles, comments, and critical Tweet messages.
The release of dozens of journalists by judges at İstanbul No.25 High Criminal Court was not unexpected given the fact that the indictment has no evidence whatsoever with regard to any crime, violence and terror. Yet the government circles mobilized their networks with some even calling the arrest of judges who ordered their release. As a result, new arrest warrants were issued within hours, preventing journalist from enjoying their newly gained freedoms. Some in pro-government circles even threatened journalists with a mob lynching right before the prison if they were allowed to step outside.
13 journalists were told all of a sudden a new investigation on serious allegations of crime was launched against them despite the fact that they had been in prison for nine months already. A new detention orders issued and they were taken to the police station before they were formally arrested in the arraignment hearings and thrown back into prison. Another 8 journalists were re-arrested after the prosecutor appealed the release order and the judge issued a new arrest warrant within hours without even examining their cases and hearing the defendants’ arguments. Although the release order must have been enforced by the government immediately, Erdal and other journalists were kept in the jail for hours while the government apparently worked out on new arrest warrants.
They were supposed to be taken to the court immediately according to the Code on Criminal Procedures and notified about the arrest warrant by a judge and later transferred to the prison again. Yet, the police took them to the detention center in police station, kept them for a day during which they were subjected to abuse and even torture.
Erdal was ordered to be released by İstanbul No.25 High Criminal Court on March 31, 2017. She was taken back to Bakırköy prison for women at 18.30 hours and she was preparing to exit the prison. The prosecutor objected her release but the court rejected the motion and referred the prosecutor to İstanbul No.26 High Criminal Court if he wished to appeal the judgement.
At 23.59 hours, Istanbul No.26 High Criminal Court issued a fresh arrest warrant against Erdal without even listening the defense and not bothering to examine the case file. In the meantime, Erdal was deprived of her liberty and kept in the jail as if she was a hostage despite the fact that the government must have enforced the release order without any delay. As a result, authorities who kept her locked up committed a criminal offense under Turkish penal code for unlawful deprivation of a person’s liberty.
Police officers came to the prison at 01.15 am on April 1, 2017, to arrest her in the cell. She was taken to the police station in İstanbul police headquarters and placed in a detention at anti-terror unit. When she was told to take off her clothes. Erdal, who is familiar with the law as a lawyer and had chased legal cases in the courtrooms for years, objected to this intrusive strip search. Yet she was forced by the police officers amid her laud cries that were heard by her colleagues in adjacent rooms. The abuse continued as she stayed in the detention for 22 hours.
Having kept in detention for 22 hours, she was finally referred to the court on the night of April 1st and Istanbul No.13 High Criminal Court formally arrested her again. She was locked up in the same prison at 01.00 am on April 2, 2017. Her lawyer challenged the new arrest decision on April 6, 2017, saying that the new arrest warrant was unlawful and the court did not examine her case before issuing a decision. Yet the objection was rejected.
Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), an advocacy group that tracks rights violations in Turkey, believes Erdal’s case merits reviews under the Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that the right of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
Turkey is also in breach of the Revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners as well as the revised Standard Minimum Rules in the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules, 2010). Turkey has also violated 2006 European Prison Rules and the articles of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
May 11, 2017