Hacer Koç, 44, one of the first women to come forward to share her experience of an unlawful strip-search in prison, talked to Bold Medya about the trauma she and her children went through during her arrest and imprisonment.
Koç was arrested in April 2018 for alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. Photographs of her youngest daughter, Elif, had circulated on social media a few months ago showing her crying on the floor of the courthouse during her mother’s trial. Koç said the judge had Elif removed from the courtroom, upon which Elif had a breakdown.
“Elif was crying silently in one corner,” said Koç. “We had not seen each other for some time so it was emotional for both of us. The judge was irritated by her crying, although it was just tears streaming down her face and she wasn’t making any noise. So he told her to get out.”
Koç said she didn’t know what happened next outside the courtroom but that she heard some noise. She said her eldest daughter told her later that Elif had collapsed on the floor.
According to Koç, Elif still has not recovered from the experience and shakes with fear whenever the doorbell rings. “When my husband and I were detained, Elif had a crying fit, and she woke up the whole building,” she said. “It was very difficult for her to see us being taken away in the middle of the night by the police.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding.
According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Nov. 26, a total of 292,000 people have been detained while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the movement. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive coup.
Koç was released pending trial after nine months in prison and was later sentenced to six years, three months in prison. Her bank account at Bank Asya and the ByLock telephone application on her phone were used as evidence against her.
ByLock is an encrypted messaging app used in smartphones and was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Turkish authorities claim that ByLock is a communication tool exclusively used by members of the Gülen movement to ensure the privacy of their conversations. The app was permanently shut down in March 2016, before the movement was declared a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.
Koç also mentioned that she was humiliated during her arrest by the police officers who insisted on watching her showering. “I said I needed to shower before we left,” she said. “The police entered the bathroom with me and watched me the whole time. It was humiliating.”
Koç said she was later taken to İstanbul’s Bakırköy Prison for Woman where the guards told her to take off all her clothes and squat three times. She said she did not understand what they wanted initially, because she had never been in such a situation.
“I was shocked, and they just laughed. As I took off my clothes they continued laughing,” she said.
Many women who were detained and subjected to unlawful strip-searches have come forward to talk about their experiences after human rights activist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu brought the issue to parliament and started a campaign on social media.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said on Tuesday that his party was ready to support legislation to ban strip-searches.