Zeki Güven, jailed police intelligence chief, becomes latest suspicious death in a Turkish prison

Zeki Güven and his judge wife Sevda Güven.

Zeki Güven, the former intelligence chief of the Ankara Police Department who was arrested by a Turkish court in May as part of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement, was found dead in his bed at Sincan No 1 F Type Prison on Sunday.

According to reports in the Turkish media, Turkish authorities have started an investigation into the suspicious death of Güven.

Güven had been dismissed from his latest position as assistant chief of police in Bolu over alleged links to the Gülen movement in 2015, and later a detention warrant was issued on accusations of being an “executive member of a terrorist organization.” Güven and his wife, Judge Sevda Güven, were detained on May 22, 2018 at a shopping mall in Eskişehir province over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, detention warrants issued by Ankara’s 2nd, 4th and 14th high criminal courts were outstanding for Zeki Güven over his alleged involvement in the revelation of a sex scandal concerning Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal in 2010. Judge Sevda Güven is also reportedly wanted over alleged membership in the Gülen movement.

He did not have the opportunity to appear in court in a case that includes an accusation of involvement in the revelation of the sex scandal concerning Baykal.

According to the official statement, Zeki Güven died from a heart attack; however, given the previous incidents and deaths in Turkish prisons, his death is being viewed as suspicious.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported in one of its studies titled “Suspicious Deaths and Suicides In Turkey” that there has been an increase in the number of suspicious deaths in Turkey, most in jails and detention centers, where torture and ill-treatment are being practiced. In the majority of cases, authorities concluded they were suicides without any effective, independent investigation.

Suspicious deaths have also taken place beyond prison walls amid psychological pressure and threats of imminent imprisonment and torture, sometimes following the release of suspects or just before their detention. SCF has compiled 117 cases of suspicious deaths and suicides in Turkey in a list in a searchable database format.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip 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 them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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