Documents detailing torture and abuse in Turkish prisons and detention centers obtained by Nordic Monitor explain why Turkey has for four years blocked the publication of a report by a Council of Europe committee that paid a fact-finding visit to Turkey in 2016 to investigate allegations of torture and ill treatment in Turkish correctional facilities.
Brutally tortured, robbed of his property and livelihood, imprisoned and his family stigmatized, Col. Cemil Turhan and his story represent the epitome of suffering caused by human rights abuses committed on a massive scale in post-coup Turkey. He was one of victims who gave a statement to the visiting members of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a Council of Europe-affiliated body.
The CPT aims to combat torture and other ill treatment through unannounced visits to places of detention of CoE member states. The CPT delegation was in Turkey to conduct inspections between August 28 and September 6, 2016. The delegation’s visit came amid widespread allegations raised first by Amnesty International, which stated that it had collected credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were beaten, tortured and on some occasions raped in official and unofficial detention centers across the country.
CPT investigators interviewed Turhan, among others, in the prison where he had been incarcerated and recorded his story in a report that was compiled after the visit. However, the details were never made public because Turkey vetoed the publication of the report. CPT President Mykola Gnatovskyy stated in 2017 that even though he “[wanted] to discuss the findings,” he could not comment on the report due to Ankara’s decision.
Turhan had the opportunity during a January 2019 court hearing to expose the gruesome details of the torture and inhuman treatment he had experienced during his time in police custody and pretrial detention, and even while he was being taken to the courtroom for his arraignment. The Turkish press did not cover his statement out of fear that they might invite the wrath of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had seized and shut down nearly 200 media outlets since 2015.
He substantiated his claims with CCTV footage, photos, medical reports, official documents and witness statements. His disfigured face in pictures taken by the government bears testimony to what he said; yet, his allegations were to no avail.
Torture and inhumane treatment have become part of a domestic policy of suppression of dissidents in Turkey under the government of President Erdoğan as evidenced by the civil, criminal, administrative and financial immunity extended by the government to public officials engaged in those practices.
Turhan was a military officer, a colonel, arrested after a failed coup on July 15, 2016 which, according to many, was a false flag aimed at entrenching Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule by rooting out dissidents and eliminating powerful actors such as the military in his desire for absolute power.
Cemil Turhan’s statement in court in January 2019:Turhan1
Col. Turhan surrendered with his hands in the air as he was ordered to do by the police at General Staff headquarters on July 16. Handcuffed from behind, he was taken into police custody along with the other military personnel trailing behind him.
“I surrendered of my own volition on July 16 at 13:22 without putting up any resistance. This is corroborated by CCTV footage, which was aired on many TV channels,” he said.
He then chronicled his ordeal at the hands of government officials step by step, starting from the moment he got on the police bus. Once in the bus, “[o]ne of the cops first slapped me in the face, then punched while swearing and forced me to bend my head forward. They treated the other staff behind me in the same way and bent their heads to their knees. We were forced to keep our heads like that until we got off the bus, with curses and insults pouring in,” he said.
They were transported from General Staff headquarters to the Ankara Police Department. An angry mob gathered in the garden began to attack the police bus full of detainees with stones and clubs, all the time cursing and insulting them.
Medical report that recorded signs of torture on July 19, 2016. Four medical reports since he was was first detained went missing from his case file:cemil_turan_torture
“They were cops judging from their conversation with the police officers inside the bus. Moreover, civilians could not have penetrated the fenced and isolated garden of police station. We were kept handcuffed from behind and our heads bent down on our knees. The mob forced their way into the bus, smashing its windows. Glass shards and hard objects were landing all over our bodies. I felt someone cutting my left arm, which was bound behind my back, with an unknown object. As a result, I got a deep, 5 to 6-cm-long cut on my arm. Blood flowing from my arm filled my seat. The scar of this cut is still visible. To protect myself from the physical assault and projectiles I went to the middle of the bus and squatted down there. Meanwhile, a plainclothes police officer kicked my nose hard with the heel of his shoe, which was witnessed by Staff Col. Murat Korkmaz. My nose began to bleed profusely, and the skin on my nose was torn. When I was later hospitalized, they stitched up my nose,” Turhan explained.
While still in the bus, the epaulettes and stripes were torn off his uniform and trampled by the police officers to the accompaniment of curses, insults and blows. His badges were destroyed, and his body was punctured by their pins.
As a result of these blows, he sustained many bruises, cuts and injuries on his head and face. Then, dragged by the arms, he was taken off the bus by the police and led through a 30 to 40-meter-long corridor expressly designed to humiliate and beat detainees under a shower of blows, punches and kicks.
“I was struck all over my body, especially my face, eyes and head. I was gasping for breath and collapsed on the floor, whereupon they lifted me up and continued the same treatment. I sustained many fractures to the head, blood was flowing from all over my body, which continued for a long time. I do not exactly remember when the bleeding stopped. But what I know for sure is that the blood was never wiped away but instead dried on my body,” he recalled.
The spree of blows and cursing continued during his entrance into the building. At a certain point, his shirt torn away, his trousers and shoes removed, he was thrown into a ward in his underwear. Yet, his ordeal did not stop there.
“In the ward, I was kept on my knees facing the wall for a long time under a shower of blows and insults. Then they took me somewhere else for a medical examination. I passed out during the medical examination. They applied seven staples for the deep laceration on my arm with a stapler, the traces of which are still visible. As my situation seemed very serious and there were signs of trauma on my skull and a fracture on my nose, they referred me to the Keçiören Teaching and Research Hospital. Around 23:00 hours on July 16, I was taken to the hospital in my underwear,” Turhan said in recounting his ordeal.
“If I remember correctly, I got a tetanus shot there. They haphazardly sutured my nose. I had also a brain tomography. Later I tried to get a medical report on the treatment carried out there through my lawyer. But my request was left unanswered by the hospital administration. I was brought back the same night to the cell.”
Turhan remained in the 50-square-meter ward for four days with 60 to 65 other detainees. Devoid of any furniture or other amenities, the ward had only two toilets and one bathroom with no electricity or running water. He spent four days on the concrete floor in his underwear, his hands handcuffed behind his back. Facing the wall, he was constantly kept on his knees. He was periodically verbally and physically abused. His head was hit against the wall, and he was forced to duckwalk.
He was not given any food for the first two days, after which he was given a meagre meal consisting of a small roll and a a piece of cream cheese. Bright spotlights were on day and night, because of which he could not sleep at all. “I was kept awake for four days. Sitting on the concrete floor and handcuffed from behind as I was, when I positioned myself to doze off they immediately came in and made everybody stand up. They tightened the handcuffs even more. My hands got numb because of being handcuffed. I was deposed in the dead of night without my family being informed.”
Police record that shows his personal possessions including his shoes and shirt were taken away on July 16, 2016:Cemil_turhan_strip
A medical report dated July 19 confirmed the lacerations and cuts on Turhan’s nose and arm. “This is the only medical report in my case file; the medical reports for the days prior to July 19 are missing,” he said.
After giving depositions they were taken to a gymnasium inside the police station and underwent medical examinations. Then they were referred to court towards the evening of July 19 for arraignment. “Although the judge saw that I had been subjected to torture, he did not feel the need to ask about it,” Turhan claimed. After a brief hearing he was officially arrested and sent to Sincan F-Type Prison.
He was locked up in a three-person cell with six other inmates. Unfortunately, imprisonment did not mark the end of his ordeal. He was beaten by a prison guard both before and after roll call. Another twisted his hand from behind.
In September 2016 he had a meeting with representatives of the CPT in which he recounted the torture and inhuman treatment he had been subjected to. “After their departure, the authorities replaced the pictures on our IDs including the prison entrance shots with new ones [that show no evidence of torture],” he said.
The Turkish government forbade the committee to publish the findings gathered during its visit to prisons in Turkey while bragging in international fora that no torture or maltreatment existed in its detention and correctional facilities.
Turhan’s suffering did not end with his incarceration in the prison. He was kept in a three-person cell with five other people until April 15, 2017, when the overcrowded cell finally returned to normal occupancy with three inmates. That did not last long, however, as he was put in solitary confinement on June 1, 2017. When he finally appeared to defend himself in court on February 1, 2019, after spending nearly four years behind bars without a trial, he had been locked up for 20 months in a solitary cell. He was allowed to benefit from open air amenities for only one hour a day, totally isolated from the rest of the prison population and was even denied television and radio privileges, which were afforded to others in prison.
“Before my conviction the prison administration, exceeding its authority, subjected me to the harshest conditions in the prison as if I had been sentenced to aggravated life. According to the law only those who riot, commit arson or murder or are guilty of attempted murder, injuring inmates or prison personnel, taking fellow prisoners or prison personnel hostage, possessing firearms or explosives or attempting to break out of prison can be kept in a single-person cell, limited to 20 days. I have been kept there for 20 months although I haven’t broken any prison rules,” he said.
Turhan submitted a written statement in 2019 detailing the torture and abuse in detention and prison:Cemil_Turhan_written_statement_torture
“Before we entered the courtroom they deliberately led us through an angry mob, exposing us to their most vile insults and curses. They let the crowd throw nooses on us and smuggle symbolic scaffolds [into the courtyard] to humiliate and intimidate us,” he added.
Turan was convicted and handed down 141 aggravated life sentences at the end of his trial in June 2019 by the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court.
His tribulations were not limited to himself. His wife and other relatives were also targeted. “My family lived in fear and isolation. They had to move out to avoid further stigmatization. They had to live in seclusion in their new quarters. The authorities also interrogated my wife. She, a teacher, was later dismissed from her job, although she was not affiliated with FETÖ [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization] and they failed to establish any connection between them. She was fired just because she is my wife. … All my assets were seized. The authorities did not let me withdraw my savings from my bank account. With the dismissal of my wife, my family was deprived of their financial means, doomed to hunger and misery. My brothers had a contracting company active in the excavation business. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality arbitrarily forbade them to unload the earth they had excavated. Their contracts were cancelled, because of which they were unable to operate. All this was done just because they were my family.”
FETÖ is a derogatory term concocted by the Erdoğan regime to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement, its arch enemy. The adherents of the movement, led by Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim scholar who lives in seclusion in the US and who has been a vocal critic of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues such as Erdoğan’s corrupt politics, his increasing authoritarianism and his meddling in the Syrian civil war on the side of jihadists, have been persecuted unprecedentedly since President Erdoğan accused Gülenists of orchestrating a colossal graft and corruption probe on December 17, 2013 that forced four of his ministers to step down.
When the next round of investigations on December 25 threatened to embroil his own son, Erdoğan stepped in, ordered the police not to carry out the orders of the prosecutors, hushed up the accusations and later dismissed and imprisoned all the police and prosecutors involved in the probes, designating the investigations a Gülenist plot.
Events came to a head after an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016. Accusing Gülen of masterminding the coup attempt, although Gülen denied this accusation and condemned the coup, Erdoğan declared an all-out war against the movement and sent over half a million real and perceived Gülenists to detention facilities.
In identifying Gülen followers the authorities developed flimsy criteria such as having deposited money in Bank Asya, believed to be owned by Gülenists, or having subscribed to the Zaman daily, once Turkey’s top circulating newspaper, which was taken over by the Erdoğan government even before the coup attempt, thus incriminating people retroactively on the basis of their legal acts and actions. Parallel to that, the government dismissed some 130,000 civil servants with cabinet decrees not subject to judicial review, thus cleansing the state apparatus of real and perceived Gülenists and other dissidents.
Given this state of affairs, it is no wonder that such infamous practices as torture, incommunicado detention and enforced disappearances made a reappearance in the country. The authorities were given free rein to engage in torture and inhuman treatment in detention facilities when an emergency decree-law provided legal protection and immunity to officials engaged in those practices, thus allowing torturers to act with impunity.