Detainees say safeguards for prisoners have been abandoned
By THOMAS GROVE and MARGARET COKER
ISTANBUL—Eight Turkish political prisoners were attacked by guards, some of them beaten unconscious, within hours of their transfer to a facility in Izmir on Aug. 4, the men wrote days later in a letter that rights groups say illustrates a new wave of abuse in Turkey’s crowded jails.
Guards accused the men of failing to show sufficient respect to a prison official, then “beat us with planks, fists, kicked us, shoved their fingers down our throats and strangled us with their bare hands,” the men said in the Aug. 8 letter, which they signed and sent to a Turkish prisoner-rights group.
The letter is one of six reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that were written by longtime political prisoners after an attempt in July to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.The letters, together with interviews with four defense lawyers and relatives of 10 accused coup plotters, detail allegations of abuse in some Turkish detention facilities after a post-coup state of emergency gave authorities new powers and legal immunity.
Some opposition lawmakers, rights groups and members of the bar association who have worked to reform the nation’s prison system say that legal safeguards introduced in recent years to protect inmates have been abandoned.
“Since July 15, the attitude of all prison administrators has hardened considerably. And now there are increasing accusations of violence and torture against inmates,” said Veli Agbaba, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party who heads its commission on jail conditions.
. Turkey’s government says it prohibits torture and respects the rule of law. “There is neither torture nor mistreatment in Turkey’s prisons and jails,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag wrote on the ministry website on Oct. 23.
The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that a report from Human Rights Watch that detailed 13 cases of alleged abuse during detention after the coup was “one-sided and baseless.”
Officials at the Justice Ministry, which oversees Turkey’s prisons, and the Interior Ministry, which oversees Turkey’s police, couldn’t be reached for comment on any of the allegations of prisoner abuse reported in this article.
Since the coup attempt, 32,000 people have been detained and charged for alleged ties to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Turkish cleric whom the government blames for the uprising. Thousands more in detention await charges. Mr. Gulen denies any role in the coup.
The government has also intensified a crackdown on its domestic Kurdish opposition, arresting on Friday the leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP. The lawmakers are accused of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, on charges the HDP rejects.
The letters reviewed by the Journal were written by political prisoners convicted of crimes related to the PKK. One of the men who wrote the Aug. 8 letter had been imprisoned for over a decade. “The atmosphere of cruelty was one which we had never seen before,” they wrote after the transfer to Izmir. Phone calls to the Odemis Correctional Facility in Izmir weren’t answered.
In a separate incident, two detainees accused of links to a high-ranking coup suspect and held in late July in Istanbul’s Vatan Street security headquarters told their lawyer that guards beat their feet and faces during interrogations and told them that no one would know where to find their corpses.
The men were held in custody for 20 days and then transferred to Silivri prison , 40 miles west of Istanbul, and now are in solitary confinement, according to their lawyer. The beatings have stopped since their transfer, the lawyer said. Phone calls to the Vatan Street headquarters weren’t answered.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, since coming to power in 2002, modernized its prison system as part of reforms meant to strengthen its path to membership in the European Union. Most prisoners were given regular access to lawyers and had a system in place to seek to make officials accountable for any abuse, while more guards received EU-sponsored training.
A Turkish government handout shows the Silivri prison complex west of Istanbul. PHOTO: TURKISH MINISTRY OF JUSTICE/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Among the declarations that followed, Emergency Decree 667 declares that anyone working in an official capacity bears “no legal, administrative, financial or criminal responsibility” for duties carried out under the state of emergency.
Authorities have curtailed detainees’ rights to communicate with the outside world. In numerous cases, defense lawyers have been denied contact. Reduced access makes accounts of mistreatment difficult to collect and verify.
One civilian detained outside Ankara the day after the coup told his family that he and dozens of others were held in their underwear on a cement plaza in an open-air detention center for three days. When they complained of thirst, exacerbated by the hot summer sun, their guards sprayed a hose onto the ground and told them to lick up the water.
Source: The Wall Street Journal