Tens of thousands of political prisoners now languish in Turkish prisons. Few have seen, or hope to see, a court room anytime soon. Rumors are rife about the mistreatment—rapes, beatings, and electrical shocks—of Turkish prisoners, including political prisoners and July 15 coup supporters.
The question looming is how, given the abuses and illegalities that occur in prisons, the Turkish government will react. The Erdogan government is not known for emphasizing accountability. While the government can dispute the veracity of a taped phone conversation detailing then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan instructing his son on how to hide $1 billion, it is hard to hide injuries or deaths that occur in state custody when the victims appear in court for trial. Some Turks have expressed concern that Erdogan loyalists guarding the prisons would turn their guns on the prisoners under the guise of putting down a prison uprising. Such a scenario could still occur—and the firepower that Erdogan has moved to the prisons is worrisome—but Erdogan may also have concluded that a prison massacre could spark civil war as family members of those killed retaliate against Erdogan supporters.
In other words, should torture occur, Erdogan is covering his bases to ensure that medical examiner reports will not acknowledge it.
Recent moves, however, suggest Erdogan may also employ a different strategy: Last week, he issued three new decrees which furthered the purges among the police and Ministry of Justice. Among the nearly 1700 justice ministry officials fired were the bulk of its forensic unit. This means that those examining prisoners or performing autopsies will now be Erdogan loyalists rather than technocrats and professionals. In other words, should torture occur, Erdogan is covering his bases to ensure that medical examiner reports will not acknowledge it. Prominent prisoners might die prior to their day in court, but Erdogan knows that individual deaths likely will not provide a spark that threatens his rule.
It is the job of every leader to protect the security of its citizens. That is, anywhere except Turkey, where Erdogan’s recent actions suggest that he sees his job as creating a system to, quite literally, get away with murder.