IHRC Rapporteurs Return from Turkey: Preliminary Statement


IHRC Rapporteurs Return from Turkey: Preliminary Statement

Monday 16, November 1998

[IHRC, London] The preliminary findings of the IHRC Rapporteurs following their visit to Turkey in October 1998 are as outlined below under the following headings:

1. Freedom of political expression, freedom of belief, association
2. Use of Torture and other degrading and inhumane treatment
3. Illegal detentions and extrajudicial killings

1. Freedom of political expression, freedom of belief, association

IHRC Rapporteurs were deeply concerned upon their arrival to hear of the case of a 14 year old protestor (name witheld), who mounted a pseudo-Marxist demonstration against university fees, outside the Turkish Parliament building in Ankara. He was allegedly tortured by police, and is still detained pending a trial for treason. Interviews with the boy, were broadcast in which he stated his deep regret at his actions, and the consequent loss of ‘his boyhood’ after his arrest.

The use of the charge of treason, the Rapporteurs noted, is frequently used and almost universally abused. Treasonous offences include participation in demonstrations, and publishing criticism of government policy both domestic and foreign.

Persecution by government authorities against those with dissenting voices is widespread. Charges of Treason carry the maximum sentence of death. Currently a sentence of 20 years appear average in such cases. The February 28, 1997 National Security Council Meeting marked a turning point in Turkish domestic policy. The NSC consists of military generals and various selected civilians including the Prime Minister, and according to issue leading businessmen, professionals etc. This meeting declared that the biggest threat to Turkish security came not from the PKK (Kurdish Separatist) Movement, but from the resurgence of Islamic sentiment amongst the Turkish nation at large. At that time, the Refah (Welfare) Party, led by the now banned politician Necmettin Erbakan, led the coalition government. Since that meeting, the government was effectively dissolved, in a ‘soft coup’ by the army. Persecution of not only those holding Islamic political beliefs has ensued, but against all professing to be practising Muslims.

State employees are banned from wearing a beard, and in the case of women of wearing a headscarf. They are not allowed to pray at work, and risk loosing their jobs if they are spotted praying in public. Recently the army itself purged several generals who were discovered to be praying at home. Women wearing headscarves have been banned from universities across the country, since the beginning of the 1998 – 9 academic year. Whilst some Deans of Faculties have not implemented this ban, the majority have infact barred students sporting the hijab (Islamic covering, veil, headscarf) from even entering university grounds. This had led to the daily scenario of police being called to campuses to remove women students who have attended wearing the hijab. In a demonstration across Turkey on October 11, 1998, 4 million protestors (Turkish Interior Ministry estimate) formed a human chain in various cities. Treason charges are pending against several journalists, lecturers and students who participated in this peaceful protest.

Government paranoia as to Islamic opposition has seen a number of high profile arrests against politicians. The Mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, received a ten month prison sentence for causing division in society under Article 312. He had infact read out a piece of Ottoman poetry. Whilst the Rapporteurs were in Turkey, the 75th celebrations of the Republic took place. Another mayor in Eastern Turkey, was arrested on that day, for remarks he had made two years earlier in a meeting, stating that the state worship of Attaturk was a polytheist practice. He also awaits trial on treason charges.

The law of promoting racial division has also been used against political opponents. One newspaper sub-editor faces 152 years in prison on 30 different counts of this charge related to an article he wrote criticising the envigorated alliance between Turkey and Israel.

2. Use of Torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment

Whilst in Turkey, IHRC Rapporteurs visited Bandirma Prison. This prison is situated across the Bosphorous from Istanbul, in the Asian part of Turkey. There many political prisoners are incarcerated. The existence of political prisoners in Turkey is openly acknowledged. Their prisoner status is classified as political, and their treatment is markedly different. A case in point was noted by Rapporteurs on their visit to Bandirma. Whilst criminal prisoners were allowed open and free access to their visitors on special occasions (IHRC Rapporteurs visited on Republic Day), political prisoners could only be spoken through a series of bars and reinforced plastic sheeting. To speak to the prisoners, visitors had to speak through four layers of metal sheeting with bore holes next to the bars, which of course precluded sight of the prisoners making communication long and laborious.

Some of the prisoners complained about torture at the hands of guards. Those who complained were those who were detained without charge – the purpose of torture presumably being to extract confessions. At meetings with prisoners’ families and lawyers, the Rapporteurs were advised of various methods of torture used against prisoners. These included:

leaving prisoners naked in cells with open windows in winter, often after dousing them in cold water;
the use of electric shocks on parts of the body, including genitalia;
the use of blindfolded beatings, and threats of rape against wives and children;

Other forms of torture will be outlined in the full case specific report to be submitted by Rapporteurs in four weeks time.

In one case, a prisoner is known to have lost the use of his voice, and one side of his body, as a result of torture. A fuller set of case studies will be made available in the next report.

IHRC noted that the range of political prisoners in Bandirma included people from all over Turkey from Turkish and Kurdish backgrounds. The majority of them were held on the basis is of some form of Islamic opposition. They included agricultural and blue collar workers as well as a number of journalists. Two female journalists were incarcerated in Bandirma.

3. Illegal detentions and extra-judicial killings

Human Rights Organisations and monitors both inside and outside Turkey estimate that there have been 10,000 unsolved murders in Turkey since the coup in the early 1980s. Many of the victims were political activists and journalists. IHRC has noted that the number of estimated deaths of Islamic activists and others for the month of May alone is 17.

Of the cases of prisoners investigated by IHRC, the majority were held in violation of their Turkish constitutional rights. All were held in violation of their basic human rights.

The IHRC Rapporteurs will be submitting a full report in four weeks time of its findings. If you have any further queries or information in the meantime, please contact us on (+44) 181 903 0888, fax (+44) 181 931 1920, e-mail: ihrc@dial.pipex.com. PO Box 598, Wembley, UK, HA0 4XX.