New York based human rights organisation Human Rights Watch said today “Turkish authorities should urgently investigate the abduction and possible enforced disappearance of at least four men in Ankara since March 2017″ in a letter to Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul.
Letter addressed by Hugh Williamson who is Executive Director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division urges Justice Minister Mr. Gul “to ensure that authorities carry out prompt and effective investigations into these cases of abductions and possible enforced disappearance to identify the missing men’s whereabouts and secure their release. If they are in custody you should ensure that their families are informed as to their location, they have access to a lawyer and are brought immediately before an independent judicial authority. The investigations should also be capable of identifying those responsible, including any state agents, with a view to holding them to account.”
“There are credible grounds to believe that government agents forcibly disappeared the missing men … The Turkish authorities should promptly uphold their obligation to locate the missing men, who may be in grave danger, secure their release and if they are in custody give them immediate access to a lawyer, and let their families know where they are… Given Turkey’s dark history of enforced disappearances, it is all the more important for the authorities to investigate the alarming spate of abductions in Ankara… Disappearing people is a grave human rights violation, prohibited in all circumstances, and the government needs to act now to stamp it out.” said Mr. Williamson.
HRW inspected five incidents before addressing the letter :
One of the abducted men, a former teacher, was located in official police custody after 42 days. At least three others were abducted in similar circumstances but their whereabouts remain unknown. The similarities between the abductions and the fact that one of the men was subsequently found in police custody are credible grounds to believe that the men may be victims of enforced disappearances by Turkish security forces or law enforcement agents.
The victim who was located in official custody is Önder Asan, a former teacher. A witness saw men who said they were police officers abduct Asan in Ankara in April, forcing him out of a taxi and bundling him into a Volkswagen Transporter van. After his family received a call from a police station 42 days later, they located him in police custody. He was taken before a judge on May 17 and sent to detention pending trial for alleged terrorism links.
He has lodged a formal complaint with the Ankara prosecutor alleging that after his abduction by people who said they were police officers, he was held in a secret location, interrogated and tortured, and finally moved to a regular police station, where he saw a lawyer.
The circumstances of the three other men’s abductions, beginning in March, share common features with Asan’s. They are Turgut Çapan, Mustafa Özben, and Cemil Koçak. All three were dismissed from their jobs as teachers or civil servants under state of emergency decrees. Çapan was an acquaintance of Asan’s, and Asan had seen him on the day he was abducted. Witnesses to the abductions of Özben and Koçak said that the men were bundled into a black or dark-coloured Volkswagen Transporter van, accounts that are corroborated by security camera footage.
A fifth man, whose case Human Rights Watch has reviewed, has also been missing since March, when he dropped his family off at the Ankara bus station. He was last seen on security cameras leaving a metro station. He had a similar profile to the four abducted men. His whereabouts are unknown.
In addition to the five cases Human Rights Watch examined in detail, a number of other cases have been reported to the Human Rights Association in Turkey and to members of parliament. Human Rights Watch has not had the opportunity to review these cases in detail.
The authorities have yet to respond to the allegations of abductions and possible enforced disappearances reported to prosecutors this year by lawyers acting for the families of missing people, including at least some of the five men and two members of parliament, as well as to reports on social media. Members of parliament for the main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Senal Sarıhan, introduced parliamentary questions to Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım in April and May about the progress of investigations into the whereabouts of people they suspected of having been forcibly disappeared. The government has not responded.
Turkey has a history of enforced disappearances by security forces in the 1990s. The European Court of Human Rights issued repeated judgments that Turkey had violated the rights to liberty and security and often the right to life of victims, most of whom were Kurds.
Abduction and enforced disappearance incidents also reported by Sweden based advocacy group Stockholm Center for Freedom.
According to Stockholm Center for Freedom’s report (Enforce Disappearances in Turkey, dated June / 2017) “There has been a new campaign of enforced disappearance in Turkey since 2016 that specifically targets members of the civic Gülen movement. SCF has documented at least 11 cases of enforced disappearance so far.”