Finally, we now know why the former administration of the Ankara Bar Association fought so hard to brush their own Human Rights Centre’s multiple torture reports documenting torture allegations at the notorious Ankara Police Headquarters under the carpet: Firstly, the five reports published on 2nd January 2023 contain both horrific accounts of systemic police brutality and of sexual attacks; secondly, most of the victims of these crimes are alleged members of the Gulen Movement.
On 17th January 2022, Ankara Security Directorate Anti-Terrorism (TEM) Branch Directorate teams carried out operations targeting members of the Gülenist. Those arrested were taken to the headquarters of the Anti-terror Branch of the Ankara Police. Immediately after they were arrested allegations of ill-treatment and torture began.
HDP Kocaeli MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu voiced the allegations in the Turkish parliament and submitted written questions to the Parliament Vice President, Fuat Oktay, Minister of Justice, Abdulhamit Gül, and Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu.
When informed of the allegations, lawyers from the Ankara Bar Association Human Rights Centre visited the police headquarters and carried out a string of interviews with the suspects. These interviews were collated into a report and handed on to the board of the Bar Association for publication. A further 4 reports were also prepared, documenting ill-treatment and torture of arrested people by police officers from the Anti-Terror and Narcotics branch as well as the Sincan Police dated 23rd January, 2nd March, 8th March and 4th April 2022 respectively.
The reports would not be seen again for nearly a year later.
According to the reports, lawyers from the Ankara Bar Association Human Rights Centre went to Ankara Anti-Terror Unit headquarters on 25th January 2022, a week after the suspects were arrested. Despite the lack of any provision in the Turkish Code of Criminal Procedure forbidding it, the police asked the lawyers to remove their mobile phones before entering the interview rooms. The lawyers suspect that this was in order to stop them from taking photographs of any signs of torture and ill-treatment.
The suspects who agreed to speak to the lawyers said that instead of formal, recorded interrogations with the participation of a defence counsel they instead underwent interviews known as mülakat (unlawful interrogations where they were “forced to become ‘confessors’ and were subjected to threats and insults). Indeed, mülakat has been widespread since 2016 and has been reported by several reports of Council of Europe’s Committee for Prevention of Torture and by a recent joint report by London Advocacy and Human Rights Solidarity.
As presented by the Ankara Bar Association reports, examples of the victims’ experiences are as follows:
“In addition to threats and insults during the (informal / unlawful) interviews (mülakat in Turkish), he [the suspect] stated that he was stripped naked, threatened with sexual assault with different objects…he was doused twice with very cold water. Another interviewee told the lawyers that during the “mülakat” he was told to “get up and perform a striptease”
“The interviewee has been in custody for 6 days… On the first day of his arrest, he was taken from the detention centre to another building within the TEM campus and subjected to torture and ill-treatment… he was forced to become a confessor… and presented with the threat of sexual assault with a bottle and broom handle: When the suspect collapsed, the police officers said, ‘Let’s be careful’.
The report mentions how the police officers sexually assaulted the suspect with various objects and told him; ‘If you do not say what we want, you will be imprisoned for 23-30 years and you will not be able to see your family’.”
Another victim told the lawyers that “when he felt faint, the police officers were very afraid of this situation, and they discussed among themselves that they should be careful about damaging certain parts of the suspect’s body especially such areas where there could form long-lasting bruises.”
He also said that the police officers who tortured him told him, “we are watching everywhere, we know everything”, indicating that the conference booth was also bugged. This led the victims of torture not to speak freely about their situation.
This interviewee “stated that he agreed that this report could be made, but the only condition was that it would be published after the detention period, not during this period, otherwise he was afraid that he would not be able to leave here alive.”
Despite the attempt to hide all evidence of torture and ill-treatment, the lawyers managed to photograph the bruises on a number of victims.
One victim stated “that they did not allow him to protect himself by holding his hands and arms up. The victim’s right and left wrists were swollen and reddened, and it was visible by the bruises that the victim was hit with a baton. Bruising was also observed on the left-hand side of the victim’s neck and was photographed… swelling was observed also in his buttocks but it was not photographed.”
The police officers who repeatedly tortured these individuals in the police headquarters arranged for what the victims believed to be a doctor to make sure no signs of torture were found and documented in the medical examination reports. Instead of examining the victims individually, the “doctor”, without even going into the cells, shouted whether anyone had any complaints knowing full well nobody would dare to ask for medical treatment for the injuries they sustained at the hands of their torturers.
Medical examination of detainees is pure formality
In one instance, “a person in a doctor’s uniform came down to the cells and shouted, “does anybody have any medical complaints?” The suspect had had a heart attack two years ago and had consequently suffered from high blood pressure…he was given electric shocks during his interview…he said that he was terrified he would be killed that way.” Other victims also accounted same conduct.
Again both CPT reports and the recent report by London Advocacy and Human Rights Solidarity document that the current conduct of medical examination of detainees by the Turkish authorities, required both by the Istanbul Protocol and the Turkish law, is nothing but pure formality and far from safeguarding the integrity and wellbeing of detainees.
When the board of the Ankara Bar Association received these reports from its own Human Rights Centre, instead of publishing it as usual, it chose to keep quiet about the whole affair. Only when the pressure from the lawyers amounted, instead of publishing the report, they made a public statement that the matter was being reported to the public prosecutor. What the president of the Ankara Bar Association and the board did not anticipate though, was that the members of the Human Rights Centre would resign as a result.
The President of the Ankara Bar Association, Kemal Koranel, later said that the decision not to publish the report was taken by a majority of the association, and that he actually voted for the publishing of the report but failed, however, to enter a dissenting opinion in the decision. He later resigned.
The new president took the matter to the 67th Ordinary General Assembly of the Ankara Bar Association where the lawyer of the Ankara Bar voted to publish the reports, finally allowing the 5 reports of the torture of the members of the Gulen Movement in police custody to become public.
We whole-heartedly agree with our colleague Ms Gizay Dulkadir, one of the lawyers who resigned from her position in the Ankara Bar Association Human Rights Centre as a result of the administration’s complicity in the torture, when she said;
“I would like to thank each and every one of my colleagues who contributed to the preparation of the reports by diligently performing their duties to stop this torture, who signed the motion we submitted for the disclosure of torture reports and who contributed to the disclosure of these events by voting YES. No one should forget that there are lawyers in this country! As long as we exist, the struggle against torture and ill-treatment will not end. We will win, human dignity will prevail.”