The Halfeti Torture Case: Politics of Impunity and Systematic Torture

On the 4th anniversary of the Halfeti torture incident, lawyer Gökhan Dayık wrote about the incident and the continuing state of impunity.

On May 18, 2019, 3 people, including a police officer, died in an armed clash in Dergili village of the Halfeti district of Şanlıurfa. After the clash, 55 people, including women, children, elderly and disabled persons, were arrested on terrorism charges in the villages of the districts of Halfeti and Bozova.

The Şanlıurfa Bar Association Human Rights Centre has received reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees through messages to its social media accounts. A photograph of the detainees in the courtyard of Yaylak Gendarmerie Station, handcuffed behind their backs and face down, with footprints visible on them, was shared on social media on 20 May 2019.

yaylak jandarma

The Human Rights Centre of the bar association, therefore, posted a message on social media that there were allegations of torture, that torture was absolutely prohibited both by national and international law, and that the legal struggle would continue until torture, which was a crime against humanity, was rooted out from this region and that the incident would be followed up.

The Human Rights Centre made a comprehensive press release on 21 May 2019 and filed a criminal complaint against those involved. The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which should have initiated an investigation ex officio, felt compelled to initiate an investigation as a result of our criminal complaint.

A comprehensive report consisting of 34 pages was prepared by the Şanlıurfa Bar Association Human Rights Centre and made public on 3 June 2019. In this report, the existence of systematic torture in Urfa since 2015 was brought to attention.

Link for the report; For the original report in Turkish, click here  

For its translation to English click here.

Below, there is a documentary produced by the Arrested Lawyers Initiative on the Halfeti torture incident

It is important to note that in no circumstance may a person be subjected to torture, regardless of any offence he or she might have committed. The prohibition of torture is absolute. On the other hand, 50 of those detained on suspicion of allegedly having committed an offence and were subjected to torture and ill-treatment, subsequently were acquitted or released without charge and it was held that the people in question had nothing to do with the incident and that their detention was completely arbitrary.

The trials of the other five suspects continue.

The investigation into the torture of those 55 people is still open, the number of the investigation file is 2019/17550. The Şanlıurfa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has not yet completed the deficiencies in the file. For instance, the statements of some suspects have not yet been taken and the report of the forensic medicine institution has not been entered into the file. Thus, the indictment has not been prepared.

Defending and protecting human rights is one of the duties of bar associations as well as a conscientious duty of human rights activists. Our persistent stance and effort against torture are to protect human dignity and contribute to the construction of a livable world. The greatest reward of this persistence and endeavour is that justice is served despite the ongoing policy of impunity.

Our bar association, ourselves and all human rights activists living in Şanlıurfa will follow this torture case through.

By listing a few anecdotes below, I will try to help you understand the circumstances of the time.

Starting from the very beginning of the investigation, the law enforcement officers violated the procedure and the law, and a policy of impunity concerning incidents of torture was being meticulously implemented. Namely, lawyers were restricted from meeting with their clients on the first day of their arrest.  Where they had more than one client, they were made to meet with one suspect only and only in the presence of a police officer. So as to prevent certain lawyers who were following the case as private counsel from attending the interrogation process with their clients, a defence counsel was requested from OCAS[1] without informing the private defence counsel, and the right to choose a defence counsel was prevented.

The Chief Public Prosecutor said that torture “would be forgotten in a week”

During the meeting with the Chief Public Prosecutor of Şanlıurfa to ensure that an effective investigation was carried out into the allegations of torture, the Chief Public Prosecutor said that torture “would be forgotten in a week”. This statement alone was an admission that the current policy of impunity would be persistently pursued, and the file would be left inconclusive.

We set up a delegation including the Şanlıurfa Bar Association, the Human Rights Association, the Rights Initiative and the Association of Contemporary Lawyers in order to carry out investigations at the site of the clashes. At the road leading into the village, we encountered a barricade that had been turned into a search and control point. Despite our objections, we were allowed to enter the village only after we allowed our identities to be recorded. After completing our investigations and interviews, we set off to return, but we were followed by a civilian grey car for about 100 km to the city centre, which amounted to harassment.

The holding cells of the Şanlıurfa Anti-Terror Branch are located in the basement. I went to the branch to investigate allegations of torture and met with a suspect and then headed for the exit. The police officer who said he would accompany me to the exit tried to make me uneasy and put pressure on me by stomping his feet hard and fast on the stairs as I was going up the stairs.

I was assigned from OCAS for the prosecutor’s interview of 2 minors who happened to be detained in connection with the incident. I entered the prosecutor’s office. Before starting off, the prosecutor turned to me and asked if I was recording; When I said no, he asked me to show him my phone to make sure I was not. I showed him my phone and told the prosecutor that I was surprised that he was interested in whether I was recording or not, if he was going to conduct the interview in accordance with the law, there would be no reason to hesitate. We proceeded with the testimony. During the testimony, when he started to ask misleading questions to the child in a loud and aggressive manner, I objected by saying ‘You have no right to shout at the client and you cannot ask misleading questions’. The prosecutor told me that I was making things difficult and that if I wanted to be present at the interview then I should just be present, if not, another lawyer would be assigned. Upon this, I said ‘if you take the statement in accordance with the criminal procedure, I will then continue”. The prosecutor continued to take the statement and completed it. When I was informed, just before I went into the interview of the second minor, that a new lawyer would be arbitrarily assigned on the grounds of a conflict of interest, I left.

When I went to the prosecutor’s secretary to get a copy of the investigation file, the secretary staff blurted out ‘his confession that the law enforcement had tried to remove the footage from the file and that he would get in trouble’. We guess that he blurted it out because when asked afterwards whether the footage had been removed from the file by law enforcement, the personnel denied it in panic and haste.

Likewise, a report was prepared by the police force, which is also a suspect (of torture and ill-treatment), by analysing the camera footage. In this report, it was stated that no signs of torture were found. After a long time, the file was sent to the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institution upon our request for the camera footage to be examined by impartial experts and a report to be drawn up. Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institution issued a report stating that the images could not be analysed because they could not be opened/were destroyed. This situation supports the suspicion that the police intervened and destroyed the images. What the courthouse personnel blundered out was the confession of evidence tampering.

On the first day, we filed the criminal complaint, we requested that all camera footage be collected and included in the file by specifying the date and place. Coincidentally, the cameras of Yaylak Gendarmerie Station were out of order between the dates we specified. Images from the Urfa Anti-Terror Branch were included in the file, but unfortunately, they were also destroyed. Likewise, after the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institution stated that the images were faulty and could not be opened, it was decided to send them to the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institution again, as there were backup images in the file. On this occasion, we have learnt that there are backup images in the file, and when we went to the prosecutor’s office to get the images many times with a flash drive, the images were not given to us on the pretext that prosecutor was not in his room and that the images were at the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institution.

We lawyers began to be treated almost like enemies and received threats. Our anxiety increased. For a long time, we carried out our duties with the concern that we might be detained in dawn raids.

Yes, the prosecutor had said that torture would be forgotten in a week. Four years have passed since the incident and neither the torture, the torturers nor the palace prosecutors have been forgotten.

Human dignity will definitely, definitely defeat torture!

[1] OCAS is a system through which suspects and victims are assigned attorneys in accordance with Criminal Procedure Code where this is carried out and recorded electronically.

Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog

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