Image Source: Human Rights Watch
October 2017
REGION: Europe and Eurasia

In “In Custody: Police Torture and Abductions in Turkey,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) examines torture of detainees in the custody of Turkish police, as well as enforced disappearances of civilians by Turkish authorities. The report seeks to bring these issues to the attention of the Turkish government, the Union of Turkish Bars, and Turkey’s international partners. The report details eleven cases where lawyers and relatives of torture victims recount those individuals’ experiences, as well as five cases of enforced disappearance by police. Each case describes the experiences of the individual when they were in police custody, the involvement of the police, and the extent to which, if any, assistance was offered by other actors. The cases about torture victims can be found on pages 14-29 and the cases on abduction on pages 33-42.

The report focuses specifically on the period beginning with Turkey’s state of emergency following a July 15, 2016 attempted military coup, and ending mid-July 2017. During this time, an estimated 150,000 people accused of terrorist offenses, membership in armed groups, or involvement in the attempted coup passed through police custody. The report focuses on detainees who were accused of having links to the group Turkish authorities refer to as the Fethullahist Terror Organization, or links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, because people who were associated with either group demonstrated a higher risk of torture or abduction by police.

HRW attributes several reasons for the increase in torture and abductions, specifically a history of allowing public officials to conduct human rights violations without consequence despite condemning torture publicly, the lifting of safeguards against torture and ill-treatment during the state of emergency, and constraints that prevent defense counsel from adequately representing detainees. These factors have contributed to the continued use of torture in police custody. Also, an increase in the maximum pretrial detention period to 30 days, as well as a five-day waiting period before detainees may meet with their lawyers, has resulted in the increase of abuse.

Another reason for the prevalence of torture and ill-treatment of detainees is the reluctance of prosecutors, judges, and doctors to assist detainees in their release from police custody. These actors are not assisting detainees or reporting cases of abuse because of fear that the state will retaliate against them, causing them to lose their licenses or putting themselves in danger.  By not having the support of these actors, reports detailing abuse of detainees in police custody are not being adequately prepared.

The report makes recommendations to specific groups to combat torture in Turkey.

To the Turkish government:

  • “Immediately enforce the absolute prohibition on torture and abductions”
  • “Promptly and effectively investigate allegations of torture of detainees”
  • “Rescind the provision that protects public officials from all criminal responsibility of actions taken in a state of emergency”
  • “Remind all prosecutors and judges of their responsibility to investigate allegations of torture”

To the Union of Turkish Bars:

  • “Proactively train lawyers on how to handle cases with clients that have been abused”
  • “Publicly defend the right of suspects openly to the public, and defend the rights of lawyers”

To international partners:

  • “Bring forth the increased complaints of torture in police custody to the Turkish government”
  • “Reiterate the importance of prohibiting the use of torture in state detention”

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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