Aug 07 2019

Turkey may be silencing ‘disappeared’ men - Human Rights Watch

A leading human rights watchdog expressed concern on Tuesday that Turkish authorities had been pressuring four men detained earlier this year to conceal information about their forced disappearance and urged Turkey to investigate the disappearance of two other men. 

The Turkish government acknowledged last week that it was holding four men, Salim Zeybek, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, and Erkan Irmak, but did not reveal their whereabouts and implied that the men had not been in state custody since they had gone missing in February, according to Human Rights Watch. The whereabouts of two other men reported missing in February, Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen, remains unknown. 

“Lawyers have been prevented from meeting the men, in violation of Turkey’s laws, which fuels our suspicion that the authorities want to hide the truth about what these four have lived through for the past five-and-a-half months,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “There needs to be a full account of what has happened to these men since February, and everyone implicated in their presumed enforced disappearances should be held to account.” 

The families of the four men visited them briefly twice in the presence of police officers, but lawyers have been barred from visiting. When the families tried to ask the men where they had been since February, the men were reluctant to provide answers and the police intervened to stop further questions, according to HRW, which called for independent medical professionals to conduct full examinations.

Authorities suspect the men of having links to the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the Turkish government has labeled a terrorist organization responsible for the July 2016 coup attempt. 

Zeybek, who formerly worked for the Information Technology and Communications Board, was last seen by his wife in the custody of security forces on February 21. A week earlier, witnesses saw a large number of plain-clothed and uniformed police detain Kaya, a former teacher, and Ugan, an accountant, at an Ankara apartment building.

HRW called on Turkish authorities to immediately investigate whether Yılmaz and Türkmen are being held in undisclosed detention sites. “Forcibly disappearing people is an egregious crime and Turkey has a heinous history of forcibly disappearing people in the 1990s,” Porteous said.