Turkish and Kurdish detainees tortured, raped – UN rapporteur says

Torture and ill treatment of detainees is widespread in Turkey and officials enjoy impunity from prosecution, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture wrote in a report.

Turkish law enforcement officials severely beat and raped detainees with objects, and held them handcuffed for several days under extended periods of detention with no access to lawyers, the report said [PDF].

Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment based his report on a visit to Turkey between Nov. 20 and Dec. 2, 2016.

The visit, originally planned for August 2016, a month after the failed coup attempt, was postponed to December and limited to five days by the Turkish government.

The rapporteur noted that although there are “sufficient institutional and legislative safeguards against torture and ill-treatment” in Turkey, the declared government policy and its implementation in practice are seriously disconnected.

Investigation and prosecution of torture allegations is extremely rare, Melzer wrote, indicating a “de facto impunity for acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.”

Regarding the forms of ill-treatment, the UN Rapporteur wrote:

The Special Rapporteur heard persistent reports of severe beatings, punches and kicking, blows with objects, falaqa, threats and verbal abuse, being forced to strip naked, rape with objects and other sexual violence or threats thereof, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and extended blindfolding and/or handcuffing for several days. Many places of detention were allegedly severely overcrowded, and did not have adequate access to food, water or medical treatment. Also, both current and former detainees alleged that they had been held incommunicado, without access to lawyers or relatives, and without being formally charged, for extended periods lasting up to 30 days.

The UN rapporteur said physical signs of torture were visible only on a limited number of people he was able to meet in the allocated period, “most probably due to the time that had elapsed between the alleged abuse and the visit.”

Melzer requested a visit to the country after Turkish human rights organisations reported allegations of torture against people arrested in relation to the failed coup of July 2016.

However, Melzer wrote, ill treatment of people arrested in relation to the Kurdish conflict was more widespread.

The aim of torture and ill-treatment was to coerce victims to confess or to denounce others from a list of names and photographs of suspected members of terrorist organisations. Many inmates reported that they had been arrested on the basis of false accusations or denunciations made against them under torture.

The rapporteur noted that during 2016, “only 24 law enforcement officers had come under suspicion of having committed torture, without a single one of those cases leading to an indictment.”

The Turkish government responded by saying the report was based on “vague allegations” and “unsubstantiated claims”, raised by “members of terrorist organisations”, and said their reliability should be questioned.

Turkey’s counter report also included an Annex on FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation), the name used by Turkey for followers of U.S.-based Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Turkey accuses Gülen of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt and charges his followers of “membership of a terrorist organisation”.

Gülen denies any involvement.