Report reveals hundreds of torture cases in southeast Turkey over last decade

A new report by the Diyarbakır branch of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) has revealed hundreds of cases of torture and thousands of allegations of rights violations made between 2010 and 2019 in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Abdullah Zeytun, İHD chairman in the majority-Kurdish city of Diyarbakır in southeast Turkey, said 690 out of 3,569 rights violations filed to them were related to torture, Mezopotamya news agency reported on Tuesday.

Some 47 percent of the total allegations were from prisoners who said they had been subjected to torture or mistreatment by wardens.

Zeytun said the report, entitled "2010-2019 Report on Torture and Ill-Treatment" and released this week, featured alleged assaults carried out by public officials that included cases of beating, continuous hitting on a single part of the body, bodily injury, firearm injuries, as well as twisting testicles, foot whipping, beating with a hose, and choking.

Several acts of mistreatment were not featured in the report, because they are so frequent, including: being forced to stand to attention during roll calls, solitary confinement penalties for disciplinary investigations, visitation bans, and denial of medical care.

A promise of ‘zero tolerance’ towards torture proclaimed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in late 2002, alongside the implementation of relevant laws and regulations banning the practice, brought about high hopes for an end to these horrific acts.

Erdoğan has said torture is something from the past, and the AKP launched a peace process in 2013 to solve the conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has claimed over 40,000 lives since 1984. The government initiative included negotiations with the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, leading the PKK to announce the withdrawal of its forces from Turkey.

But since the collapse of the PKK peace process in 2015, and a 2016 failed coup which the government says masterminded by the Gülen movement, reports of torture have mounted.

"It is seen that the complaints to our branch decreased in relation to when the state and government officials adopted the method of negotiation and dialogue and used a nonviolent language and style when dealing with the country's problems, especially the Kurdish issue," Zeytun said.

He also warned about a disconnect between policy and reality conducive to impunity. Perpetrators of torture were carrying out crimes systematically and going unpunished, he said.

Zeytun stressed credible reports pointing to the inadequacy of the judicial response to such torture allegations, with many interlocutors reporting that complaints submitted to the authorities were not effectively followed up.

The real number of cases of torture and mistreatment is certainly higher than reported but a climate of intimidation and distrust in the judicial system discourage victims, lawyers, doctors and human rights groups from filing complaints, he said.

“We urge the Turkish authorities to undertake prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture," Zeytun said.

He said access to lawyers and relevant safeguarding and review bodies are crucial tools to avoid creating an environment conducive to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

Alongside domestic laws against torture, Turkey is a longstanding party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Turkey became a party to the U.N. Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in 2011.

As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is also bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, in which article three pertains to the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

However, the European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey guilty of violating this article on numerous occasions. After the July 2016 coup attempt, Erdoğan announced a suspension on the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.