Medical report supports Kurdish villagers’ claim of torture, helicopter drop

Injuries sustained by two Kurdish villagers in Turkey’s eastern Van province are consistent with falling from high altitude and battery, a research hospital in the province said in the report doctors issued on Monday.

Villagers Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut had been detained by Turkish soldiers heading out to an operation in the Van countryside, the “Lightning 10 - Norduz,” on Sept. 11. Their families did not hear from them for two days, after which the two men were found at the intensive care unit of a public research hospital in the province.

“Enemy law and institutionalised torture is enacted against Kurds,” Van deputy and former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Sezai Temelli said in a tweet, sharing photographs of Şiban from the hospital.

Soldiers had taken the Kurdish villagers to a private hospital first, where doctors issued a report saying they had swelling on their faces, heads and necks due to trauma.

Witnesses said Şiban and Turgut had been dropped from a helicopter, while the preliminary report said their injuries were consistent with falling from a high altitude and mentioned soldiers saying the men fell from a cliff.

Speaking to the villagers’ families, HDP Van deputy Murat Sarısaç said the men had been detained while they were working in their fields. Soldiers had forced the two men onto a helicopter, according to witness accounts.

Families of the two men appealed to the Van Bar Association to file a complaint against the soldiers for torture, attempted murder and abuse of power.

In their appeal, the families said their village had been threatened, and that soldiers told them they would burn their village down if they didn’t evacuate.

Osman Şiban’s brother Cengiz Şiban said soldiers questioned the whole village and accused them of aiding terrorists.

“They made us kneel in the village square,” he told Mezopotamya. “They gathered our IDs and told us to wait on our knees until they left.”

Şiban was released from hospital on Sunday, but has not testified as he is experiencing temporary amnesia, reportedly due to torture he was subjected to. Turgut remains in an induced coma, with two brain haemorrhages, a total of 11 broken ribs, and several tears in his lungs. Both his cheekbones are broken, and there are fractures on his fingers, arms, legs and feet.

“Everybody knows my father is innocent, Turgut’s son Hüseyin Turgut said. “Is it a crime to go to the highlands?”

HDP Van Deputy Tayip Temel submitted a parliamentary inquiry for Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Monday, saying the epicrisis report on the two villagers supported eyewitness testimony that they had been thrown off a helicopter, and asking whether an investigation had been opened on which soldiers were involved in the incident and the nature of their involvement.

The Van Governorate issued a statement on the same day, saying Turgut had refused to comply with soldiers’ orders and fell off a cliff as he ran, and Şiban was “understood to have aided members of the separatist terrorist organisation.” Both men had been “detained in an appropriate manner despite resisting arrest,” and a prosecutor has opened an administrative investigation into the matter, it said. In a separate announcement, the governorate banned all gatherings and demonstrations in the province until Oct. 5, citing pandemic measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus and an aim to “eliminate plans by terrorist organisations and ensure national security.”

Contradicting the governorate’s statement, Cengiz Şiban said soldiers had come to the village in a helicopter and asked about the two men specifically. The men were taken away in the helicopter later on.

There are “strong suspicions that our citizens have been battered and tortured, as evidenced by physical signs on their bodies,” Mustafa Yeneroğlu, Istanbul deputy from former government ally Ali Babacan’s Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), said in a parliamentary inquiry addressed to Defence Minister Hulusi Akar.

“Were there arrest warrants or open investigations relating to citizens Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut?” asked Yeneroğlu in his inquiry.

“It is clear that they were not detained in an appropriate manner,” HDP Istanbul deputy Saruhan Oluç told reporters following a visit to the province and the families. “They were tortured. The Van governor’s duty is not to obscure torture, but to expose this crime against humanity and investigate those responsible.”

Oluç’s speech was recorded by another HDP deputy, as police officers holding shields surrounded the group and did not allow journalists near them.

Stacks of torture complaints are stuck at the Constitutional Court, preventing appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Oluç said. “We have never bowed down to torture,” the deputy continued. “Not during (the military coups of) September 12 or March 12, not now.”

Police units raided Şiban’s family home on Tuesday morning, Mezopotamya reported, and took him to a military hospital. His family and lawyers were not notified of any outstanding warrant against him, and he had not yet testified on the matter due to his amnesia.

(This story will update with new information and as contradicting accounts are able to be verified.)