Turkish man alleges torture after 5 days in police custody

On Jan. 20, Gökhan Güneş was forced into a car in Istanbul’s Başakşehir district by persons claiming to be policemen, who never showed any badges or otherwise identified themselves. Güneş disappeared, and wasn’t heard from for several days.

His family had appealed to the police on the night of Güneş’s disappearance, to no avail. CCTV footage emerged the next day, showing several men surrounding Güneş as he stepped out of a bus to get to the construction site he worked at.

According to Mezopotamya Agency, a car was already waiting at the bus stop Güneş used to get to work.

The Güneş family’s lawyers petitioned the Istanbul police’s anti-terror unit headquarters for Güneş’s whereabouts, but were told that the man wasn’t in custody there. The police told the family that there were no outstanding warrants on Güneş either. A gendarmerie intelligence officer called his extended family in the northern province of Tokat to ask whether he had visited.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), left-wing Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), political parties Güneş was affiliated with, held a press conference on the second day of Güneş’s disappearance to call for security forces to either release Güneş if he was in custody, or start a search for him if he was missing, Mezopotamya reported.

İHD Istanbul Chairwoman Gülseren Yoleri said in the meeting that the disappearance was reminiscent of the 1990s, when upwards of 17,000 people disappeared in state custody or under suspicious circumstances. Policies of impunity have led to a rise in similar incidents, Yoleri said.

Sami and Gülsüm Elvan, parents of Berkin Elvan, the teenager killed by a gas canister shot by the police during the 2013 Gezi Park protests who are also the uncle and aunt of Güneş, said the Interior Ministry was responsible for the man’s disappearance.

Gülsüm Elvan said her brother had been detained before a previous hearing for the teenager’s death. “And now they took Gökhan. This is a conscious act that they have put on,” the grieving mother said.

Güneş had been under police scrutiny for his affiliation with a socialist political party, his lawyer Sezgin Uçar told reporters.

On Jan. 23, 12 people including Güneş’s sisters Nurhayat and Gülhayat were detained by the police for protesting on the third day of his disappearance. The next day, after they were released, Gülhayat Güneş told reporters of a police chief telling her that her brother “was probably taken by the anti-terror unit. They’ll release him in a few days.” According to the concerned sister, the police chief said Güneş would be “handed over” to the family as soon as possible.

Five days after he was taken by unidentified men, Gökhan Güneş was released at dawn on Tuesday in a street in Başakşehir, with a blindfold on, Mezopotamya reported. Güneş later told reporters that he had in fact been in police custody, for 138 hours in total.

Holding a press conference at the İHD offices after his release, Güneş said he was stripped naked and beaten, and threatened with rape in police custody.

Gökhan Güneş kaçırılma anlarını ve yaşadıklarını anlatıyor;

👁‍🗨Direnmek istediğimde elektroşok aleti ile elektrik verdiler.

👁‍🗨Sistematik olarak işkence yöntemleri uygulandı.

👁‍🗨İşbirliği olma gibi teklifleri oldu. pic.twitter.com/RIiR7QbFJ5

— ARTI TV (@ArtiTV_) January 26, 2021

Seven men in total surrounded Güneş on the night of his abduction, he said, adding that he was tasered while being forced into a car. A hood was put over his head in the car, and Güneş didn’t see where he had been taken to. 

Güneş was stripped down to his underwear and was electrocuted, beaten, and soaked with ice-cold water in the place he was taken to. He was occasionally placed blindfolded in what is called a vertical grave: a constricted space where detainees can’t even move their arms.

“I was constantly threatened and told to work as a state agent,” Güneş said. “They repeatedly said I should cooperate with them. Then they asked if I knew who they were, and said they were The Unseen.”

The place he was held at appeared to be a torture centre, Güneş said. “There were other compartments, and I believe others were tortured there as well.” 

Overhead lights remained on throughout Güneş’s stay, and other spot lights were obscuring the faces of the men handling him.

Güneş was dressed in new clothes, had his neck and armpits washed and cologne put on by unidentified men before being driven to the Başakşehir location he was let go at. A man the others called “Chief” told Güneş that they had not taken his phone.

“These were things we expected and feared to hear,” lawyer Sezin Uçar said in the press conference. “We will be pressing charges for Gökhan being held for six days at an undisclosed location and subjected to systemic torture separately.”

İHD’s Yoleri said in the press conference that another man, Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit, had been similarly abducted in Ankara on Dec. 29, and hadn’t been heard from yet.

In a separate demonstration, friends of Güneş celebrated his release and condemned the targeting of dissident figures, Mezopotamya reported.

“The mentality that abducted and murdered people in the 1990s is the same one that abducted Gökhan,” lawyer Eylem Kayaoğlu said in the demonstration. “Those who have been awarded with statutes of limitation and policies of impunity have created a resurgence of JİTEM remnants today, under protection by the government and its partners.”

JİTEM, the Gendarmerie Intelligence Organisation, is believed to have been responsible for assassinations and disappearances of Kurdish civilians and politicians, as well as suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for nearly four decades.

İHD estimates that JİTEM was involved in at least 5,000 killings of journalists, rights defenders and political figures, as well as some 1,500 disappearances between 1989 and 2008.