current government in Turkey (in office for a second term since July
2007) of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) under Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has frequently been praised for its efforts to
improve the human rights record, and in particular for the "zero
" against torture and the progress achieved in
combating this evil. To see whether this plaudit is justified we
should first look at various reports of international and national
institutions and organizations of civil society.
latest report of the European Commission on the progress made by
Turkey in preparing for EU membership was published in Brussels on 6
November 2007. It covered the period from 1 October 2006 to early
October 2007. In section 2.2 "Human Rights and the protection of
minorities" the following was said on torture under the heading
of "civil and political rights":
legislative safeguards introduced by the zero tolerance policy on
torture continue to have positive effects. The downward trend in the
number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment was
confirmed.(see later comment from the HRFT)
cases of torture and ill-treatment are still being reported,
especially during arrest and outside detention centres. There is no
independent monitoring of places of detention by independent national
bodies, pending the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the UN
Convention against Torture…
use of statements obtained in the absence of legal counsel or which
are not confirmed in front of a judge is prohibited by the Criminal
Procedure Code. However, the Court of Cassation ruled that the ban on
the use of such statements does not apply retroactively. There are
cases where lower Courts have not removed such evidence from the case
file, although allegations of ill-treatment were made by the
fight against impunity of human rights violations remains an area of
concern. There is a lack of prompt, impartial and independent
investigation into allegations of human rights violations by members
of security forces. Furthermore, judicial proceedings into
allegations of torture and ill-treatment are often delayed by the
lack of efficient trial procedures or abuse of such procedures."
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CPT) has conducted many visits to
Turkey. The latest visits were in November/December 2006 and in May
2007, but they did not concentrate on human rights abuses in custody.
The main objective of the visit in 2006 was to examine the situation
of patients held in psychiatric hospitals and in May 2007 the CPT
visited Imralı Closed
Prison, where it examined the treatment of that establishment’s
sole inmate, Abdullah Öcalan. As of December 2007 reports on
these visits were not available.
the latest report on torture and ill-treatment is the report of 6
September 2006 that referred to a visit carried out between 7 and 14
December 2005. During this visit the following law enforcement
establishments were visited: Adana Police Headquarters, İstanbul
Police Headquarters, Beyoğlu
District Police Headquarters, İstanbul, Sirkeci
Police Station, Eminönü District, İstanbul, Van
Police Headquarters and Provincial Gendarmerie Headquarters, Van. The
CPT also visited prisons in Adana; Bitlis, Van, Istanbul and Tekirdag
and psychiatric establishments in Adana and Istanbul, but for this
study the findings on the law enforcements establishments should be
the preliminary remarks the CPT correctly pointed at the discrepancy
between measures introduced as part of the harmonization laws for
joining the EU and the new penal code (TPC) of 1 June 2005. While the
reforms had stipulated that trials against alleged torturers had to
be conducted speedily and the sentences of imprisonment could neither
be commuted to a fine or suspended no such provision had been
included in the TPC of June 2005.
CPT asked for clarification and the Turkish Government responded by
saying that the offence of "torment" provided for in
Article 96 of the new TPC only applied to individuals other than
public officials. Therefore, sentences against public officials could
not be commuted to a fine or be suspended. As far as the speed of
trials was concerned the Turkish Government pointed at general
provisions such as the possibility of courts to reject an (unfounded)
there is only little information on trials against public officials
charged with the offence of torture or ill-treatment after 1 June
it must seriously be doubted that the arguments of the government are
Looking at the text of Article 94-96 of the TPC
it is correct that Article 94 (on torture) mainly applies to civil
servants, but Article 96 (on torment or suffering) applies to
"anyone" including civil servants. In the reasoning for the
it is said that the provision of Article 95 TPC does not only cover
"torture of suspects" but also "witnesses" and
that not only civil servants can participate in this offence. In
other words, the official justification does not confirm what the CPT
September 2006 report of the CPT is at the beginning very positive on
progress in combating torture:
CPT’s delegation interviewed scores of persons who were, or had
recently been (i.e. during the year 2005), in police/gendarmerie
custody. The great majority of those persons stated that they had not
been physically ill-treated whilst in custody; several of them
spontaneously emphasised the contrast with the severe ill-treatment
they had experienced during previous periods of custody some years
afterwards critical and (to some extent) contradictory statements
the picture which emerges from the information gathered by the CPT’s
delegation is not entirely reassuring. The delegation did receive, in
each of the three Provinces visited, several allegations of recent
physical ill-treatment during police/gendarmerie custody, in a few
cases of a serious nature… Medical evidence consistent with
some of the above-mentioned allegations was found in the
end-of-custody medical reports and/or in medical reports drawn up on
entry into prison… The most serious allegations of recent
physical ill-treatment received by the delegation concerned the
squeezing of genitals,
combined with severe beatings, of certain detained persons at Beyoğlu
District Police Headquarters (Law & Order Department), the
Gayrettepe part of İstanbul Police Headquarters (Robbery
Department), and Van Police Headquarters (Theft Department)."
15 March 2007 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak,
published his report numbered A/HRC/4/33/Add.2 as a follow-up to
visits of certain countries.
(Look here for the full report) The entry on Turkey can be found between pages 119 to 129.
visit to Turkey had been conducted in November 1998. Prior to the
report of March 2007 the Turkish Government and unnamed NGOs
(non-governmental organizations) provided information that the report
entry on Turkey starts with positive remarks: "The Special
Rapporteur congratulates Turkey for having signed the Optional
Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and encourages its speedy
ratification and implementation. He also welcomes the many positive
steps taken by the Government, such as the “zero tolerance
policy” vis-à-vis torture, a large range of improved
safeguards against torture and professional training for law
he is concerned about the new anti-terror legislation that was
adopted on 29 June 2006, which risks to reverse the positive trends
by, for instance, restricting the number of defence lawyers during
the pre-trial period to one person and allowing for a 24- hour period
before a detained person can meet with his/her lawyer under certain
conditions Combating impunity is a key-element in combating torture.
In this regard, the Special Rapporteur considers that the trials of
alleged perpetrators are still often lengthy and the number of those
brought to justice insufficient Also, in line with his earlier
recommendations, the Special Rapporteur echoes the Special Rapporteur
on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, who recommended to the Turkish
authorities to create “an independent and impartial
investigation mechanism with the power to investigate promptly
allegations of torture or other ill-treatment. It is crucial that
such a mechanism be located outside the institution that is alleged
to have committed the acts of torture under investigation”.
Moreover, he would also like to reiterate that there should be a
review by an independent body of undisputed integrity of all cases in
which the primary evidence against convicted persons is a confession
allegedly made under torture."
particular recommendations relevant to this study the following was
(a) stated: The legislation should be amended to ensure that no
one is held without prompt access to a lawyer of his or her choice as
required under the law applicable to ordinary crimes or, when
compelling reasons dictate, access to another independent lawyer."
Government made an interesting remark on this recommendation to be
found as paragraph 614 of the report:
investigations require different methods than those of ordinary
crimes due to the necessity to respond to the complex nature of
terrorist tactics in a commensurate way. In general, the first 24
hours following the apprehension of a terror suspect are very
important for the investigation. Any evidence or information obtained
on the suspect contributes significantly to the investigation and
assists in finding other perpetrators, preventing other terrorist
offences as well as seizing materials that will be used in other
crimes. Furthermore, various terrorist organizations have developed a
so-called “alarm system” which triggers an alert process
aimed at eliminating the evidence, organizational information and
documentation, when a member is apprehended. In this respect, the
restriction provided by the new amendment to the Anti-Terror Law is a
precautionary measure against terrorist tactics…"
(b) stated: The legislation should be amended to ensure that any
extensions of police custody are ordered by a judge, before whom the
detainee should be brought in person; such extensions should not
exceed a total of four days from the moment of arrest or, in a
genuine emergency, seven days, provided that the safeguards referred
to in the previous recommendation are in place.
to information received from NGOs and other sources, the Code of
Criminal Procedure of 1 June 2005 provides that persons can be held
in police custody for a maximum of 24 hours for individual crimes and
four days for joint crimes. In both cases, an extension of three days
is possible, and in case of emergency, seven days. However, police
custody exceeding the legal periods, as well as cases of unrecorded
detention, are still reported…"
(e) stated: Prosecutors and judges should not require conclusive
proof of physical torture or ill-treatment (much less final
conviction of an accused perpetrator) before deciding not to rely as
against the detainee on confessions or information alleged to have
been obtained by such treatment; indeed, the burden of proof should
be on the State to demonstrate the absence of coercion. Moreover,
this should also apply in respect of proceedings against alleged
perpetrators of torture or ill-treatment, as long as the periods of
custody do not conform to the criteria indicated in (a) and (b)
to information received from NGOs and other sources, torture and
ill-treatment claims are not taken into consideration if they lack
conclusive proof and the cases are regularly dismissed. Furthermore,
prosecutors and judges have accepted evidence and information
allegedly obtained by torture.
Government informed that the new Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) has
introduced many safeguards to prevent the prohibited methods of
taking statements or interrogating, including torture or
ill-treatment and their use as evidence… a safeguard has been
introduced in the Constitution: article 38 stipulates that findings
obtained in violation of laws cannot be admitted as evidence. Article
148(4) of the Criminal Procedure Code states, “The statement
taken by law enforcement officials in the absence of defence counsel
cannot be a basis for a judgement unless verified by the suspect or
the accused before the judge or the court“.
(f) stated: Prosecutors and judges should diligently investigate
all allegations of torture made by detainees. In the case of
prosecutors in the State Security Courts, allegations should also be
referred to the public prosecutor for criminal investigation. The
investigation of the allegations should be conducted by the
prosecutor himself/herself and the necessary staff should be provided
for this purpose.
to information received from NGOs and other sources, prosecutors and
judges have so far not treated claims of torture or ill-treatment
with the necessary diligence.
Government informed that public prosecutors in general initiate
investigations concerning allegations of torture and ill-treatment
“ex officio” and conduct them personally in accordance
with a circular issued by the Minister of Justice on 1 January 2006.
Sentences imposed against civil servants convicted of torture can
neither be suspended nor commuted to other forms of penalties.
Article 53, paragraph 1/a of the Penal Code allows the courts to rule
on temporary or permanent suspension from duty of public officials
who are convicted of offences that they have committed wilfully."
UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Turkey from 9 to 20
October 2006 at the invitation of the Government. In the course of
the visit, the Working Group met with the relevant authorities in the
executive and judicial branches, with representatives of civil
society and non-governmental organizations. It visited seven prisons,
as well as police stations, migration holding facilities and a
psychiatric hospital, and interviewed in private more than 200
detainees, a few of them previously identified, but most chosen at
random while at the facility.
report was published on 7 February 2007 (numbered A/HRC/4/40/Add.5)
and can be found here.
On more general questions the report stated: "The definition
of terrorism is overly broad and does not require that a terrorist
offender must have committed a serious violent crime. As a
consequence, terrorism charges can be used to restrict the
non-violent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression,
association and assembly. On the procedural side, in proceedings
concerning terrorism suspects the law restricts the right of access
to counsel. The Working Group found numerous persons accused of
terrorism held in remand detention for unacceptably long periods, in
some cases more than 10 years, without having been judged. The
detainee convicted on terrorism charges faces disproportionately
harsh rules governing execution and access to benefits, particularly
the positive side the Working Group found: "The Working Group
has no doubts that the Government’s policy of “zero
tolerance” of torture is highly successful. From a widespread
practice used by the police to obtain self-incriminating statements
from the suspect, torture has become the exceptional misconduct of
individual police officers or gendarmes."
At this point the Working Group is utterly mistaken (see below the quotes from national human rights organizations). It simply follows the major argument that all governments in Turkey have repeated since 1980, regardless of the scope of torture. After the generals had seized power in 1980, Kenan Evren, Chief of General Staff and at the top of military rule, said: "There is no torture in Turkey. There are only isolated (the Turkish word "münferit" is mainly used in this context) incidents." (Quote can be found in an application that lawyer Serafettin Elci sent to the UN Human Rights Commission in 1993).
Süleyman Demirel who promised "transparent police station"
(similar to the "zeror tolerance",) when he came to power, admitted the
existence of torture, but termed them "some deficiencies in practice"
(2 June 2000, Hürriyet). In April 2006, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan got angry at the words of Nihat Er, deputy of his party for Mardin, who during a meeting with deputies from Eastern and South-eastern Turkey had said that torture was continuing at (police and gendarmerie) stations. He reacted by saying: "Where you present? Why are you generalizing isolated incidents?"
(For the Turkish source look here)
conclusion the report included the following findings: "In
the course of the last 15 years Turkey has made impressive progress
in the reform of its criminal justice system. This progress is
particularly visible in the fight against torture (which, as far as
the Working Group’s mandate is concerned, is the fight against
intimidation of persons in detention and against extorted
Working Group notes, however, a great reluctance on the part of the
authorities to fully extend the beneficial effects of the reforms to
persons accused of terrorism, which - due to the overly broad
definition of terrorist offences - affects thousands of individuals,
many of whom have non-violently challenged the constitutional order
a report of 1 April 2007 Amnesty International expressed its concern
in Europe and Central Asia. Relating to torture in Turkey the report
said, "Although overall there has been a general decrease in
the number of reports of cases of torture or other ill-treatment in
the past two years, some disturbing patterns continued to blight
Turkey’s record. These included the persisting problem of
reported abductions, during which individuals are subjected to verbal
threats, intimidation, beating and assault in unofficial detention
situations. Reports of the torture or ill-treatment in police custody
of those suspected of ordinary crimes continued."
the report on "The Entrenched Culture of Impunity must end"
(released on 5 July 2007) the organization said, "Although
there has been a reduction in the incidence of torture and
ill-treatment in police custody, and safeguards to protect suspects
against ill-treatment have increased, Amnesty International still
continues to receive such allegations. Moreover, allegations of
torture and ill-treatment during unofficial detention, during
demonstrations, in prisons and during prisoner transfer persist.
Trials where statements allegedly extracted under torture provide a
central part of the evidence continue, with courts ignoring torture
allegations and refusing to rule the evidence inadmissible."
19 July 2007 Human Rights Watch spelled put concerns in the wake of
the general elections in Turkey. It stated inter alias:
"Ill-treatment of detainees at the time of arrest and outside
official places of detention remains a worrying and widely reported
practice, however, especially for those apprehended on suspicion of
committing ordinary crimes such as theft.
June 2, 2007, a new law amending the Law on the Powers and Duties of
the Police (Law no. 5681) was rushed through parliament. Among other
provisions, the law greatly increases the authority of the police to
stop and search individuals whom they suspect of committing crimes.
While it is too early to evaluate the effect of the new law, these
wide-ranging new stop and search powers raise concern because there
is no mechanism for monitoring their application or preventing their
may have been too early for Human Rights Watch "to evaluate the
effects", but it is the only report of an international
institution that has "sensed" the danger of yet another
drawback to the reforms in Turkey. Rather than the particular
elements of an increased power given to the security forces the
"message" is important. In this sense it does not mean
much, if the Turkish authorities assure the UN Special Rapporteur on
Torture that in the period 2005 and 2006 a total of 56,000 law
enforcement official received training in particular on the "right
to access to a lawyer" and 175,000 leaflets were printed on the
"rights during apprehension" (given that the information
quoted in paragraph 610 of the aforementioned report is correct). The
important message of the amendments to the Law to Fight Terrorism (of
June 2006) to the security forces was "we understand your
problems with the terrorists" and the message of the government
passing Law 5681 in June 20007 was "we understand your problems
resulting from the reforms of the code on criminal procedures".
the new penal code allows to order pre-trial detention for people
suspected of having violated Articles 94 and 95 TPC (according to
Article 100/3 of the code of criminal proceedings of 1 June 2005) not
a single case has been reported in the Turkish media. While the old
penal code included the possibility to order suspension of duty (in
addition to a sentence delivered for the crime of torture) the new
penal code does not include such a provision. Certainly, civil
servants could be suspended from duty as a disciplinary punishment,
but again no such case was reported since June 2005.
it must be suspected that the increased sentences for torture are not
really a deterrent. In this connection, too, it should be noted that
no case of a penalty for torture after 1 June 2005 reached the
The clear message of this ongoing policy of impunity for the security
forces is that they can turn back to their "old routine"
and will go unpunished (if not, as it was in the past, be awarded for
drawing further conclusions, we should look at recent reports of
national organizations of civil society, in particular human rights
organizations. They are much closer to the current reality in Turkey
than international bodies that have a high degree of bureaucracy and
follow certain diplomatic rules. For the first six months of 2007 the
Human Rights Association (HRA) counted 384 cases of torture and
ill-treatment in the country, 51 of them in the prisons.
Diyarbakir branch of the HRA that makes separate counts for the
stated on 3 July 2007 that 183 people had complained to them about
torture or ill-treatment during the first six months of the year.
During the same period of 2006 the number of complaints had been 293.
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) is running five centres in
Turkey (Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Adana and Diyarbakir) to which
victims of torture can apply for treatment free of charge. In 2006 a
total of 337 people asked for treatment, 222 of which complained
about torture or ill-treatment during the same year. In 2005 a total
of 692 people had applied for treatment including a large number of
people who had been released from prison that year but complained
about ill-treatment in the past. Only 193 of them complained of
torture in 2005.
the first six months of 2007 the figures were: 266 applications
including 172 complaints of ill-treatment during that year. On 7
November 2007 the Independent Communication Network (BIA) cited the
President of the HRFT, Yavuz Önen, when he criticized the report
of the European Commission on progress achieved in Turkey between
October 2006 and October 2007. Önen said that the number of
complaints to the HRFT had risen to 385 (during the first eight
months) and 267 of these complaints referred to incidents in 2007.
That was already more than during the whole year 2006. Önen
added that the torture methods had become harsh and said that recent
cases had required treatment for broken bones and damaged organs.
a press statement of 12 April 2007 the representation of the HRFT in
Izmir made the following remarks: "17 persons applied to HRFT
Izmir Representation between 1 March and 7 April on the allegations
that they were tortured in custody. 10 of them were detained for
political activities and 7 of them were detained for ordinary
crimes... The examinations of the (political) applicants at HRFT
Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre in Izmir exposed following
of one applicant was dislocated;
Nose and teeth of one applicant were broken, teeth enamels
were damaged; Stitch scars on the heads of three applicant related to
trauma, laceration, abrasion;
Four ribs of one applicant were injured, and fracture of two
vertebras; One applicant's one rib, foot, bones on the back side of
the ribs were injured; For all applicants ecchimosis, edema and soft
tissue injury were determined.
applicants were detained in connection with ordinary crimes. One of
the applicants went to the police station for a complaint, but he was
heavily beaten there. The relatives of the victim were also detained
when they came to the station to ask the condition of their relative.
They were also subjected to similar treatment. Following findings
were registered during the examination of the applicants:
bleeding of spleen of one applicant; Cervical vertebrae of one
applicant was injured due to trauma, fracure of face bones were
determined, lungs were bleedings and pleural effusion was determined;
For all applicants edema and soft tissue injury were determined;
For all applicants psychological symptoms were determined
related to trauma.
incidents and developments creates the environment that we would face
human rights violations, violence and torture as we did in the past.
We also worry that there may be violations of the right to assembly
during the democratic, peaceful Labour Day demonstrations."
another press statement of 22 June 2007 the HRFT pointed at the
sudden increase of deaths in custody shortly after the revision of
the Law on Duties and Competences of the Police. In just two weeks
three deaths in detention had been reported from Canakkale, Izmir and
Istanbul. The deaths in Canakkale and Izmir had officially been
termed "suicide" but for the death of Mustafa Kükce
even photographs existed showing the traces of torture inflicted on
him at Dudullu and Acarlar Police Station (Istanbul) on 14 June 2007
before he was arrested and taken to Ümraniye Prison, where he
died the next day.
HRA and the HRFT are still speaking of systematic torture in Turkey.
They rely on the definition that the Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights made in 1993.
Paragraph 39 stated "The Committee [against Torture]
considers that torture is practised systematically when it is
apparent that the torture cases reported have not occurred
fortuitously in a particular place or at a particular time, but are
seen to be habitual, widespread and deliberate in at least a
considerable part of the territory of the country in question.
Torture may in fact be of a systematic character without resulting
from the direct intention of a Government. It may be the consequence
of factors which the Government has difficulty in controlling, and
its existence may indicate a discrepancy between policy as determined
by the central Government and its implementation by the local
administration. Inadequate legislation which in practice allows room
for the use of torture may also add to the systematic nature of this
HRA and the HRFT hold that the "habit" of the police and
gendarmerie in Turkey towards applying torture has not changed, its
use is widespread (the statistics always cover complaints from many
provinces) and it is deliberate in nature.
far the only international body that seems to be aware of the
worsening situation was the human rights sub-commission to the
European Parliament. Apparently only the Turkish press reported on a
press conference in Ankara on 5 December 2007, where Hélène
Flautre, chair of the commission, said after talks with officials and
human rights groups that they had received intelligence information
that torture had reached a dangerous level. It was widespread and
there were many allegations that complaints remained unpunished.
above cited material indicates that incidents of torture decreased
until 2005, possibly in a climate of legal reforms that "impressed"
the security forces in that they, too, had to change their behaviour
according to European standards. However, positive amendments in law
were not only not implemented, but followed by backward steps that
encouraged public officials to act as before. Accordingly there has
been an increase of allegations of torture in 2006 and 2007,
accompanied by traces of physical abuse that had become unusual.
Prepared in December 2007