Turkey's policy of dealing with political prisoners -- particularly its Kurdish citizens -- has for decades been tyrannizing them through murder, arrests and torture. Pictured: The Silivri Prison and Courthouse complex in Silivri, near Istanbul on February 18, 2020. (Photo by Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images)
"Torture," read a joint statement by Turkey's Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) "is still Turkey's most important problem... Torture and other forms of ill-treatment in the streets and open areas, as well as in unofficial places of detention, have reached unprecedented levels in Turkey."
According to the data shared by the two human rights organizations on June 26, the UN's International Day in Support of Victims of Torture:
"984 people in 2021 and 380 people in the first 5 months of 2022 sought help from TIHV on the grounds that they were subjected to torture and ill-treatment.
"According to the findings of the İHD Documentation Office, 531 people were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in official places of detention last year.
"According to the findings of the TİHV Documentation Center, at least 142 people were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in official places of detention in 2021.
"In the first five months of 2022, at least 215 people were subjected to torture or other forms of ill treatment. According to the findings of the İHD Documentation Office in 2021, two people died suspiciously while in custody, and one person was injured."
In some cases, severe torture has led to the deaths of the victims. Reports of Kurdish political prisoners being tortured and forced to attempt suicide by around 60 guards at an Istanbul prison in early April, has once again shaken the Kurdish community in Turkey.
The news was initially based on information transmitted by prisoners to their families during phone calls. Then an audio recording of a prisoner graphically described the torture and pressure to commit suicide to escape the torture. After news of prisoners attempting mass suicide and being taken to hospital became public, Turkey's General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers denied the allegations in a statement on April 9.
The death, however, of Ferhan Yılmaz, one of the prisoners taken to hospital, brought to light more facts concerning Turkey's prisons.
The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers claimed that Yılmaz died because of a "heart attack," and the death report prepared by the hospital he was taken to recorded that he died of a "contagious disease."
The video of Yılmaz at the hospital's intensive care unit, however, confirmed that he had been brutally tortured to death. In the footage, Yılmaz's entire face is scarred with torture marks.
Even after the hospital footage of Yılmaz was posted on social media and reported in the press, the Silivri Chief Public Prosecutor's Office continued to deny any torture.
Yilmaz's elder brother, Hikmet Yılmaz, told the newspaper Evrensel:
"We saw his body while washing it. There was a scar on his neck as if he had been hanged with a clothesline. Both of his eyes had burst. Blood was coming from his eyes. His nose was completely broken and filled with cotton. There was such a large swelling and bruise on his chest it looked as if a tree had been stuck there. His upper lip was almost as big as a palm. His right foot was stitched."
His mother Sabriye Yılmaz said:
"My child was tortured in prison for four years. The prison killed him. I spoke with him on Wednesday, and his funeral took place on Saturday. Why hasn't the government called us and offered their condolences? We live in this country too... The families of all those imprisoned in that prison are worried... They [the prison] have destroyed our child before our eyes."
A deputy of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Sezgin Tanrıkulu, brought up Yilmaz's death in Turkey's parliament:
"There are thousands of cases like this. I spoke to his brother a while ago; I cried on the phone. I am ashamed of my humanity... There is ill-treatment and torture in all prisons, systematically everywhere."
The Monitoring Delegation of Prisons in the Marmara Region went to Silivri prison and on April 15, held a press conference at the Istanbul Branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD).
The delegation said its members could not see the tortured prisoners because, after Yilmaz's torture and death, they had been transferred to different prisons across Turkey. Instead, they spoke with a prisoner who was not involved in Yilmaz's torture and death but said to have witnessed it. The prisoner said he had heard voices and seen two men being taken away, handcuffed backwards, and ill-treated by about 20 prison guards. The delegation stated:
"In general, all prisoners were deliberately ill-treated and pressured. There was great tension in prison due to pressure, and they were faced with new pressure at every moment. He added that they [prisoners] did not know what would happen the next day, and they were at a breaking point, but to be patient."
The delegation continued:
[T]he authorities involved in the [torture] incident have not yet been suspended. The authorities have not made a satisfactory explanation about the incident and have only rejected the allegations. The 10 prisoners involved in the incident were hastily transferred to 10 different prisons. The prison administration gave a negative response to our request for a meeting. All these create the impression that they [authorities] are trying to cover up the incident. As a matter of fact, we learned that the transferred prisoners told their families, 'We are at risk here too. Do not make any more statements to the press.' In addition, the information provided by the prisoner we spoke with has increased our concerns that the tensions arising from the conditions in the prison will increasingly continue."
The audio recording describing the torture in prison was part of a conversation between prisoner Halil Kasal, and his mother, Beyaz Çelik. Kasal was transferred to İzmir Prison after news about the torture in Silivri was covered by the media. Çelik visited her son at İzmir prison and spoke of the torture of her son at Silivri Prison:
"Both of his hands have cuts and stitches. There is still a cut in his throat. His whole body is bruised. His psychological health has been destroyed. He can't see any more. They tortured him so much he has lost his eyesight. They hit him so much in the head that his head shakes all the time. His eyes start moving as if he had a stroke.... He has seven stitches on one arm and six on the other...
"They put him in a cell where there was feces of other prisoners. They told him to eat the feces. They beat my son and hanged him twice. And then removed him from the rope. He also hanged himself once... He said they made him do it... They put a razor blade there and told him to cut himself. They waited there so he had to cut himself."
Meanwhile, Turkey's Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ said:
"I emphasize that there is no torture or ill-treatment in Turkish prisons... Almost all of the allegations against prisons are exaggeration, distortion and fiction... Such allegations were made by terrorist organizations, circles that support terrorist organizations or those who support them politically."
An MP from the opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, objected to the minister's statements on his Twitter account:
"Is the minister really saying that when he won't (or can't) answer our parliamentary questions, always makes false statements, and tries to block the CPT [European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment] reports 24 people died in prisons in the last 4 months because of rights violations. First tell the truth about Ferhan Yilmaz who died in Silivri."
The truth is that torture against political prisoners -- particularly against Kurds -- is widespread across Turkey, according to reports in the media and by human rights organizations and statements from families and lawyers of prisoners.
A member of the Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission and MP of the HDP party, Fatma Kurtulan, visited İzmir-Kırklar, Iğdır S Type, Patnos and Van prisons, and said in a press conference at Turkey's parliament on April 20:
"Prisoners are under torture. There are massive violations of rights. Prisoners die, they are killed, but [authorities] say that they committed suicide."
Kurtulan said the delegation that visited Patnos prison saw wounded prisoners.
"Prisoner Bilal Valahan had both of his arms broken and plastered. Ferit Taşcı had bruises and scars on his wrist, neck and arm. Vedat Kalın had a truncheon mark and bruises on his back and a bruise on his neck. Sick prisoners are one of the main problems in this prison ... Practices that amount to torture continue. Access to medical treatment is difficult, requests for referrals to hospital are denied, hot water is insufficient, access to TV channels is limited, and the newspapers the prisoners want to read are not given to them."
Attorney Mehdi Ozdemir, a board member of Diyarbakir Bar Association, told Gatestone Institute:
"Complaints about violations of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment have become increasingly widespread in prisons. The prisoner population of Turkish prisons is increasing day by day.
"Since the beginning of the 2016 state of emergency, extra-legal and arbitrary practices have been frequently encountered in prisons. The release of prisoners is prevented by the regulations of the authorities in violation of universal legal norms. Fundamental rights and freedoms such as access to healthcare are increasingly restricted compared to previous periods. When the interviews with the prisoners, the contents of the letters they send and the denunciations they make to the prosecutor's offices are taken into account, it is seen that the problems of political prisoners have increased significantly due to the violations of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. The authorities are trying to normalize these abuses. For instance, judicial authorities do not operate an effective judicial process in the face of arbitrary and unlawful practices. That is, sometimes the prison guards show counter-reflexes by complaining about the prisoners that they abuse, and the prisoners get arbitrarily and illegally punished for the abuses from which they have suffered.
"These incidents are due to sentences arbitrarily and unlawfully implemented in Turkey, and the widespread impunity policy for state authorities who are perpetrators of crimes."
According to a report by Turkey's Human Rights Association (IHD):
"2021 was a year in which human rights were trampled underfoot in Turkey's prisons, and news of death after death of prisoners came out of prisons.
"Torture and ill-treatment through physical attacks, threats, beatings, strip searches, cell searches in raids, racist and discriminatory approaches, death threats, cell searches by the police along with prison guards ... violations of the right to access to health and medical treatment, and arbitrary bans and practices increasingly continued. Political prisoners were forced to stay in the wards of non-political prisoners, and they were forced to stand in a single line as if in the military while being physically counted. Prisoners who could not find any interlocutors to whom to convey their problems had to go on hunger strikes or death fasts in the face of intolerable rights violations."
Turkey's policy of dealing with political prisoners -- particularly its Kurdish citizens -- has for decades been tyrannizing them through murder, arrests and torture.
What makes this situation even worse is that the international community, including the UN, has enabled the Turkish government to carry out its policy of destruction of human rights with no consequences, but many rewards.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.