The statements of a former Kurdish prisoner reveal the serious violations of human rights in Turkish prisons ranging from isolation to strip searches, physical and psychological torture.
Resul Demir, aged 24, was arrested in Mersin in Turkey on allegations of ”membership of a terrorist organisation” in 2019. One year after he was released, he was detained – again – in Edirne with his friends. He was detained on “suspicion of escaping abroad”.
Demir was arrested again under the allegation of “membership of a terrorist organisation” after a one-day detention period and sent to Edirne F-Type Prison in northwestern Turkey. Demir was released on 30 April this year. He spoke to MA to highlight the serious ill-treatment and torture he and others were subjected to under custody and during their time in prison.
“During the time that was spent under police custody, I demanded to see my lawyer, but they did not allow me to see my lawyer. They questioned me by force and under pressure”, he said, adding: “Some other people who were detained were given food and water, but when we asked for this, we were deprived of it. ‘You are terrorists, no food, no water for you’, they told us. We were assaulted psychologically and physically”.
The pressure on Demir continued after his detention in the courtroom where he was pressurised not to give his defence speech in Kurdish. “Before the court, we demanded Kurdish translators, stating that we wanted to give our defence in our mother language”, he said. “They literally prevented us from speaking Kurdish in court by not providing a Kurdish translator in the courtroom, no matter how much we insisted on this”.
According to Demir’s statements, the Turkish officers threatened him and other Kurdish people who had been detained, saying: “If you make your defence in Kurdish, we will arrest you and we will beat you”.
Demir and his other detained friends were subjected to additional practices of torture in Edirne F-Type Prison. Whilst Turkish authorities strictly denied that they conducted strip-searches when questioned and accused over this matter by Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, Demir’s statements reveal that ‘strip searches’ are a ‘phenomenon’ that are clearly evident and ‘present’ in Turkey’s prisons.
The MP Gergerlioğlu, for his part, was targeted for raising these and other human rights concerns in a frightening manner, concluded Human Rights Watch (alongside a host of other organisations and human rights defenders). As Human Rights Watch has stated: “On 17 March, the speaker of Turkey’s parliament stripped Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu of his parliamentary seat by reading out the notification of his conviction for a social media posting at the general assembly of the parliament …
“Any move by Turkey’s parliament to use an opposition politician’s wrongful conviction for a social media post as a pretext to strip him of his parliamentary seat and jail him would compound the serious violation of his right to freedom of expression and violate the voters’ right to choose their representatives.
“‘Any move to strip Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu of his parliamentary seat as a prelude to jailing him would look like a reprisal by the Erdogan government for his brave and vocal stance in support of thousands of victims of human rights violations’, said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ‘Gergerlioğlu’s conviction is a blatant violation of his right to free speech and using it as a pretext to expel him from parliament would show deep disdain for democratic norms and the right to political association’. Turkey’s top appeals court upheld the conviction and sentence of two years and six months in prison on 19 February.
“He has made a huge contribution by telling the stories of ordinary people subject to deep injustice and by championing them in their struggle for dignity and recognition regardless of their political and social affiliations. In recent weeks, Gergerlioğlu ha[d] raised the issue of routinely reported strip searches of women taken into custody as a cruel and degrading practice. His work to highlight the issue ha[d] … been met with full or partial denials by the prison authorities and members of parliament from the ruling coalition”.
At the end of March, the General Assembly of the Constitutional Court of Turkey rejected Gergerlioğlu’s appeal requesting the annulment of his parliamentary membership due to a lack of jurisdiction. Gergerlioğlu stated he was going to apply to the European Court of Human Rights over this decision.
Demir’s witness statement confirms the reality of strip-searches in Turkey’s prisons: “They imposed strip searches on us when we first arrived in prison. Since we did not accept the strip searches, we were assaulted and we were thrown into solitary confinement cells”, Demir said. “These cells were not enough for them. Later, they locked us up in a ‘caged room’, as they call it. The ‘caged room’ is actually like a cage: we have been subjected to ‘isolation inside isolation'” in this manner, he added.
“There were only three beds in the cell” which Demir was taken to, “where six inmates were kept” locked up in Edirne Type-F Prison. “Three prisoners slept on the ground all the time. We requested additional beds, but they never responded during the six months”, Demir said.
Demir further stated that: “They transferred us to other cells arbitrarily. When we asked: ‘Why are you making these changes?’, they replied: ‘We want it like this’, and that was it. They broke the arm of a friend of mine named Murat Kılıç. Although we asked for a medical report on the assault, no report was given”.
Demir stated that when they wrote petitions reporting violations of their rights to human rights organisations, the prison administration opened disciplinary investigations against them on the grounds of ”sharing information that should be kept confidential in prison”.
Demir further noted that due to the hunger strike protest that was initiated against isolation and human rights violations taking place in the prisons, a disciplinary investigation was opened against the prisoners on the allegation that they were “creating panic in the institution and revolting against the prison administration”.
Demir urged human rights defenders to act against these serious violations which he himself is now free from, but he noted that hundreds of prisoners still face these conditions and threats. “Unlawful practices have become routine in Edirne F-Type Prison. Our friends face ‘double isolation’. They went on a hunger strike to make their voices heard. Human rights and non-governmental organisations need to act as soon as possible”, he stated.