Officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry urged the police to deny documented torture claims of former diplomats during their unlawful detention in Ankara, a recent briefing at the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission has revealed.
The scandalous remarks were made by Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran, who attended the commission meeting on May 29, 2019 to brief members on international treaties Turkey has recently signed. Challenging the the claims of opposition lawmakers who raised the issue, saying that the torture of diplomats cannot be acceptable and asking for a thorough investigation of credible claims, Kıran said his ministry had contacted the police after the allegations were made public and that the police issued a denial. “[W]e immediately contacted the police authorities, and the Security Directorate General issued a statement that said the claims are not true,” he told lawmakers.
Kıran’s remarks reveal how the Foreign Ministry tried to contain the fallout from well-documented torture claims a day before the parliamentary commission convened by urging the police to issue a denial. After it was contacted by ministry officials, the Ankara Police Department released a statement on May 28 denying the torture and insisting that “all procedures within the scope of the investigation are carried out in accordance with the law.”
Furthermore, Kıran also provided the shocking number of diplomats purged on the grounds of their alleged links to a terrorist organization. According to his tally, 606 Foreign Ministry personnel (of which 550 were career diplomats) have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation since 2016. Some were jailed in Turkey and others were forced to seek asylum abroad to escape wrongful imprisonment, torture and ill treatment in prison and detention facilities.
Kıran’s statement, which aimed to put an end to the claims, contradicts the findings of a special team of lawyers tasked by the Ankara Bar Association. On May 20 a Turkish court issued arrest warrants for 249 former personnel of the Foreign Ministry on terrorism charges. The Ankara Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit detained 111 former diplomats. According to the bar association report, five detainees had been removed from their cells and taken to a dark room where they were severely tortured. The victims testified to the lawyers that they were beaten, kicked and threatened with sodomy with batons if they did not confess to their alleged crimes.
Foreign Affair Commission Chairman Volkan Bozkır, a former minister who served in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s cabinet, also lent support to the systematic torture of suspects by deliberately downplaying the credible allegations of torture of the former diplomats. Bozkır, himself a former diplomat, said the victims were members of a terrorist organization, when none of them have been indicted or convicted of any crime whatsoever.
“When saying ‘They are former employees of the Foreign Ministry,’ I find it helpful to emphasize that they are members of a terrorist organization, FETÖ, and that they infiltrated the Foreign Ministry,” he said, although no judicial investigation was ever completed that suggested any such links for the hundreds of diplomats purged from the foreign service.
The Erdoğan government has purged some 130,000 civil servants in the last three years on terrorism charges without any effective judicial or administrative investigation. None of the victims was given an opportunity to challenge the government decision or contest the evidence, if any existed, before their abrupt dismissals. Many see the government’s unprecedented purge of the civil service as a means to transform Turkey’s government agencies into partisan tools in the hands of the country’s Islamist rulers and their neo-nationalist allies.
The allegations of torture were first made public by opposition lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu of the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who revealed the claims of torture in police detention from his social media accounts. Then, the Ankara Bar Association conducted an investigation into the allegations and released its report on May 26, 2019, confirming that the earlier claims of torture were in fact true.
Over half a million people have been detained in the last three years alone under the country’s abusive anti-terror laws, and many have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities and prisons. According to various reports by human rights organizations, the deaths of prisoners under “suspicious circumstances” are suspected to be tied to human rights abuses and torture.
To Bozkir, diplomats who have been dismissed by executive decrees should not be defined as “former personnel” of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. His comments during the meeting reflected not only the much-criticized policy of Erdoğan’s collective punishment of critics, dissidents and opponents but also the intention of Turkey’s current regime to transform the ministry’s human resources in line with the country’s new geopolitical position of pivoting away from the transatlantic alliance and shifting Turkey’s geopolitical direction for good.