The gruesome details of torture and abuse perpetrated by Turkish police at a black site in 2016 were revealed during the testimony of a victim who told his story for the first time during his trial.
Lt. Necip Erkul, who worked as an expert in the criminal lab at the Gendarmerie Department of Forensic Medicine, recounted the brutal torture he had suffered or witnessed during his detention at a sports hall that was turned into an illegal holding center for hundreds of detainees in the summer of 2016.
He managed to enter into court records the details of his suffering at a black site that was located in the heart of the Turkish capital. Although he was shot twice while trying to secure the premises of the Gendarmerie General Command against what he thought was a terrorist attack, he was kicked and beaten by several security officers and left to die on the floor of the sports hall. He was denied the immediate medical care that was urgently needed. The police reluctantly allowed him to finally be taken to a hospital but rushed him back to the black site in a hospital gown after his surgery.
He thought he would die on several occasions but miraculously survived to tell his story for the world to hear and provide gruesome details of not only his ordeal but also his observations from the black site where many were tortured, beaten and abused in clear violation of Turkish law and a blatant breach by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of obligations under international rights conventions.
Transcript of the court hearing that reveals the details of torture:necip_erkul_first_page
Here are some excerpts from his graphic account:
“I was shot in my back and leg. I was drenched in blood. Shrapnel fragments were still inside my leg and back, and a piece of torn flesh was hanging from my leg,” he recalled, adding that “I did not even have the strength to breathe.”
Brig. Gen. Ahmet Hacıoğlu approached him while he was lying on the ground. Erkul was expecting a hero’s treatment since he had fought hard and gotten shot in the process while trying to protect the base from unknown assailants. That is what he was trained to do as a soldier.
“I was expecting congratulations from him since I had been shot while guarding the Gendarmerie [headquarters] against a terrorist attack. He began to swear at me. It felt like I got shot for the third time,” Erkul said. As he tried to explain what had happened, he was hit in the head and face and later kicked in the leg by Hacıoğlu. “A piece of flesh was hanging from my leg. My back started to hurt more, and my broken bones were sticking through my skin,” he noted.
He was also robbed of his valuables including credit cards and cash by the officers around him. He has never recovered these possessions despite repeated motions filed with the prosecutor’s office and the court.
While seriously wounded and bleeding, Lt. Erkul was dragged by the arms some 20 or 30 meters by the special forces police and handed over over to the riot police. “Brig. Gen. Hacıoğlu told the chief of the special forces police to let me die there instead of taking the pains to put me in a police car. He warned the chief that somebody might be recording the incident from high-rise residential buildings around the base.” The police chief ignored Hacıoğlu, and he was turned over to the riot police unit.
“Kicked and punched by the police, I was taken to the riot police van with bullet wounds and shrapnel fragments in my body. A young riot police officer in the van hit me hard and cracked my head. The kicks and punches continued inside the vehicle as I was forced to walk all the way to front after being shoved into the vehicle from the back door. I was finally seated. One police officer pressed down on my head with all his strength while punching me. Another police officer snatched my Casio’s PRW-2500T Pro Trek watch that was a gift from my brother as if it was a spoil of war and with no record or paperwork. I don’t know what happened to that watch. Another officer wanted to put out his cigarette on my body, but the others prevented it,” Erkul told the judge.
Further details of the torture:necip_erkul2
There were two other soldiers in the vehicle. When they arrived at the police station, they were pushed out of the vehicle. The police officers who were ordered to form a line on both sides of the walkway were punching and kicking the soldiers as they were moved into the station. Erkul could not walk as he was seriously injured, and two police officers dragged him to the station and laid him on the floor at the entrance.
“I was surrounded there by police officers. They wrenched my boots from my feet. As I had been shot in that foot also, a finger-length of flesh was torn off my foot. While I was lying there motionless in a stupor, female police officers were trying to goad their colleagues into killing me. Dozens of police surrounded me, some laughing and some taking photos,” he recalled.
As he was about to run out of breath, lying on the ground motionless with his eyes barely opened, a female medical provider showed up at the station and said Erkul needed to be taken to a hospital for emergency treatment. The police chief balked and told the women to treat him right there on the station floor. The two had a heated argument, but the chief eventually gave in when the woman told him that Erkul would soon die unless he was rushed to a hospital by ambulance.
Erkul was treated at Keçiören Hospital for broken bones in his leg and was referred to another hospital for treatment of his other conditions. According to his testimony, he had surgery at the Atatürk Chest Diseases and Thoracic Surgery Teaching and Research Hospital and remained in intensive care for two days. He was discharged before fully recovering and taken to the black site set up at the notorious sports hall in Ankara, which was used as an unofficial detention center after the coup attempt and where numerous detainees were tortured.
Further details of the torture:necip_erkul3
The worst was yet to come for him as the torture and abuse at the black site was brutal. “I was left in my hospital gown on the floor of the hall next to a pole for a volleyball net. My right leg was still in a cast and my back had bandages all over it. Your honor, I mean I was taken from the intensive care unit and put on the floor still in my hospital gown without any thought of preventive health measures. The floor was covered with the blood oozing from my back. I couldn’t move because of the pain all over my body and my injuries. I was dragged out of intensive care and was hungry and thirsty, but no water or food was given to me,” he stated.
On or about July 18 his condition deteriorated. He felt totally exhausted and had lost all will to live. “I was gasping for breath. I was totally paralyzed. I learned afterwards from an officer that my face had turned yellow and that the police thought I had died and called for an ambulance,” Erkul told the court, adding to that he also faced a lynching attempt by a mob at the entrance of the hospital and was insulted by the police in the ward. After treatment, he was again sent back to the black site at the sports hall.
“I saw hundreds of detainees in their underwear, some of whom were handcuffed from behind, packed in like sardines. Some were drenched in blood, others were bruised around their eyes or other parts of their bodies. I continuously heard the cries of people who were beaten and subjected to torture. The floor was covered with blood and filth,” he told the court. As he was lying on the floor close to the entrance, everybody, police or civilian, who arrived at the hall questioned and insulted him. Whenever he fell asleep, he was awakened by kicks and beatings administered by somebody who was determined to deprive him of sleep. “I was warned that this was not a hotel and ordered not to sleep.” he said.
The police often ordered detainees to repeatedly look up and down in rapid succession for an extended period of time as a means of abuse, and he was not spared from that ordeal, either. A police chief came up to him and told him to do the same thing as the others while he was lying on the ground in a hospital gown. He was repeatedly smacked in the head whenever the police chief made his rounds of the hall. Although he could not move much, the police handcuffed him as well. Another detainee, a major who felt sorry for him, helped him turn his body around. The police officer tortured the major for his help in front of everybody for hours.
At a certain point they did not even let him lie down and instead forced him to lean his back against the pole. He was given no food or drink for a long time, resulting in dehydration and extreme hunger.
“A police chief named Veysel was kicking the people in the face after they were selected for a torture session. A police chief named Ersin was abusing and kicking me,” Erkul said, remembering only the first names of the two police chiefs. Chief Ersin threatened reluctant police officers with the same fate as the detainees and encouraged them to use violence against the military officers in the hall.
Further details of the torture:necip_erkul4
“At night, they turned on spotlights and played loud music to prevent us from sleeping.”
Lying on his right side, Erkut saw a young female detainee, a lieutenant, who was paraded out fully naked and in handcuffs in the middle of all the male detainees. She was crying and perhaps thinking about her husband, who was also subjected to torture, Erkut said. He knew the couple but declined to reveal their names in order to protect their dignity in the courtroom. “She was later taken out back”, Erkut recalled, as the police kept ordering detainees to sit down and stand up in cycles as part of the torture. “I have no further knowledge of her fate,” he added.
On or about July 22 the police transferred him to a tent set up in Sincan Prison. He was tossed on a stretcher without any regard for his condition. When his fractured ribs pressed into his flesh from being dropped on the stretcher, Erkut screamed in pain. A police chief started swearing at him and said he would hopefully soon die from his wounds.
“I was put on the icy floor of the tent in my hospital gown at 4 in the morning. I soon started shivering from the cold, and I thought I would freeze to death,” Erkut said. The torture and abuse continued in the tent as well. He was taken to court in a wheelchair on July 23 for his arraignment while half-conscious. On the way to court, the police told him he would be formally arrested. The judges, prosecutors and government-appointed defense lawyers were all terrified of the police and afraid of being detained themselves.
He was sent back to the prison where the warden greeted him with shouts and curses, lamenting that the police had not shot him in the head.
“On these grounds, I am recanting my testimony as taken by the police,” Erkut told the judge, referring to a doctored police statement extracted under duress.
Erkut’s claims of torture revealed in graphic detail in court were not investigated, and his trial on dubious coup charges is still ongoing.
Torture and abuse have become systematic, deliberate and part of domestic policy under the Erdoğan government in recent years. The practice was intensified in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2016 which the Erdoğan government used as a pretext to detain over half a million people on dubious charges in order to crack down on opposition groups. The use of torture was even encouraged by the government, and torturers were given immunity in blatant disregard of Turkey’s domestic laws and international obligations.
Erkut’s testimony reveals yet another grave human rights violation by Turkey in addition to torture, namely the use of statements obtained as a result of torture. The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment prohibits the invocation of any statement obtained as a result of torture in any proceedings. Up until now, no investigation into a torture allegation has been launched nor has any statement obtained as result of torture been rejected by the courts in Turkey. It goes without saying that both facts play into the hands of torturers by encouraging them to act with impunity.