The terrible accounts of the torture of people in police custody at an unofficial detention site in Turkey, related by multiple victims in court hearings, reveal how the religious and ideological conviction of the Turkish regime nurtures a dangerous jihadist, xenophobic mindset in the country’s main law enforcement agency.
“I found it quite bizarre to hear the mindset that held, ‘You are prisoners of war, your possessions are our spoils, your wives, your daughters are also our wives, remove your [wedding] rings,’ because these are statements of the ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] terrorist organization,” said Mehmet Sezgin, a 33-year-old first lieutenant who testified in court on December 12, 2017, revealing brutal torture practices at an Ankara Police Department sports hall that was turned into a makeshift detention site in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016.
Sezgin had worked in the intelligence section of the Gendarmerie General Command in Ankara, tracking jihadists including ISIS and al-Qaeda militants for years. Yet he was unlawfully detained with no charges, held at an unofficial site for days, tortured and subjected to the ISIS narrative of using women and girls as sex slaves in conflict. He is one of many who experienced the terrible ordeal while in police custody.
The victim statements, corroborated by rare medical reports and photographic evidence, have uncovered how the police officers who systematically tortured detainees often used the narrative employed by ISIS terrorists as justification for inflicting physical and psychological pain on their victims. The recollection of torture and abuse from dozens of victims at the site have also confirmed a growing worry that anti-Semitic and extreme nationalist views, encouraged by senior leadership, took a toll on the 300,000-strong police force in Turkey. Anti-Armenian and anti-Greek slurs were often used by the police in an attempt to vilify and demonize detainees.
Shocking testimony of Lt. Mehmet Sezgin, who revealed in an Ankara courtroom that police had embraced the ISIS mindset for torturing victims:Mehmet_Sezgin_torture
It appears the jihadist ideology, promoted by the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, helped torturers detach themselves from the reality of seeing their victims as human. In one case a senior general was exposed naked for everybody to see whether he was circumcised, while police were hurling anti-Armenian slurs. Strong anti-Semitic hate speech was directed toward the detainees, with the police often insulting them as ‘the seeds of Jews and bitches.”
During their abusive treatment of detainees, torturers often described the wives, sisters and children of detainees as war spoils. The police threatened victims with the rape and sexual abuse of their wives, sisters and daughters. In one case a female lieutenant was sexually harassed in front of hundreds of naked men and presented as an example of what the police intended to do with the wives and daughters of the detainees.
“Hearing such statements that described the wives and daughters of the detainees as the spoils of war like ISIS does hurt me more than the murder threats I received from many officers who were assigned to work at the detention site,” Sezgin told the judges as he continued to relate what he experienced at the torture site, according to the transcript of the court hearing. For nine days, he was tortured, beaten and abused by police officers who took turns in shifts to continue to inflict severe pain on detainees who were stripped to their underwear, deprived of food and water, and denied medical treatment for their injuries for days.
Police abuse even continued in the courthouse when they were waiting for their arraignment after days of torture. If they did not repeat false statements they were forced to sign under torture at the site and complained about the police practices, they were threatened with more severe torture after the hearing. Several police officers who abused them at the detention site were also present in the courtroom, putting more pressure on the victims to continue lying. According to Sezgin, the police kept shouting at them in the hall of the courthouse, saying: “You are in our hands now. We will kill you, you will all die. Your spouse, your assets are our [war] spoils.” There were bar-appointed lawyers present when the police leveled such vile slurs, but they were also terrified of saying anything to the police, he said.
Sezgin was one of many unsuspecting officers who were detained en masse in Turkey’s false flag coup attempt on July 15, 2016, which was orchestrated by President Erdoğan and his intelligence and military chiefs to transform the parliamentary democracy in Turkey into an authoritarian regime. He was taken into police custody with complete disregard for the protections under due process and fair trial provisions. As he was being detained by the police at the Gendarmerie General Command headquarters where he used to work, he thought he would be killed because his colleague, Capt. Yasin Özdemir, had been shot to death by a police sniper after he had given himself up, had no firearms on him and his hands were in the air.
‘THE SCENE LOOKED LIKE THE AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP’
Similar testimony from other victims who were also held at the same detention site corroborated Sezgin’s account. Bülent Ak, a 43-year old lieutenant colonel who was director of current operations at the Gendarmerie General Command, testified in court on November 22, 2017 how torture was practiced under police custody. “The scene looked like the Auschwitz concentration camp,” Ak recalled when he was first brought to the detention site where hundreds of people, half-naked, were crammed like sardines on the floor. Auschwitz was the concentration camp operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II to exterminate Jews.
“All the police officers were shouting that they would rape our wives and children, that our spouses were now their property and that they would execute us, while they kept beating us with the tools in their hands. I kept hearing wailing and screams from all over,” he stated. Ak was whipped and beaten until he passed out and denied food and water for two days, and his pleas to go to the bathroom were denied. He had to urinate into plastic water bottles thrown into the garbage by the police. “I saw some detainees who were forced to soil themselves and then paraded among everyone to shame them,” he recalled.
Ak said he witnessed the police pull down the underwear of a well-known general, also a detainee, and expose him fully naked for everybody to see. The police then hurled insults at him, called him a son of a bitch and shouted at him, saying that there were many Armenians who lived in his home province and they wanted to see whether he was circumcised. “They later kept this person in a squatting position for 8-10 hours without giving him any water,” Ak added. On July 15 he was at headquarters implementing measures to beef up security of the building against a possible terrorist attack after an alarm was sounded by the General Staff.
Bülent Ak, a 43-year-old lieutenant colonel, said the detention site looked like the Auschwitz concentration camp:Bulent_Ak_torture
In his testimony in court on January 29, 2018 Ertuğrul Terzi, a 44-year-old lieutenant colonel, told the judges in detail how he was tortured nearly to death in the detention hall before he was rushed to the hospital, only to be returned to the site for more abuse. Privates and sergeants were forced by the police to beat him in front of everybody. “How can I forget those people who cursed at a mother’s unborn child, who saw our wives and daughters as [jihad] spoils?” he said in court. Terzi had been ordered to secure the Gendarmerie General Command on July 15 against a terrorist attack, and he defended himself in court, saying he was not involved in the coup attempt.
Lt. Col. Ertuğrul Terzi endured severe torture and was beaten even after treatment at the hospital:Ertugrul_terzi_torture
A FEMALE OFFICER WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED AMID HUNDREDS OF NAKED MEN
Faruk Örnek, a 36-year-old first lieutenant, told the court in his testimony on November 29, 2017 about the torture at the site, describing it as a slaughterhouse. “Hundreds of people were stripped down to their underwear. They were hitting us with batons and whips that were made from plastic handcuffs. There are still scars on my arm and back even 16 months later,” Örnek explained, adding that he could take off his shirt for the panel of judges if they wanted to see during the hearing. Örnek was working in the human resources department of the Gendarmerie General Command when he was detained.
“A female lieutenant was brought to the detention site and placed next to the naked men. We were together. I felt terrible. I felt ashamed to see a woman abused under their feet,” he said. The police then pointed at the women and told the detainees that their wives would be brought to the detention site like her and that they would be gang-raped. Örnek said he did not want to go into detail in describing the situation but added that the wedding rings of all the officers were taken and thrown away, with the police continuing to threaten to rape their wives.
Faruk Örnek’s testimony on the torture he suffered:Faruk_ornek_Torture
Coşkun Yetim, a 36-year-old first lieutenant, testified in court on December 19, 2017 that he was brought to a volleyball hall, another unofficial detention site in Ankara, where some 1,000 people, half of them naked, were kept. From July 16 to July 22, 2016 he was subjected to torture and abuse. He said he witnessed the sexual harassment of a female lieutenant who was held among all the male detainees. Her husband, also an officer and detained at the same site, was forced to watch while the police groped and sexually harassed her when her clothes were soaking wet.
“In the face of this incident that you would not encounter even in primitive societies, everyone in the hall was frozen,” Yetim said. “After witnessing this incident, I understood how real the [jihadist] narrative of ‘Your wives, sisters and children are our spoils’ was,” Yetim underlined in his statement in court. Yetim was in the engineering corps and working at the Gendarmerie General Command in Communication, Electronic and Information Systems (Muhabere, Elektronik ve Bilgi Sistemleri, or MEBS). In court he denied any involvement in the coup and was attending to the maintenance of the electronic systems at the headquarters at the time.
Lt. Coşkun Yetim’s court testimony on torture:Coskun_Yetim_torture
GENERAL’S EAR WAS CUT OFF
Hakan Güler, a 38-year-old captain, testified in court on January 2, 2018 that he saw a police officer who had shouted out loud his own name — Hakan Öztunç — cutting off the ear of decorated general, senior member of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) and former Air Forces Commander Akın Öztürk. “A police officer named Hakan Öztunç was shouting his own name while torturing Brig. Gen. Timurcan Ermiş and Gen. Akın Öztürk. He cut his [Öztürk‘s] ear off,” Güler told the panel of judges. “‘I am Hakan Öztunç. We will wipe all of you from the face of the earth,’ the policeman said.” The photos distributed by the Anadolu news agency verified his statement. The general was seen in photos with his right ear covered by a bandage.
Capt. Hakan Güler’s statement that shows he witnessed a police officer cutting off the ear of decorated Gen. Akın Öztürk:Hakan_Guler_torture
Evidence has emerged confirming that Öztürk had nothing to do with the failed coup and that he was branded as the leader of the putschists by the intelligence agency, MIT, when in fact the general was at his daughter’s home, located some four or five kilometers from Akıncı Air Base, the alleged headquarters of the putschists, during the coup events. Öztürk was completely unaware of the plot unfolding around him and was playing with his grandchildren on the night of the abortive putsch.
THREATS OF GANG-RAPE OF WOMEN AND GIRLS
Testifying at the Ankara 23rd High Criminal Court on November 6, 2017, Cemal İyigün, a 43-year-old lieutenant colonel, said the police started threatening them with the rape of their wives and children — as young as 5 or 6 — when they were put on the bus en route to the detention facility. “Along the way, they said: ‘Who will stop us from raping them now? They will all be prostitutes. All of Ankara will gang-rape them,’ meaning our mothers, spouses and 5 or 6-year-old daughters, who are our most dear loved ones,” İyigün said as he recalled the slurs, threats and insults he heard during the bus trip.
“Your Honor, it is not possible for people who can utter such things about our mothers, wives and daughters, who are accepted as most sacred in our religion and culture as well as from the perspective of humanity, to be members of the honorable police department,” he told the judge, asking the court to investigate those torturers and abusers.
İyigün was working for the planning and coordination section in the Gendarmerie intelligence branch at the time he was detained. He has a master’s degree in human rights, worked as a project officer in the human rights division of the Turkish military and wrote a paper on the impact of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings on law enforcement agencies in Turkey. He is working to finish his Ph.D. in international relations from his prison cell.
Section of the defense statement of Lt. Col. Cemal İyigün, who spoke about the torture he endured at an unofficial detention site:Cemal_Iyigiun_torture
İsmail Yapıcı, a 38-year-old lieutenant, told the court on December 21, 2017 that punching, kicking and beating with the butts of rifles and guns started when he was detained Gendarme General Command headquarters. As he was put on the bus to the detention site, the police started beating them and warned them that ‘this is nothing, see what more we will do to you later.’ The beatings continued when they were taken off the bus in the courtyard of the Ankara Police Department. He was kicked, punched and beaten by a mob of police officers who formed a human corridor through which detainees were forced to walk.
‘JEWISH SEED, ARMENIAN OFFSPRING’
“The policemen inside were constantly swearing, insulting and uttering threats. Some of them were saying, ‘Traitors, dogs for sale, sons of bitches, bloodless, Jewish seed, Armenian offspring, dogs, and your mothers, sisters, daughters and wives are all halal [meaning that they can do whatever they want with them] to us,’” he told the court.
Yapıcı was actually a musician and as a sergeant played the trumpet in the military marching band after graduating from the military school for noncommissioned officers in 2000. However, his passion for music was cut short after learning he had a heart condition during a routine checkup, and he had to give up the band two years later. He became an officer after completing a university degree and competing in the exams. He had served in various provinces until he was appointed to the Gendarmerie General Command in 2010. There he worked in human resources and developed projects on systems integration, networking, service records and streamlining regulations for the Gendarmerie’s law enforcement functions.
Parts of the defense statement of Lt. İsmail Yapıcı, who told the court how he and other detainees were insulted with anti-Semitic and anti-Armenian slurs:ismail_Yapici_torture
ATTEMPT TO SODOMIZE VICTIM WITH BARREL OF M-16 RIFLE
Erdoğan Çiçek, a 43-year-old lieutenant colonel, told the court on November 29, 2017 that he was forced to strip down to his underwear, was beaten with the butt of a rifle and was punched and kicked repeatedly while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground. He related a torture incident he witnessed. “I will not give his name, but he is here [in the courtroom] and can explain himself if he wants to. In the incident that took place in front of my eyes, the barrel of an M-16 [rifle] was forced to penetrate the anus of this man through his underwear as he was lying on the ground by someone with black hair and a mustache,” Cicek testified.
The torture continued in many forms at the detention site. “While they were beating a man next to me, one of them said, ‘This is not over yet, we will get your home addresses and go and rape your wives and daughters’,” Çiçek recalled. When the police got tired of beating the detainees, they ordered privates and sergeants to beat high-ranking officers including generals and admirals in front of everybody.
Çiçek was mocked by the judge, who described what the defendant related as a “story” and threatened him with contempt if he kept talking about his torture ordeal, claiming that it would amount to abuse of the right to a defense. Before he was purged from the military and jailed on dubious charges, Çiçek was the head of the Planning, Training, Organization and Operation unit at MEBS.
Parts from the transcript of a court hearing during which Lt. Col. Erdoğan Çiçek spoke about the attempted sodomizing of a detainee with the barrel of an M-16 rifle:Erdogan_Cicek_torture
POLICE THREATENED TO RAPE UNBORN BABY GIRL
During a December 25, 2017 hearing, Fuat Pala, a 35-year-old first lieutenant, shared his memory of how a police officer threatened a detainee with the rape of his unborn baby girl at the detention site.
“Your Honor, I do not know who this man was, but his wife was about to give birth to a baby girl. A police officer came up to him and cursed him, saying he would [rape] his unborn daughter. Your Honor, I took this personally because I was in the same situation [I was about to become a new father as well]. I said to myself, what kind of mindset is this? I mean a man wanted to violate an unborn baby in the mother’s womb and said, ‘I will do this to your daughter’,” Pala testified in court.
Fuat Pala’s shocking revelations from the torture site reveal how far the police were willing to go:Fuat_Pala_torture
WEDDING RINGS REMOVED
Mustafa Alper Ateş, a 39-year-old first lieutenant, told the court on December 19, 2017 that he was also in the same group that experienced torture and abuse in police custody.
“At various times, four or five different police officers would shout: ‘Your wives are considered divorced. Your wives and daughters are [jihadist] booty. They are now ours.’ They would take the wedding ring off a person’s finger and say: “You don’t need it anymore. Your wife is already divorced,” said Ateş.
He was an officer in the Gendarmerie General Command MEBS unit but did not have a specific assignment because he was in training. He went to headquarters to help out when he heard about a terrorist attack taking place from a WhatsApp circle he and some 50 other officers had formed to communicate news among themselves.
Mustafa Alper Ateş’s testimony revealed how wedding rings were removed from officers’ fingers, who were told afterwards that they were now divorced from their wives:Mustafa_ates_torture
Akif Uygun, a sergeant, told the court on November 30, 2017 that he had experienced similar torture. He said they were handcuffed from behind and denied bathroom visits for the first three days.
“In this period, I had to take care of my toilet needs in water bottles when I was handcuffed from behind. Two people who were cuffed from behind would try to assist each other during this [urination into the bottle]. The urine was getting splashed on the ground, and we were trying to live on that floor. In this way, bottles filled with urine were everywhere. It was embarrassing to witness this situation. It was inhuman, yet the torture and abuse with punches, kicks and whipping with plastic handcuffs continued,” he said.
“They [police] saw themselves as the winners of a war and said: ‘We are your Azrael [angel of death], we fought against you and won. From now on, your wealth, your daughters, your children and your businesses are our [jihadist] spoils.’ This is a slogan of the ISIS terrorist organization. It is their way of life. I couldn’t believe that such remarks were uttered by Turkish police officers. I still can’t believe it and don’t want to believe it,” Uygun said.
Sgt. Akif Uygun’s testimony revealed the ISIS mindset among the Turkish police:Akif_uykun_torture
VICTIMS’ MONEY LOOTED
Erkan Demir, a 35-year-old captain, told the court on November 30, 2017 that the money he and others had in their wallets and was looted by the police when they were handcuffed at the military base. He said that according to the Code on Criminal Procedure all the detainees’ possessions were supposed to be registered but that the police failed to do that.
“In the Turkish judicial system, there is no provision related to spoils, and this is actually defined as looting [under Turkish law]. The concept of [war] spoils that exists in Islamic law is a concept that emerged outside the borders of this country. However, our possessions, which were supposed to be protected by public officials, were looted under the slogan of spoils. The wallet of a friend, whose face I could not see because he was lying on the ground, was gone through by the chief of police in the command entrance area, and the money was distributed to other police officers.”
Like many others, Demir was also subjected to beating at the base before a bus was brought to take him and the others to the Ankara Police Department building where he endured days of torture and abuse. “I was not treated humanely. I had read books about prison camps, but what happened in the TEM [Ankara police counterterrorism building] was far worse treatment than that. I was tortured in a systematic, deliberate and planned way,” he said.
Capt. Erkan Demir’s testimony on torture:Erkan_Demir_torture
The ISIS narrative was also used against him. “The police officers in the [sports] hall said: ‘We were given orders to shoot to kill with no questions asked. But we are merciful. Your wives and daughters are now halal for us [to rape]. They will be common prostitutes now and start begging from one place to another’,” Demir told the court. He also added that the police used racist slurs to abuse detainees. ”They even made racist statements. [They were asking] where are you from? Are you Greek? Are you Armenian? Whom do you serve? Turks could not do such things. How is it possible that an Armenian comes from Eskişehir [province]?” Demir stated.
During the unofficial interrogation by the police in the hall, Demir initially denied any wrongdoing, but the police increased the torture. He was forced to sit motionless under the sun for hours, and the police threatened to bring his wife to the hall and hurt her. “I was afraid they could do what they said and stopped resisting. I made statements about the officers I saw at the headquarters that night the way the police asked me to do,” he said, adding that many had to give false statements to free themselves from torture or to get a piece of bread and some water.
TORTURERS PROTECTED BY THE GOVERNMENT
Torturers in Turkey were protected by a government decree issued by President Erdoğan that provided blanket immunity for officials who were involved in coup investigations. Decree-law No. 667, issued by the government on July 23, 2016, granted sweeping protection for law enforcement officers in order to prevent victims from pressing complaints of torture, ill treatment or abuse against officials. There were multiple cases in which Turkish prosecutors refused to investigate torture allegations, citing this decree-law, or KHK (Kanun Hükmünde Kararname).
Article 9 of this KHK stated that “Legal, administrative, financial and criminal liabilities shall not arise in respect of the persons who have adopted decisions and fulfill their duties within the scope of this decree-law.” The decree was criticized by human rights organizations for being a clear breach of articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party, yet it was never annulled. In fact, the Turkish parliament passed the decree into law on October 18, 2016.
As of today, no prosecution has been initiated against people who tortured detainees at the unofficial site despite multiple complaints filed by the victims and their lawyers.
A delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a Council of Europe-affiliated body, was in Turkey to conduct inspections between August 28 and September 6, 2016 and recorded some of the victims’ statements in its report. The delegation’s visit came amid widespread allegations first raised by Amnesty International, which stated that it had collected credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were beaten, tortured and on some occasions raped in official and unofficial detention centers across the country.
However, the details of the CPT report were never made public because Turkey vetoed the publication of the report and has not lifted its objection since 2016. In fact CPT President Mykola Gnatovskyy stated in 2017 that even though he “[wanted] to discuss the findings,” he could not comment on the report due to Ankara’s decision.