A Turkish judge has ordered the blocking of numerous websites and tweets, including those from Nordic Monitor’s Turkish Twitter account, referencing a story that involves a former police officer accused of abusing and mistreating a high-ranking general at a detention site in Ankara in 2016.
Elif Uzun Sümercan, currently employed at Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry, filed a request with the Ankara 3rd High Criminal Court on October 31, 2022 seeking the censorship of 173 URLs, citing a violation of her privacy. She also requested the removal of the content from search engines.
On the same day, Judge Mustafa Gürbüz issued a verdict (Decision No. 2023/12221) in favor of the plaintiff, acknowledging that her rights had been infringed upon. Interestingly, the Nordic Monitor tweets blocked by the court were dated August 5, 2020 and were unrelated to Sümercan. They contained excerpts from the testimony of officers detained following a controversial coup attempt in 2016.
Sümercan was identified as one of the primary individuals involved in the brutal torture of detainees at an unofficial detention site in Ankara in 2016, according to multiple victims who testified in court. At the time, she was deputy chief of the Ankara Police Department’s counterterrorism unit. However, she was later rewarded by the government and appointed department head at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Text of the court decision:Ankara 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace 2023-12221 Misc. (1)
Sümercan was accused of physically assaulting Gen. Akın Öztürk, a senior member of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) and a former air forces commander. Witnesses who had experienced torture and mistreatment at the detention center testified that police officers had to intervene to stop her from physically assaulting the general.
🔵KAN DONDURAN İFADELER (2.BÖLÜM)
-İŞKENCECİDEN AKIN ÖZTÜRK'E: SEN DAHA ÖLMEDİN Mİ O. ÇOCUĞU!
Nordic Monitor'ün ulaştığı ifadelerde Ankara gözaltı merkezlerinde işkence gören askerler beraber kaldıkları Orgeneral Akın Öztürk'ün uğradığı ağır işkencelerden de bahsediyor. pic.twitter.com/9PjH7rdZfI
— Nordic Monitor Türkçe (@NordicMonitorTR) August 5, 2020
Evidence has since come to light confirming that Öztürk had no involvement in the failed coup and that he was falsely labeled as the leader of the putschists by Turkish intelligence agency MİT. In reality, during the events of the coup night, he was at his daughter’s residence, which was several kilometers from Akıncı Airbase, the alleged headquarters of the putschists. Sümercan’s name and signature appeared on official documents authorizing her to detain suspects and escort them to detention centers in 2016.
Another Nordic Monitor story that drew Sümercan’s ire concerned her husband, Mustafa Sümercan, a police chief wanted for arrest by US authorities on multiple criminal charges. Nordic Monitor had previously published a report alleging that Mustafa Sümercan had been involved in covert operations with Turkish intelligence in Libya before being recruited to serve in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s protective detail. Furthermore, he was identified as the husband of Elif Uzun Sümercan, who faced accusations of torture.
However, unlike many Turkish government officials, Mustafa Sümercan did not dispute the allegations against him or seek to censor Nordic Monitor’s story.
It has been well-documented that in 2016, police officers and MİT agents engaged in widespread torture and abuse at unofficial detention centers. Government-owned sports halls and police facilities were used for both verbal and physical torture, including threats of violence, rape, beatings and inhumane practices such as strappado and dousing victims with ice-cold water.
Amnesty International previously called for independent monitors to be granted immediate access to detainees held in various facilities, including police headquarters, sports centers and courthouses, following the coup attempt. They had gathered credible evidence of detainees being subjected to severe beatings and torture, including sexual assault, in both official and unofficial detention centers in Turkey in 2016.
In 2021 Elif Uzun Sümercan made a similar request and sought the blocking of access to 88 URLs, which was also granted by the court.
Torturers in Turkey received protection through a government decree signed by President Erdogan. Decree-law No. 667 was issued on July 23, 2016 and provided wide-ranging immunity for law enforcement officials involved in coup investigations. The purpose was to prevent victims from filing complaints related to torture, ill-treatment or abuse against these officials. Article 9 of the decree-law stated that individuals who made decisions and carried out their duties under the scope of this law would not face legal, administrative, financial or criminal liability. Human rights organizations criticized the decree for violating international agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory.
To date, no legal action has been taken against those responsible for torturing detainees at unofficial detention sites, despite multiple complaints from victims and their legal representatives.
In 2016 a delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), an organization affiliated with the Council of Europe, visited Turkey. During their visit from August 28 to September 6, they documented statements from victims. Their visit followed allegations, first raised by Amnesty International, indicating that detainees in Turkey were subjected to physical abuse, torture and even sexual assault at both official and unofficial detention centers throughout the country.
However, the details of the CPT report have not been made public because Turkey objected to its publication in 2016, an objection that remains in place. CPT President Mykola Gnatovskyy mentioned in 2017 that despite his desire to discuss the report’s findings, he couldn’t comment on them due to Ankara’s decision.