Turkey Tribunal: Abductions in Turkey

Reporter Johan Heymans on “Abductions in Turkey”.

The question the rapporteur will try to answer is the following: Can we conclude that the Turkish state is taking action to abduct political opponents and it is not investigated properly into these facts? To answer it, he will present three different topics, namely the execution of international abductions by the Turkish government, the executions of domestic abductions, and the presence of effective investigations.

Preliminary topics:

The report relied on examples of 27 cases of national abductions and 68 of international abductions. The reporter pointed out that other independent sources concluded the same findings, and that he relied mainly on the Ankara bar association report, report of International investigations, court findings, journal reports.

The report only takes into account abductions from 2016 to now. The rapporteur recalled the legal criteria for an enforced disappearance to be found: to be arbitrarily deprived of their freedom by state officials or under state’s orders, and the refusal to communicate the place or the whereabouts of the victims. The prohibition of enforced disappearance is a ius cogens norm, which means that every state is bound by the prohibition even if they did not ratify treaties that prohibit it.  The rapporteur recalled that Turkey ratified the ICCPR and ECHR, which prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, the use of torture and establishes the right to life.

International abductions:
There are different ways to be internationally abducted:

  • Turkish citizens who lived abroad (teacher), their passports are canceled and handed over to IMT and brought back to Turkish
  • When the host state is not fully agreeing, Turkey intervened directly in the territory of the host state. For instance, it happened in Kenya: Kenya refused the extradition of the Turkish citizen so Turkey intervened and abducted him.
  • The most common way is to do it with the consent of the host country, they work together to bring them back illegally to Turkey without following the legal channel asking for extradition.

In 2017, the MIT (National Intelligence Organization of Turkey) was created a special department which is for human abductions or executions, in charge of executing international operations abroad. The UN wrote an open letter to Turkey stating that it could stop concluding secret agreements with other countries to carry out international abductions and bringing people back illegally to Turkey.

After being abducted, the victims disappear for weeks or months or are never seen again. They resurface with strong allegations of torture (electric chocs, beatings).

The minister of foreign affairs and the president himself acknowledge publicly carrying out international abductions in the newspaper, to show their power and for people to be afraid. They pretend that people who disappeared are terrorists and that the current state of emergency allowed them to arrest them in other countries.

Domestic abductions:

Domestic abductions are executed in a very similar pattern: large scale operations are carried out (example of abduction by 40 people heavily armed), are always visible in busy areas (middle of the highway with a lot of witnesses), often with cars and victims are forced into a black Volkswagen van. The kidnappers don’t care about being seen, or about their license plates being traced.  When the people resurface, it always happens in police stations or the anti-terrorism department in Ankara. One victim recalled that he was abducted by the secret services which forced him to call the authority and to sign incriminating papers against him. There is no trace of legal detention when they disappear.

Several elements prove the involvement of the authorities in those abductions. One victim recalled that he worked for the secret services and that he was abducted by a former colleague.  The camera footages and testimonies of victims and eyes witnesses demonstrated that the kidnappers were wearing TEM jackets (antiterrorism unit), or presented themselves as being police officers, or police who took them for “Interrogations”.

The Turkish position on domestic abductions is different from international abductions: it denies any involvement or ignores the accusations it and does not even count it. The ones abducted are always political opponents mostly belonging to the Gulen movement. When they resurface they all have made self-incrimination or with regards to others. The objective of those abductions is therefore to gather evidence to incriminate other persons, so the state does not acknowledges it according to the rapporteur.

The Turkish government does not carry out effective investigations. The relatives of the family members are very active in filling complaints, gathering evidence, camera footage, eyewitnesses. They hand them over to the prosecutor and nothing happens, even the most obvious acts like checking the license plate or tracking the phone of the victims.  Non-investigative acts are executed, and the cases are closed after a while without findings. In addition, if relatives become to vocals, they are pressurized to retract the complaint. According to the rapporteur, no one has been convicted for abductions in Turkey even if the Turkish criminal code prohibits arbitrary deprivation of liberty, the use of torture. In addition, the code of criminal procedure establishes a duty to investigate

Witness 1: Mustafa Ozben

The witness lived in Istanbul and was a lawyer for the bar of Ankara. Until the failed coup he was a university teacher and was a member of the Gulen movement since 1993. According to him, being a member is based on goodness, which means doing good acts for humankind. After the coup, his university has been shot down, so he was unemployed. He took measures to hide like using his father’s credit card, not staying at his legal residence…

On the 9th of May of 2017, after taking his daughter to school and went to shops, he was abducted while going back to his car. Around 3 or 4 people surrounded him, beat him, and put him into a black transporter van. They put a sack over his head and beat him, insulted him, screamed at him, put plastic cuffs around his ankles and his hands. They took him to a huge warehouse in a small cell (6×9 feet, 3msquare) with a very hard mattress and carpets all around the walls. It was a tiny place with a camera and sound system to establish contact with him, and with an aeration system with a continuous sound, which he recalled as a type of torture.

During the first days of detention, they knocked at the door and put him on his knees, took him outside to be interrogated. They turned his face against the wall so he cannot see anything because it was extremely important for them not to be seen. They said that this is a place that neither exists nor does not exist where they are the state. They told him that if he helps them, they will forget about all the complaints made against him and, give him a new identity, money, and opportunities. But if he does not, they know human anatomy very well and everything about torture, and he may start to beg them to kill him. The witness answered that he did not commit any crimes and that he was only a member of the Gulen movement. The perpetrators asked him which general he called on the day of the coup. According to the witness, they were unskilled, and they knew just a few things about him and most of it has been fabricated. They needed to fill the complaints with facts, information, and names because they made everyone a terrorist without any proof.

He was always blindfolded. One day, he went out of the cell without a blindfold so he can describe the warehouse, with cells and corridor and interrogations room. He lost 20 kilos there, he was hungry and thirsty most of the time, and they were trying to break his resistance.

The detention lasted for 92 days. He was also tortured. In one of the interrogation rooms, they were two cuffs on the wall, he saw sticks, blood. They used electric chocs, beating, sex instruments and say that they are going to penetrate him. they tried everything that could break him, threatening him his family.  There were no windows or clocks. They put headphones over his head, with national music or noise that put him crazy. He was also worried for his children and his wife while he was detained: not knowing was also part of the torture.

They released him and left him off in a neighborhood in Ankara. He supposed he was released because her wife was fighting for him to be released. He was released on Tuesday, and on Wednesday he was supposed to buy a cell phone and to meet them again on Friday to pretend that he had never been abducted and that he was only hiding at home.

Witness 2: Gokhan Gunes (represented Adv. Sezin Ucar)

In January 2021, the victim was abducted at his workplace and victim of systematic torture for 6 days. He was from a family of socialist workers and working as an electrician. He was defending the rights of workers and was part of a trade union, participated in press releases and press conferences, and was detained many times.

When he disappeared, his lawyer made an application before the relevant prosecutor, with requests for the base station information to collect all the footage, because he was abducted at his workplace which is also a bus station. However, no persecutor was appointed to the file and even the one on duty did not take action.

They applied to other institutions such as the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Interior, or Ministry of Justice, the anti-terrorism branch in Istanbul to make a statement for their client to be released but it never happened. Democratic and legal institutions, unions and confederations, political parties waged a very meaningful struggle for the client to be found. There were demonstrations in many European cities, his family was all over Istanbul, especially in Galatasaray square in Istanbul, which became the symbol of the struggle for disappearances. There were also demonstrations in his neighborhood, workplace… despite the curfew. The European Parliament sent an open letter to the ministry of interior for them to make a statement, but they did not answer.

While he disappeared, the victim was threatened with rape, suspended, handcuffed upside down, kept naked for days or hours, and subjected to brutal beatings.

After he was found, his lawyer filed a criminal complaint about kidnapping and systematic torture, but it is progressing very slowly even though they provide the license plate of the bus and footage of the scene of the crime. The prosecutor acts with indifference and effortlessness, and they become perpetrators as well according to the lawyer.

He has released after 6 days thanks to the struggle made by his family and the massive social reaction. After he was released, he got physical and psychological treatment. He can work and maintain his life but not talk in public about what he went through.

Witness 3: Mesut and Meral Kaçmaz

The man was a school principal and director of public relations in Pakistan, and his wife was a science and English teacher in Pakistan as well. He used to go to turkey frequently.

On the 27th of September, at night, 15-20 armed people came to this house and said that they are going to take them to a safe house. They did not show any legal documents to prove they were policemen and were not wearing uniforms.  When they protested, the couple and their children were beaten up. Meral Kacmaz fainted at the door of the house, and they have been taken to different vehicles. Mesut was continuously beaten up in the car.

They brought them to the place where they were detained. There was no sunlight but iron bars ad curtains. It was very scary, but they had to calm down for their two daughters (15 and 17 years old). They had been all handcuffed, beaten, and blindfolded. Meral recalled that for the first time in her life she had to clean up blood from his kids’ bodies.

After 17 days, they said they will take them to the capital of Pakistan where they will be allowed to meet their lawyers and people from the Turkish embassy. The kidnappers handing them over to the Turkish intelligence, so the Turkish government sent them a private air croft to reach Turkey. During all the flight, the husband has been tortured, threatened by his family, and they told him: “you are going to accept whatever we say, or we are going to rape your wife and daughters in front of you”.

The wife was taken into custody in Turkey without the children for 6months. She felt half dead because she has been forcibly separated from his kids. She recalled that she was able to see other women in other cells crying for their children. They make her believe that she will never leave the jail, but she did not sigh what they wanted her to sign,

Their first hearing started on the 13th of February 2018, and after the second hearing on the 26 April 2018, her wife was released. On the 3rd of July, the husband was released, but they sentenced them to 6years and 3 months of detention. They know that the judiciary is controlled by the government, which says the “ultimate truth” and nobody can change it

The kidnappers told us that they received their file from the intelligence services in Pakistan and that it was clear. One of the kidnappers says “sorry sir, you are being ruled in turkey by a dictator and this is the order of Erdogan”.

The court’s allegations for their detention were that he deposited money to Asia bank, but he doesn’t know the real reason, he guessed he was chosen randomly or to disconnect the relation between Tukey and Pakistan as he was the director of public relations.

Morgane Bizien

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