Turkish law enforcement used the earthquake as a cover for torture, a new report outlines

Rights groups have claimed that police and military in Turkey used torture on alleged looters following the massive February 2023 earthquake
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Human rights groups have said law enforcement in Turkey tortured alleged looters in the wake of the devastating February earthquake. A joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused police and armed forces of using the state of emergency as a “license to torture”.

‘We will kill you and bury you under the rubble’

The groups interviewed 34 people in total, including 12 victims of torture. They also reviewed video of 13 cases of violence perpetrated by police against 34 individuals. Four of those cases involved Syrian refugees, and the report said the “attacks bore signs of additional xenophobic motivation”.

The report found that in the majority of cases, police didn’t take the victims into formal custody. Instead, law enforcement officers immediately beat them or made them lie or kneel down while kicking, slapping and swearing at them for prolonged periods. Only two cases led to investigations.

In one case, police arrested Turkish man Ahmet Guresci in the Altınözü district of Hatay, along with his brother Sabri. The officers tortured Ahmet, including attempting rape with police batons, before he died in hospital while in custody. Sabri claimed the officers had said:

There is a state of emergency, we will kill you… We will kill you and bury you under the rubble… We’re going to say the public lynched you.

The report said police released Sabri pending investigation. At the same time, three officers were suspended pending their investigation.

Tortured and left to die

In another particularly harrowing case study explored by the report, police tortured a group of five Kurdish men before leaving them to die.

Read on...

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The Kurdish group had travelled to help with search and rescue efforts on 11 February. They said police took them from the site of a collapsed building to a nearby tent, where the police then accused them of looting.

Officers beat and assaulted them numerous times, both in the tent and after taking them to a police station, before stripping them to their underwear. They then forced the group onto a minibus before dropping them off around midnight about 10km outside of the city. The temperatures were below zero at the time. Police then doused them in water before forcing them to crawl on the ground and abandoning them.

All five survived, although one was hospitalised with a serious eye injury.

Tip of the iceberg

In a response before the report was published, the Turkish justice ministry said it had “zero tolerance” for torture. However, the justice ministry also told the Amnesty and HRW that their findings were “vague claims devoid of a factual basis”. In response, the groups pointed out that the department was dismissive without responding specifically to any findings.

Amnesty and HRW said all the incidents occurred in the 10 provinces covered by the state of emergency. However, most were concentrated in Antakya city, in Hatay province. This was one of the areas worst hit by the earthquake.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, HRW associate director and Turkey director, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) the 13 cases documented by the groups represented just the “tip of the iceberg”. Meanwhile, Hugh Williamson – Europe and Central Asia director at HRW – said they were a “shocking indictment of law enforcement practices”.

Esther Major, senior research advisor for Amnesty International’s Europe office, told AFP:

We recognise the size of the catastrophe that has happened, but within that context, a state of emergency must not lead to lawlessness and impunity, to torture and other ill-treatment.

Amnesty had earlier released an annual report containing broad condemnations of Turkey’s human rights record throughout 2022. It included a case of prison guards allegedly torturing an inmate, who later died.

Featured image via Global News/YouTube

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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