A public prosecutor in Turkey has decided to drop an investigation into the death of a teacher who was subjected to torture during detention at police headquarters in İstanbul, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom ((SCF).
Gökhan Açıkkollu, a 42-year-old history teacher, was detained on July 24, 2016 and kept in police custody for 13 days before he fell ill. He was rushed to the hospital but was immediately returned to the police station, where he was further questioned, allegedly under torture. He again developed problems with his health and was taken back to the hospital, only to be pronounced dead on arrival.
Based on medical reports that showed he had sustained broken ribs and blunt force trauma to the head, Açıkkollu’s family believes he was killed by the police due to the torture he was subjected to for days in custody.
Yet, public prosecutor Burhan Görgülü closed the investigation file on the grounds that “there was no malicious intent or negligence” even though the family provided witnesses who testified that they saw Açıkkollu being beaten to death at the police station.
Açıkkollu himself complained to the doctor when he was taken to the hospital for medical screening on July 26, 2016 during which time he informed the doctor how his head had been banged against the wall and that he was suffering from pain in his ribs because of the kicks and beatings he had received while in custody. His grievances were recorded by the doctor, but he was taken back to the police station nonetheless.
The teacher was detained by police on July 24, 2016 on charges of coup plotting, a claim his family denied, saying he did not know any soldiers let alone an officer in the Turkish military. He was also accused of belonging to the Gülen movement, a civic group inspired by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the Turkish government claims masterminded a coup last July. Both the movement and Gülen strongly deny these accusations, and the government has failed to present any evidence.
The family also said they noticed that the medications Açıkkollu was supposed to take on a regular basis for diabetes were not given to him when they looked at the personal belongings that were returned to them after his death.
The official autopsy done by the Institute of Forensic Medicine acknowledged that there were rib fractures and internal bleeding. Yet, the report cited a heart attack as the cause of death without elaborating on what might have caused him to suffer heart failure.
The family challenged the findings, produced key witnesses who testified that torture had occurred and enlisted the help of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, who wrote on Jan. 18, 2017 that the reports on Açıkkollu should be re-evaluated in light of the torture findings. Fincancı explained that Açıkkollu had diabetes mellitus and that that should have been considered a trigger for a heart attack.
Açıkkollu’s wife filed a criminal complaint based on the claims of torture with the public prosecutor’s office, demanding the prosecution of the officials who were responsible for Açıkkollu’s death. The family also listed two witnesses who said they were ready to testify about the torture claims if they were summoned by the prosecutor. Açıkkollu’s lawyer did not file any complaint regarding these events.
Açıkkollu told the doctors during his visits to the hospital that he had been subjected to violence almost every day. He was transferred to Haseki Hospital because he suffered from a diabetic event while in custody. Despite serious and chronic illnesses, the doctors assessed his mental and physical condition as rendering him fit to remain in custody.
According to information provided by his cell mates, he could not tolerate being exposed to violence and receiving threats and insults to his family and screamed:, “I cannot bear any more. I will say whatever you want. It is enough. Stop.” But his police statement was not made official.
Lawyer Engin Emrah Biçer said: “We stayed together with Gökhan Açıkkollu. He was beaten to death while in custody. More than 15 people witnessed this incident.”
Another witness was an expert in forensic medicine who was detained at the same time as Açıkkollu and witnessed his beatings while in police custody. His lawyer reached out to the Açıkkollu family and said: “My client wants to testify [for the victim]. He wants to give information about the death of Gökhan Açıkkollu, who was subjected to violence.”
The lawyer also said: “He said that one of the witnesses was a journalist who is still in jail. He said he and the journalist would testify as to what they saw if the torture case were to be opened.”
However, prosecutor Burhan Görgülü concluded that there was no foul play in the death of the suspect in custody and dismissed the probe. He did not bother to take depositions from the witnesses who said they were ready to testify.
Açıkkollu, who graduated from the history department of Konya Selçuk University, was married with two children. He took a job at a public vocational high school in İstanbul in 2012 as a history teacher after working for private educational institutions affiliated with the Gülen movement.
July 15, 2016, the day the failed coup bid, was in fact the birthday of Açıkkollu’s son, who was preparing for the University Entrance Exam (YGS). The family had planned to cut a cake in the evening when they gave him presents. But everything was turned upside down when the terrible events started unfolding that day.
The wife of Açıkkollu, Mümine Açıkkollu, a government employee with 23 years of service, was also discharged under Decree Law No. 675, which was issued on Oct. 29, 2016. She was detained by police officers who went to their home on Feb. 24. She was questioned by the same prosecutor, Can Tuncay, who had detained and questioned Gökhan Açıkkollu. She was released on the grounds that she had no ties to the Gülen movement.
During the interrogation by prosecutor Tuncay, she was questioned about where they were on July 15 and how she met her husband. Tuncay alleged that her husband gave orders to the tanks going into action on the night of the coup. In response to those allegations, she told the prosecutor that “my husband did not even own a blank-firing pistol. He had nothing to do with giving military orders. He didn’t even know a single soldier.”
Severe trauma has taken a toll on the children as well. Their son received high marks on the university entrance exam but gave up his dream of becoming an engineer. He wants to study law instead now to fight against injustice. The youngest member of the family is in third grade. Although she has received psychological support, she cannot sleep without embracing her father’s photograph at night.