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Journalists foundation report sheds light on suspicious deaths in Turkish prisons

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The Gülen movement-affiliated Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF), based in New York, released a new report titled “Death in Custody: Right to Life in Turkish Prisons” expressing concerns over the increasing number of suspicious deaths in custody since an attempted coup on July 15, 2016 in Turkey, taking place in suspicious circumstances and in a pattern of systematic recurrence.

Over the last two years, the JWF has documented the death, under suspicious circumstances, of at least 60 individuals deprived of their liberty in the context of “measures undertaken against the coup plotters.”

JWF urged the international community to ensure the protection of individuals who are at risk of arbitrary deprivation of their life because of unlawful actions in Turkish prisons by state agents acting on behalf of the Turkish government. JWF also called on the international community to address, as a matter of priority and importance, the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey.

“Even though the government has vehemently denied that torture and ill-treatment [have] played a role [in] deaths under custody and [that] autopsy reports as well as investigation files have been kept confidential, it is beyond doubt that at least several of the deaths under police custody were a direct consequence of widespread, systematic and deliberate torture by the government of Turkey,” said the report

Turkish authorities accuse the Gülen movement of orchestrating the coup attempt, although the movement strongly denies any involvement. Still, the government launched a crackdown on the movement, publicly denouncing those who have any affiliation with it. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeatedly called on people to inform on their neighbors or relatives to the police if they had any links to the organization.

Since the abortive putsch, more than 400,000 people have been investigated by Turkish prosecutors over alleged Gülen links. According to Justice Ministry data, in excess of 30,000 people with alleged links to the movement are in prison.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had exposed details of torture cases in Turkey last year and called on the Turkish government to enforce its proclaimed policy of zero tolerance for torture. Under the title “Torture and ill-treatment,” the OHCHR stated:

“OHCHR documented the use of different forms of torture and ill-treatment in custody, including severe beatings, threats of sexual assault and actual sexual assault, electric shocks and waterboarding. Based on accounts collected by OHCHR, the acts of torture and ill treatment generally appeared to aim at extracting confessions or forcing detainees to denounce other individuals. It was also reported that many of the detainees retracted forced confessions during subsequent court appearances.”

Research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Turkey from February to September 2017 revealed accounts of severe beatings – resulting in bleeding, fractures and burns – in addition to electroshocks, unnecessary strip searches and sexual assault. A report released in 2017 by the Platform for Peace and Justice further confirmed ongoing beatings. The organization summarized the ill conditions resulting from overcrowding, such as inadequate shower and toilet facilities, and a shortage of food and beds.

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