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HRW calls on Turkish officials to investigate enforced disappearance, torture claims

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Turkish authorities should urgently carry out an effective investigation into credible testimony from a man in pretrial detention that state agents forcibly disappeared him for nine months and tortured him, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

The man, Gökhan Türkmen, is one of at least two dozen people over the past three years whose families, or in a few cases the individuals themselves, have said they have been abducted and forcibly disappeared by government agents for many months. All but one are men.

Human Rights Watch has examined 16 such cases since 2017. Turkish authorities have yet to effectively investigate any of them, and a number of families have applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for justice. The whereabouts and fate of one man remains unknown.

“Flagrantly flouting its legal obligations, Turkey has consistently failed to investigate credible evidence of enforced disappearances,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The authorities should urgently investigate Türkmen’s allegations that he was abducted, tortured, and pressured to remain silent, and ensure that he and his family are protected against reprisals for speaking out.”

Türkmen, 43, spoke for the first time during a February 10, 2020 court hearing about his abduction, enforced disappearance and torture. He also said officials had visited him in prison and threatened him and his family.

The authorities have an obligation to pursue a prompt and thorough investigation into these claims and to ensure that Türkmen and his family are not subjected to further reprisals and threats for speaking out about his enforced disappearance and torture, said HRW. 

Türkmen disappeared in Antalya on Feb. 7, 2019. His family repeatedly sought information from various authorities about his whereabouts and when met with silence, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. Türkmen resurfaced in police custody on Nov. 6.

An Ankara court sent him to pretrial detention, and he remains in solitary confinement in Ankara’s Sincan F-type Prison No. 1. He is facing charges of espionage and links to the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the Turkish government blames for a July 2016 coup attempt. 

Türkmen’s lawyer has also filed complaints that men who introduced themselves as National Intelligence Organization (MİT) officers have visited him in prison six times since Nov. 15 and threatened him and his family. During a March 2020 visit, the men pressured him to retract his allegations about abduction and torture at the February court hearing.

On April 16 the Ankara prosecutor issued three decisions saying there was no need to investigate the complaints. Türkmen’s lawyer is appealing. His wife told Human Rights Watch that she had faced intimidation from unknown sources who hacked the Twitter account she had set up in her husband’s name to campaign about his whereabouts when he disappeared, and set up a second one also in his name.

Four other men who were forcibly disappeared in February 2019 and resurfaced in police custody in July have remained silent on the full circumstances, although their families lodged multiple complaints with the Turkish authorities and with the European Court of Human Rights. The four –- Salim Zeybek, Özgür Kaya, Yasin Ugan and Erkan Irmak –- are in pretrial detention in Sincan Prison facing prosecution for links to the Gülen movement and espionage.

A fifth man, Mustafa Yılmaz, abducted in February 2019, resurfaced in police custody in October, and is also in pretrial detention in Sincan Prison. He, too, has avoided answering his family’s questions about his abduction and disappearance for eight months and is on trial for links to the Gülen movement and espionage.

Another man, Yusuf Bilge Tunç, disappeared in Ankara on August 6, 2019, and his whereabouts remain unknown despite his family’s repeated pleas to Turkish authorities for information.

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