Students strip-searched, maltreated during ECtHR president’s Turkey visit

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PHOTO: Amnesty (illustrative)

Turkish police violated regulations and strip-searched 23 female university students detained on Aug. 31 during the visit to Turkey of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) President Róbert Ragnar Spanó, Bold Medya reported on Tuesday, citing a detainee who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

The student said Turkish police mistreated the detainees, who were taken into custody over alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, by not letting them sleep at night, insulting them and forcing them to sign papers as their “statements of acknowledging fault.”

The incident took place when Spanó was paying a four-day visit to Turkey, which irked Turkish dissidents and international rights organizations. 

Spanó met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara at his presidential palace on Sept. 3. 

A day before, the top European rights judge received an honorary doctorate from Istanbul University, which had dismissed hundreds of academics on trumped-up charges as part of Erdogan’s mass crackdown on dissidents after an abortive coup in 2016. 

Spanó was the first ECtHR president to pay an official visit to Turkey, the government of which is a party to more than 16 percent of the cases before the Strasbourg court.

Students unlawfully strip-searched by police, says lawyer

Nurullah Albayrak, a Turkish lawyer who spoke to Turkish Minute about the legal aspects of the conduct that took place in the western province of Uşak, said it is unlawful to strip-search detainees unless exceptional circumstances are at play.

Sevinç Özarslan from Bold Medya interviewed one of the detained students about her experience during the five-day detention. The police had strip-searched the all-women group twice on “security” grounds, according to her account.

“They made us remove our underpants and squat several times,” Bold Medya quoted the anonymous detainee as saying.

“Hasn’t the [the reach of] the Istanbul Convention made it to Uşak? Why did people who are rightfully pro-convention not display the same vigilance against the strip-search? They should have. Why play ostrich while the victims are ashamed to talk about the incident?” tweeted Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, an MP from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in reference to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

“Apparently, the accusations that served as the basis for their detention were not violent in nature, as is the case with terror charges, but were nonviolent acts such as associating with other students and renting a house together,” Albayrak, a rights advocate lawyer living in exile, said.

“The strip-search in question is a humiliating practice and a violation of human dignity,” the lawyer noted. Regulations grant permission for law enforcement to strip-search detainees in exceptional circumstances, according to Albayrak, who claims that this was far from the case with female students in their late teens.

“The fact that law enforcement strip-searched the students, despite it being unnecessary, renders the conduct irreconcilable with human dignity. The officers’ conduct requires an effective investigation due to the violation of the right to a life with dignity, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, and in Turkey’s constitution.”

Ankara designates the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, a terrorist organization, and has been conducting a large-scale crackdown targeting them.

President Erdoğan and his government accuse the Gülen movement of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt. Gülen and the movement deny any involvement with the abortive putsch.

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