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Kurdish villager dies from injuries sustained after being thrown from helicopter

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A Kurdish villager who was allegedly thrown from a military helicopter succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday after 20 days in intensive care.

Fifty-five-year-old Servet Turgut, a father of seven, died in the intensive care unit of the Van Regional Teaching and Research Hospital.

In protest of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) released a statement on Twitter.

“We are very sad and angry. The killers of Turgut are the people who detained him. A government mentality that tortures and kills its [own] citizens has no democratic legitimacy. This crime against humanity will be brought to justice in fair trials,” the tweet reads.

Turgut and Osman Şiban (50) were detained on September 11 in an army operation in the Çatak district of eastern Van province. Their families, who did not know their whereabouts for two days after their detention, finally found them in a hospital.

The two were subjected to torture and then thrown from a military helicopter, an allegation that was confirmed by a hospital report saying the reason for their initial hospitalization was trauma consistent with a fall from a height.

Unsurprisingly, Turkish media outlets did not report on the serious allegations, although the incident became a top trending topic on Twitter. Only then did the Van Governor’s Office issue a statement, on September 21, in which it confirmed their detention by soldiers but denied the torture claims.  The statement said Turgut had acted “suspiciously” and that his hospitalization was because of a fall from a cliff while running away from security forces despite an order to halt.

However, the statement contradicted the official claims because it said Şiban was believed to have been aiding and abetting members of a terrorist organization and was detained according to procedure. This was an official recognition of the torture as Şiban was later found at the hospital with serious injuries. When Şiban was moved from intensive care, his family was allowed to see him, on September 17. At the time, the family released photos showing his injuries.

Photos of Turgut taken in the intensive care unit were also released on September 23.

According to Şiban’s lawyer, who spoke to Amnesty International, his client was still suffering from partial memory loss. What he could remember was their beating by gendarmes.

Speaking to the Mezopotamya News Agency, Şiban’s brother Cengiz claimed that both victims were taken by gendarmes in view of all the villagers, who were forced to remain on their knees during the detention of the two men. While they were being taken away, villagers who tried to follow them were threatened with death by the soldiers, Cengiz added.

Şiban was discharged from the hospital on September 20 and later received a medical report stating that he was not able to provide an official statement to the authorities.

The Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office is reportedly conducting two criminal investigations, one into the two men and the other into the torture allegations. Lawyers for the victims are unable to access the investigation files since both probes are subject to a secrecy order.

Amnesty considers the allegations credible and released a public statement on September 25 calling for a “prompt, independent and impartial investigation” into the incident. The organization is concerned about the victims’ right to access justice.

In fact, throwing people to their death from a helicopter was a known method of torture in Turkey in the 1990s, when the Kurds were the victims of extraordinary violence. As is the case today, the then-ill-treatment received almost no media coverage. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in 1995 that suspected female terrorists were thrown from a helicopter on May 14, 1994, citing a “reliable” witness.

Mustafa Yeneroğlu, a deputy from the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) and also a former AKP deputy, submitted a written parliamentary inquiry to Defense Minister Hulusi Akar questioning what happened during the incident.

The news of Turgut’s death came as Turkey’s AKP government has been increasing its crackdown on Kurdish politicians. On Friday 82 HDP politicians were detained in police raids on their residences over the 2014 Kobane protests, six years after the events. The detentions are seen by many as a new wave of the AKP crackdown on Kurds. The HDP politicians are accused of having a role in the protests in Kurdish majority cities against the Turkish government’s tacit approval of the Kobane siege in October 2014. At the time, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants had laid a prolonged siege to the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria.

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