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Right out of ISIL playbook: Turkish police tortured me as if it were a religious duty

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Cevheri Güven

“They [police officers] were torturing me as if they were performing a religious duty, just like ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] does.”

Mehmet Eren, a former teacher exposed to torture that involved beatings, electric shock and a feigned rape in a police station in Turkey, used these words to describe what he had undergone after being detained in the aftermath of a coup attempt in 2016.

Detained over links to the faith-based Gulen movement, Eren spoke to Turkish Minute about the severe torture he was subjected to while in detention at Turkey’s Afyon Police Department for nine days following the 2016 failed coup.

Eren was detained for the first time on April 23, 2016 for being the manager of a dormitory in Turkey’s Afyon province that belonged to the Gulen movement and was released after 73 days in jail without being subjected to any kind of maltreatment.

“But everything changed after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016,” the 37-year-old Eren told Turkish Minute, referring to his second detention on October 15, 2016 as well as to his affiliation with the faith-based movement.

Inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, the Gülen movement is labeled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a “terrorist organization” and is accused of masterminding the failed coup in July 2016.

Although Gülen and members of the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity, Ankara has been conducting a large-scale crackdown targeting them.

“After the detention, I was kept alone in a cell for five days. I was then sent to the anti-terror unit upstairs at 9:30 a.m. on October 20. I was brought in front of the office of a police officer named Teoman Yaman and told to wait, standing with my face against the wall and leaning my head on it. Teoman Yaman told me to come in and tell him everything I knew or that I should accept everything he said. When I told him I was innocent, he made me wait again. I don’t know how many hours I waited in that position,” Eren said.

He added that Yaman threatened to torture him to death when he called him into his office again.

“He threatened me, saying, ‘You cannot survive here. If you don’t talk, I will call for the torture team from MİT [National Intelligence Organization].’ I could hear the screams of other people being interrogated [with acts of torture]. It was frightening.”

The former teacher said a younger police officer took him out of the room and started banging his head against the wall while shouting some words at him that he was unable to understand before he was made to return to the room again.

Eren elaborated on police officer Yaman’s repeated threats to torture both him and his wife.

“He told me, ‘We rented an empty factory for torture. If you refuse to talk, we’ll take you there, strip you naked and rape you with a truncheon. We’ll do the same with your wife, too. We’re expecting two torture officers from MİT. They’re animals, and I won’t be able keep them away from your wife.’ He then let me out again to think, and I waited for a few more hours.”

When he was back in the room, Eren said he was asked to reveal the names of people who gave him orders about the coup attempt, and the police officers refused to listen to him when he tried to explain he was just a teacher with no connection to the abortive putsch.

“Two people came into Teoman Yaman’s room soon afterward. One of them asked what my profession was and slapped me in the face and swore when I told him I was a teacher. The other one pulled my hair and started punching me in the temples, saying, ‘I will do the same to your wife. I’ll send your child to an orphanage so that she won’t turn out to be a terrorist like you’,” Eren said.

Eren also told Turkish Minute that another police officer named Barış came into the room and threatened him with rape before the other officers continued to torture him by putting a plastic bag on his head.

“They laughed at me when I said I couldn’t breathe. I fell to the floor when they let me go. Then, someone came into the room. I was on the floor and I felt pain in my leg so acute that I thought they had stabbed me.”

The former teacher said he realized electric shock was being applied only after the officers repeated it on other parts of his body.

Eren looks at a news piece on torture in Afyon Police Department featuring a photo of Teoman Yaman.

“They applied electric shock to my back, kidneys, sexual organ and testicles. I remained on the floor for a while.”

Eren said the hours-long torture he was exposed to then turned into a feigned rape that made him lose consciousness by the police officer named Barış, who had threatened him with it earlier.

“They picked me up and made me lean my hands on the wall. The plastic bag was still on my head. Barış started to pull down my pants from behind. I grabbed one side of my pants with the other hand still against the wall. My feet were trembling while I was screaming, ‘Don’t do this.’ They shocked my hand and I fell to the floor. I was no longer able to stand.”

Eren went on to say that what scared him the most was the officers’ understanding of torture as some kind of religious obligation.

“When I regained consciousness and told them I wanted to pray, they said, ‘Do you think we don’t perform prayers just because we do this?’ I said my prayer and so did they. That was what scared me the most. They tortured me as if it were a religious duty, just like ISIL does.”

According to Eren, the torture that began around 9:30 in the morning ended at 9 p.m., and he was allowed to go back to his cell only after signing a statement given to him by the officers without the presence of his lawyer.

“Three or four days later, they took me upstairs again, but this time to the office of Talat Eryılmaz, where I saw my wife and my daughter. They said they were going to interrogate my wife while my daughter was crying, ‘Dad, get us out of here.’ Then the lawyer came and told me to ‘accept anything they say’ and he went to see my wife.”

“One of the officers who tortured me implied he could hurt my daughter sexually, telling me that he realized how grown up my daughter was,” he added.

Four days later, Eren was referred to Afyon Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Osman Çabuk but decided not to tell him about the torture he endured because he thought Çabuk already knew about it.

After hiding in Turkey for two-and-a-half years following his release, Eren fled to Greece with his wife and daughter. They then moved on to Germany, where they now live as refugees.

Eren says he still has nightmares about the torture a few times a week and feels uneasy around police officers.

Emphasizing that he will do anything he can to have the Turkish police officers who used torture tried in both local and international courts, the former teacher urged all the victims of police torture in Turkey to speak out about it.

Eren is one of the thousands of teachers who were removed from state jobs and arrested as part of a massive crackdown launched by the Turkish government on the Gülen movement in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt.

Since then, there have been widespread claims of torture in Turkey’s prisons and detention centers that have so far gone uninvestigated.

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