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Opposition leader slams strip-searches, says party ready to support legislation banning them

CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Tuesday broke his silence on a heated debate over unlawful strip-searches conducted on women in police custody and prisons, saying his party is ready to support legislation to ban the practice.

Referring to an incident that took place in the western city of Uşak in September when 30 female university students were strip-searched while in police custody, Kılıçdaroğlu criticized the practice and the authorities’ denial of its existence.

“You first claimed it was a lie. It turned out to be true,” the CHP chair said.

“Do you think you can achieve justice like that? I have a hard time understanding it. If they move to abolish strip-searches, we are ready to lend any support necessary,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses (CTE) admitted in a press release on Tuesday to the practice of strip-searches in prisons, saying it is an exceptional measure, restricted to cases where there is reasonable suspicion that a person is carrying contraband into the facility.

Özlem Zengin, deputy group chairperson of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), had denied the existence of the practice last week.

“I have never believed in the existence of strip-searches in Turkey. There simply is no such thing,” Zengin said in an interview with Euronews Turkish service on Thursday.

The CTE, part of the Ministry of Justice, contradicted Zengin in its press release, saying that while the searches are not conducted fully naked, a detailed search requires the removal of most clothing in line with regulations.

Following Zengin’s denial, a number of women subjected to unlawful strip-searches in Turkey’s prisons have come forward to talk about their experiences in videos shared on social media.

Among those women are journalists, lawyers, teachers, doctors and housewives, mainly comprising women who have been detained or arrested on charges of terrorism due to their alleged affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement.

The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said the victims’ campaign to speak out against strip-searches had yielded results, sharing a message from a prison visitor who said that guards had not conducted their routine strip-search for the first time in four years during her latest visit.

The HDP deputy had recently brought the issue to public attention, reporting on the September incident in Uşak when female students detained due to alleged links to the Gülen movement were strip-searched before admission to a detention facility.

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