Turkey’s interior minister denies strip-search claims, brands rights advocate MP a ‘terrorist’

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Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu denied recent claims made by pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu that police strip-search detainees, accusing the lawmaker of being a “terrorist,” Turkish media reported on Thursday.

Speaking at a security meeting in Ankara, Soylu slammed Gergerlioğlu for giving voice to the strip-search allegations in parliament.

“The slander that strip searches [take place] is dishonest and despicable,” Soylu said. “It is cheap to give voice to these [allegations] on the floor of parliament.”

Soylu accused Gergerlioğlu of being a member of “FETO,” a derogatory acronym used by the government to label the Gülen movement, a faith-based group outlawed by Ankara, as a terrorist organization. The Turkish government accuses the Gülen group of instigating a failed coup in 2016. The movement denies the accusation.

“I call on the judiciary [to act]. Truly, this man is a terrorist. We have filed criminal complaints many times. Do what must be done,” Soylu said.

Gergerlioğlu responded to Soylu’s remarks on Thursday in a video shared on Twitter.

“They are attacking me because I said strip-searches do happen. If tomorrow Süleyman Soylu becomes a victim, I will defend his rights, too. If the AKP were to one day become the opposition and the victim, I would defend their rights as well. I’m a rights advocate,” Gergerlioğlu said.

“If I were a member of any group, I would reveal that information myself. I just focus on wronged people. I am a rights advocate; I don’t take into account the identity of the victims,” the HDP deputy stated.

The latest strip-search claims were brought to public attention by Gergerlioğlu, which prompted scores of women as well as men to share on social media their experiences of strip-searches.

Tuncay Özkan, a deputy from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), also shared his experience, saying he was strip-searched when he was imprisoned in 2008.

“I was strip-searched, forced by soldiers. This is a tragic thing. We cannot make it go away by denying it, gentlemen. We can’t deny it. We should acknowledge it. We can’t build anything on top of each other’s pain,” Özkan said, calling on lawmakers to change the regulations.

Temel Karamollaoğlu, chairman of the opposition Felicity Party (SP), also spoke out against strip-searches on Thursday, saying the practice is allowed by the current regulations in exceptional circumstances.

“It is shameful for those who came to power defending [the right to wear a] headscarf to strip-search people, insulting them. The public prosecutor [in Ankara] said he would investigate tweets about the allegations. I am giving voice to the allegations, too. Let them investigate us as well,” Karamollaoğlu said.

The claims of rampant strip-search were vehemently denied by AKP deputy group chairperson Özlem Zengin, who in a statement last week accused Gergerlioğlu of terrorizing the legislature by bringing such allegations to the floor of parliament.

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 were detained or arrested on charges of terrorism due to their alleged affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement.

Gergerlioğlu had recently brought the issue to public attention, reporting on a 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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