Turkish authorities have sent a lawyer who has been imprisoned for four years on dubious terror charges to a high-security prison and put him in a solitary cell after he filed complaints about numerous torture incidents in jail. Metin Can Yılmaz, a rights advocate who has a Ph.D. in human rights law, was branded by authorities as a “dangerous inmate” after he pursued rampant allegations of torture in Keskin Prison, located in the Central Anatolian city of Kırıkkale.
Yılmaz has filed 41 legal complaints alleging torture upon investigating the files of co-defendants in his trial, according to court records from a hearing on September 30, 2020. During the latest hearing on December 24, Yılmaz asked the judges of the Ankara 16th High Criminal Court hearing his trial to recuse themselves, claiming that they have not looked into the complaints and therefore had lost their impartiality in the case. After Yılmaz’s request, the same court sent him to the Sincan high-security prison in the capital city of Ankara and placed him in a solitary cell, classifying him as a “dangerous inmate.”
In Turkey, inmates classified as dangerous are deprived of many rights enjoyed by other inmates. They are isolated and unable to see or talk to other inmates, having only an hour in the yard by themselves. These prisoners don’t have access to amenities such as TV or radio, and their access to books is restricted. Three guards accompany them when they meet with their families during visits.
Giving voice to torture allegations during trial
Yılmaz is the son-in-law of Enver Altaylı, a former Turkish intelligence agency member and a well-known figure in the country’s recent history who worked closely with former presidents Süleyman Demirel and Turgut Özal. Altaylı was favored by these presidents, to the extent that the Turkish presidency assigned a plane for his trips abroad. However, Altaylı was arrested on August 27, 2017, one year after a failed coup in 2016 for which Ankara blames Gülen movement, a religious group outlawed by Ankara. Altaylı has been imprisoned for alleged membership in the Gülen movement, and his son-in-law, Yılmaz, turned himself in after a court ordered his detention following that of his father-in-law. The two have been in jail since then.
Yılmaz and Altaylı filed many complaints claiming that they faced torture in police custody and that in prison they were being held in appalling conditions bordering on torture.
Fighting torture in jail
Yılmaz started to look into the torture allegations made by his co-defendants. He claimed there was systematic torture of Gülen movement members and said the courts were neglecting complaints lodged over allegations of torture against detainees accused of being members of the Gülen movement.
One of the torture claims he gave voice to in the hearing in September was that of Ertuğrul Akkaya, a detainee.
According to Yılmaz’s remarks in court, the police had made Akkaya stand for hours rear-handcuffed and took him to a room without cameras where he was battered and stripped naked. Yılmaz said a police officer named Abdulkadir Türkyıldız, whose badge number was identified by Akkaya as 153482, had made younger police officers lubricate his truncheon with soap and pressed it against Akkaya’s anus. Yılmaz cited Akkaya as saying that he was suffocated by a plastic bag put on his head three times.
Yılmaz said he related Akkaya’s allegations to a judge named Sebahattin Sarıdoğan; however, no investigations were launched into the claims. Upon seeing his appeals falling on deaf ears, Yılmaz filed a criminal complaint against the judge for hiding torture allegations and for discrimination.
“Judges of the Ankara 16th High Criminal Court have employed a policy of zero-tolerance against people who file complaints about torture, instead of zero-tolerance against torturers. They are also guilty of discrimination since they have been committing this crime solely against FETO [a derogatory acronym used by Ankara to refer to the Gülen movement] defendants, on purpose and repeatedly. On these grounds, I lodge a criminal complaint against Sebahattin Sarıdoğan and the other judges working with him, for wronging people through misconduct, and for the crime of discriminating against them intentionally and systematically,” Yılmaz said.
Another torture victim whose grievances were voiced by Yılmaz is Şükrü Ersoy.
Ersoy, who was also arrested for alleged Gülen movement membership, claimed that he was abducted by National Intelligence Organization (MİT) agents when he was in custody at the Ankara Police Department and was tortured to the point that he was about to “lose his sanity.” Ersoy alleged that he had to take antidepressants for months after the incident.
Yılmaz is still in Ankara’s Sincan high-security prison, sources say.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government accuse Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen along with members of the Gülen movement inspired by him of orchestrating the attempted coup that claimed the lives of more than 250 civilians in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
Although Gülen and members of his faith-based movement strongly deny any role in the abortive putsch, Ankara removed in excess of 130,000 civil servants from their jobs and imprisoned more than 80,000 citizens over links to the movement as part of a massive purge launched under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
Since then, there have been widespread claims of torture in Turkey’s prisons and detention centers that have so far gone uninvestigated.