Human Rights Watch has called on Turkey to investigate claims of enforced disappearances at the hands of state agents, as it cited the cases of a number of individuals.
“Turkish authorities should urgently carry out an effective investigation into credible testimony from a man in pretrial detention that state agents forcibly disappeared him for nine months and tortured him,” it said on April 29.
“Gökhan Türkmen is one of at least two dozen people over the past three years whose families, or in a few cases the individuals themselves, have said they have been abducted and forcibly disappeared by government agents for many months. All but one are men,” it added.
16 cases examined
The organization said that they examined 16 such cases since 2017, adding that Turkish authorities have yet to effectively investigate any of them.
According to Human Rights Watch, a number of families have applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for justice and that the whereabouts and fate of one man remains unknown.
“Flagrantly flouting its legal obligations, Turkey has consistently failed to investigate credible evidence of enforced disappearances,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities should urgently investigate Türkmen’s allegations that he was abducted, tortured, and pressured to remain silent, and ensure that he and his family are protected against reprisals for speaking out,” he added.
‘Authorities have to pursue the claims’
Türkmen, who is being tried over his alleged links to the movement of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, spoke for the first time during a Feb. 10 court hearing about his “abduction, enforced disappearance, and torture.” He also said that officials had visited him in prison and threatened him and his family.
“The authorities have an obligation to pursue a prompt and thorough investigation into these claims and to ensure that Türkmen and his family are not subjected to further reprisals and threats for speaking out about his enforced disappearance and torture,” the organization said.
Türkmen reportedly disappeared in the southern province of Antalya on Feb. 7, 2019. His family repeatedly sought information from various authorities about his whereabouts and when met with silence, appealed to the ECHR. Türkmen resurfaced in police custody on Nov. 6. An Ankara court sent him to pretrial detention and he remains in solitary confinement in a prison in Ankara.
‘MİT officials visited Türkmen’
Türkmen’s lawyer has also filed complaints that men who introduced themselves as National Intelligence Agency (MİT) officers have visited him in prison six times since Nov. 15 and threatened him and his family.
During a March 2020 visit, the men reportedly pressured him to retract his allegations about abduction and torture at the February court hearing. On April 16, the Ankara prosecutor issued three decisions saying there was no need to investigate the complaints. Türkmen’s lawyer is appealing.
Türkmen’s wife told Human Rights Watch that she had faced intimidation from unknown sources who hacked the Twitter account she had set up in her husband’s name to campaign about his whereabouts when he disappeared and set up a second one also in his name.
Four other men who were allegedly forcibly disappeared in February 2019 and resurfaced in police custody in July have remained silent on the full circumstances, although their families lodged multiple complaints with the Turkish authorities and to the ECHR.
The four – Selim Zeybek, Özgür Kaya, Yasin Ugan, and Erkan Irmak – are in pretrial detention in Sincan prison facing prosecution for links with the Gülen movement and espionage.
A fifth man, Mustafa Yılmaz, reportedly abducted in February 2019, resurfaced in police custody in October and is also in pretrial detention in Sincan prison.
Another man, Yusuf Bilge Tunç, reportedly disappeared in Ankara on Aug. 6, 2019 and his whereabouts remain unknown despite his family’s repeated pleas to the Turkish authorities for information.
“Enforced disappearances are an egregious crime, and their persistent occurrence in Turkey will only end if the authorities effectively investigate these incidents and bring those responsible to justice,” Williamson said.