Strip search and Turkey’s race toward barbarism

By saying she “doesn’t believe there is anything like the strip search happening in Turkey,” AKP deputy Özlem Zengin ignited a political conversation around the barbaric practice, but this not a new issue. Strip searching is a form of humiliation which has always been present in Turkey, but has recently become a regular practice in prisons and police stations. Such an act has no place within the law, rules, moral codes, and social conventions of our society.

Last week a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Özlem Zengin, incited outrage after saying that “strip searches don't exist in Turkey.” Hundreds of women began to recount their experiences with the strip search and sexual violence in Turkish penitentiaries. Such societal and political reactions to the strip search and sexual violence epidemic in Turkey are starkly different from the usual radio silence on the issue. Let us look at why that is.

Turkey has an abhorrent obsession with stripping. I do not say this as a metaphor or figure of speech. Our country has been literally stripping people and we are just starting to pay attention. Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, an HDP Kocaeli deputy, has been breaking his back trying to communicate this message for some time. In short, he is saying, “Strip searches in detention houses and prisons have become systematic. Stop this torture.”

If you take a look at Turkish society, you might think there exists an attentive political atmosphere, an attentive media, and an attentive regard for dignity and human rights; but for some reason, a collective hush falls over us when it comes to responding to cases of blatant torture. According to the MHP, the minor party of the ruling alliance, Gergelioğlu is part of a cattle-raising family that needs to be “destroyed,” in other words, he is from the HDP.

I will return to this MHP mass destruction invitation to the gray wolves, a Turkish far-right organization, another time, but what should I say to the pious Muslims who follow them in the mean time? Their inconsistences are innumerable: they say it is a sin when a woman does not wear a headscarf; they fought against the ban on headscarves; they take pride in belonging to a religion that forbids torture to humans and creatures; they consider “our civilization” superior to all other civilizations; and they have declared that half of our population is not included in that civilization. What would you say to those who are not ashamed to strip people? Such an act has no place within the law, rules, moral codes, and social conventions of our society.

Accepted torture

Gergerlioğlu has called it what it is: torture, from tip to toe. Are we now returning to such despicable torture methods such as electrocuting, strappado, baton inserting, foot whipping, washing with pressurized water, and being beating to death? Strip searching is a form of humiliation which has always been present in Turkey, but has now become a regular practice in prisons and police stations.

Why would a security officer strip a person that is under their custody? If you look at the countless justifications which have been made, it is often done in order to search for illicit/prohibited substances. If we look at their statements, everything is done in accordance with the law. However, in reality, such acts are not in compliance with the Turkish law and the constitution. To say this practice stems from necessity is a blatant lie.
Dehumanizing attempts

When Karacaoğlan, the 17th century Ottoman Turkish poet, said, “I have come naked and I will go naked,” he was referring to the two moments in life when a human is naked outside his/her will: Birth and death. The basic components of these two moments are that, for the first one, any perception of will or identity has not yet developed, and in the second one, will and identity have faded away.

The authority that forcibly strips a person against their will is attacking their right to bodily autonomy. The person who has been subjected to such torture is trapped somewhere between being a powerless infant and dead person. But these people are not dead or infantile, they have fully developed senses of awareness and feeling. When their clothes are forcibly removed, those senses, emotions, beliefs, self-perceptions and prides know the utter wrongness of the act and are wounded. It is an attempt to dehumanize an inmate, a detainee, a person in custody. To attack someone in this way it to say, “I am the master. If I want, I will strip you stark naked, like a baby handed to me or a dead body to be lowered to a grave. Everything you have, your body, your life, your being is all naked in front of my eyes and hands.”

The two barbaric masterpieces of American history, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, were places where the glittering words of imperialist murderers about the importance of law and justice, fell to pieces. It seems that Turkish imitators are now racing toward a similar barbarism.
Gergerlioğlu is one of the few putting up a fight for human dignity, and it is not being covered by newspapers or television channels simply because he is a HDP deputy. His words do not find their way into mainstream media, because it has been nationalized, civilized, or rather, barbarized. Why would they care about justice and honor when there are opportunities to show their appreciation for the government? What incentive do they have to do any differently?

Remember that a TV channel was recently involved in a propaganda war after adding guns and hand grenades to the HDP logo. They also saw no need to report the Kurdish child who was killed by “guns fired up in the air,” or the police punching a protesting worker who had already been forced onto the ground. It is in within cruelty’s nature to protect these ethno-political massacre machines.

In Turkey’s mainstream media, you will not find criticism of the doctor who made a nurse write “I am an idiot” 500 times. Let alone any story which could irritate the government. Instead, it is safer for them to fire shots at HDP members, or Syrians, torn apart from their land.

In this age of journalism, where ethical reporting is no longer a must, there are countless lies about those who escaped from Syria when their country was on fire, and the country’s infrastructure and superstructure were destroyed. The media finds it convenient not to recall that those bombs, fighters, and those policies came from here, our own country.

Notes:

1. A historic partnership
The strip search method was routine in prisons during the September 12, 1980 coup period. The infamous commander of the Diyarbakır Prison No. 5, Esat Oktay Yıldıran, would have been very proud of what is happening now if he could see it. So would be his commander, the coup leader Kenan Evren. It is the same method that would later be used in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. In fact, this similarity is not coincidental, as it is the historical and ideological similarities between global neo-liberal aggression and nationalist-religious movements that created Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

2. Strip searching is illegal
To “strip search” is against the Turkish Constitution and the law. There is no article that explicitly allows for “strip searches.” The only legal regulation that even refers to a need for nudity is CMK 75, in which action regarding the defendant's body is defined as “examination.” Touching the body is only allowed under certain conditions and there must be a court ruling. In cases emergency, the prosecutor's decision is adequate, but it must be approved by a judge within 24 hours. Of course, the procedure that CMK 75 is referring to can only be done by a physician, as it is an “examination.” A critical point in the article is that “any intervention in the area of the genitals and anus” is considered an “internal physical examination.”
This article should be interpreted as follows: “Examination means touch and therefore, the police, gendarmerie, and the guard should not touch.” This was the case before the AK Party came to power, but this system of torture has been adopted since.

3. Regulation beats the law
Despite the clarity of the law, Article 28 of the “Judicial Search and Prevention Regulation” states the opposite, and is clearly against the law.
The term “stripping” creates a confusion as to where the boundaries of “examination” exist.

4. Each regulation has its own law
In fact, there is an additional regulation that details the correct procedure: Article 3 of the “Regulation on the Body Examination, Genetic Examination and Physical Identification in Criminal Procedure.”  It states, “Medical examinations of the body: Evaluations made through medical methods by a medical doctor. External body examination: Medical examination of the outer surface of the body, ear, nose, and mouth areas by eye and hand. Internal body examination: Examination of the head, chest and abdominal cavities and subcutaneous parts.”
When this regulation and the clause in the law are viewed together, it becomes clear that a "strip search" by any law enforcement officers can in no way be legally justified.

5. Authority decides on shame
The strip search is not a new issue. Former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said: “This type of search called strip search is laid out in Article 46 and is applied only in exceptional circumstances.” He went on to say that the search in question was done properly, in accordance with the procedure as specified, and in such a way that it “did not violate the convicts’ sense of shame.”

6. ‘There is no strip search’
AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Özlem Zengin recently said, “I don’t believe there is anything like strip search happening in Turkey. There is no such thing. This question has already been answered by our Interior Minister at the General Assembly. I will say it clearly: This is an FETÖ (referring to the Gülen Community) method. And these women mentioned are the religious ones.” When they say, “there is no such thing,” the issue somehow disappears for them. Like magic. That is why they also keep on saying things like, “there is no Kurdish issue” and, “there is no poverty.” Statements such as these are about as correct as saying, “There is no person such as Osman Kavala, and if there is, then he is not in prison.”

7. Universal principles of barbarism
The partnership in neoliberal barbarism has driven our world into hell. This is beyond any one incident. It is now a shared mentality we are all living in.
Their concept of democracy destroy our countries.
Their laws destroy our justice.
Their political architecture destroys our spaces.
Their values destroy our souls.
Their rhetoric is destroying our minds.