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Human Rights

Report: Detainees tortured under Turkish state of emergency

NGO Human Rights Watch says that Turkish officials are violating human rights under the country's state of emergency. According to a report released on Tuesday, detainees suffer physical and sexual violence.

After a failed military coup against the government shook Turkey in July, contentious President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cracked down on any and all dissenters and those he perceives to be a danger to his power. Now Human Rights Watch (HRW) is saying that Turkey has not only seen the incarceration and firing of critical citizens, but that the country's police force has also tortured individuals in their custody.

Erdogan declared a state of emergency after the attempted coup. The decrees that were passed down in this context have removed important human rights safeguards, according to the report "A Blank Check: Turkey's Post-Coup Suspension of Safeguards Against Torture."

HRW researchers have documented that the decrees negatively affected the rights of detainees. In the report, they detail 13 cases of alleged abuse, including sleep deprivation, severe beatings, sexual abuse, and rape threats.

'Nobody will care if I kill you'

One of the cases the report details was brought to the attention of HRW by the family of a detainee. They overheard a police officer talking to another prisoner.

"Because of the state of emergency, nobody will care if I kill you," the officer reportedly told the detainee. "I will just say I shot you while you tried to run away."

Türkei Weltenergiekongress 2016 in Istanbul - Erdogan (Reuters/M. Sezer)

President Erdogan has used the coup to crack down even harder on his opponents

The lawyer of another prisoner told HRW that officers had threatened to rape his client with a baton, telling him that he wouldn't survive the next 30 days.

Under the emergency decrees, police can keep anyone incarcerated for 30 days without judicial review. Before the coup, the limit was four days. Detainees can also be denied access to a lawyer for up to five days. All these rules can be used to threaten those in jail, increase fear and keep family members in the dark.

Victims are afraid to talk

No one is able to contact and protect a detainee for five days. Even completely innocent Turks could be kept in jail for a month without the police having to prove anything. And with all the hate Erdogan is inciting against critical voices, prison is not a safe place, according to HRW.

"By removing safeguards against torture, the Turkish government effectively wrote a blank check to law enforcement agencies to torture and mistreat detainees as they like," Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

At the end of July, right after the coup, Amnesty International had also reported that detainees were abused in Turkish prisons. The organization was made aware of beatings, torture and rape. Andrew Gardner, one of the researchers who had worked on the report, said that many victims were afraid to talk and that most lawyers stayed away from taking on their cases.

"I've worked on the subject of human rights in Turkey for more than 10 years, and I've never seen this kind of fear," Gardner told DW at the time. "This great fear is present among people and in civil society organizations. Working on human rights in Turkey requires bravery, particularly for domestic human rights organizations, journalists and lawyers. If these brave people are that scared, it means this is serious."

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