Turkey: The case of the vanished civil servants | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 27.10.2019
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Turkey: The case of the vanished civil servants

Earlier this year, a number of Turkish civil servants disappeared without a trace. They have now reappeared — in police custody. Their relatives suspect it may have been the police themselves who abducted them.

 Summeye Yilmaz (main photo, left) heard nothing whatsoever from her husband Mustafa for precisely 245 days. He disappeared in February, leaving no message. She had stopped thinking she would ever hear from him again, when suddenly she received a sign of life. The police called her in the middle of the night, telling her she could visit her husband at the main police station in Ankara, where he was being held in police custody.

When they met, her husband's appearance had changed. He was very thin; his skin was pallid, and his hands felt cold, says Yilmaz. She had so many questions to ask him: What happened to you? How come you disappeared so suddenly? But her husband gave very little information about the circumstances of his arrest. "I was taken to a place,” was his terse reply.

Read more: A return to dark days for journalists in Turkey

Was he abducted?

"But I don't believe it. There was something he didn't want to tell me," says Yilmaz, who is certain her husband was abducted. "There's even a video of his abduction: You can see someone putting a bag over his head and dragging him into a car." The authorities weren't able to give her any more precise information, either. Yilmaz wants a thorough investigation of her husband's kidnapping. The human rights activist Mehmet Murat Atak from the Ankara bar association had also been following the case closely. He tried to speak to Mustafa Yilmaz — but the police wouldn't let him visit.

Mustafa Yilmaz' case is not an isolated one. A number of similar stories have been making headlines in Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of public servants were sacked by emergency decree after the attempted coup on July 15, 2016. Along with Mustafa Yilmaz, five other people disappeared in Ankara during a wave of arrests in February this year: Salim Zeybek, Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan, Ozgur Kaya and Gokhan Turkmen.

Read more: Turkey: Censorship fogging up pollution researchers' work

Roundup of alleged Gülen supporters (picture-alliance/abaca/Depo Photos)

Thousands of people have been arrested for alleged links with US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen

Abducted after release?

Relatives of the six who went missing, as well as opposition politicians, are convinced that the Turkish security services had classified them as followers of the Gülen movement, who are accused of involvement in the attempted coup.

As in Yilmaz' case, the other families also heard nothing from their relatives for months, before receiving a call from the police on the evening of July 28. The Zeybek, Kaya, Irmak and Ugan families were informed that their missing relatives were with the counterterrorism authorities (TEM). There's still no trace of Gokhan Turkmen.

The other families are also in the dark as to where the abductees were held for six months. When they reappeared in July, they were kept in police cells for 12 days, then sent to prison. The families have been given no reasons as to why they're in custody. Yilmaz will probably also be sent to prison very soon.

Read more: Turkey holds thousands in solitary in Erdogan's prisons

Fethullah Gülen (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Smith)

Gülen has always denied being behind the coup attempt

'My child is innocent'

The families complain that official bodies have failed to address their concerns, and that they've been given absolutely no information. Nevin Yilmaz (main photo, right), Mustafa Yilmaz' mother, says she spent months searching for her son. She told DW it was as if he had vanished off the face of the earth. She even asked the interior and justice ministries for help — in vain — and went to the parliament in Ankara repeatedly to try to speak to AKP parliamentarians, also without success. "I don't believe that my child is guilty. I want justice from the Turkish Republic, and a fair trial," she says.

A report by the human rights NGO Human Rights Watch documents numerous cases of "abduction and systematic torture” in Turkey since July 15, 2016. They found an increase in evidence that people were being tortured in police custody.

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