Witness Confirms Gokhan Teacher Tortured to Death by Police
Prison Cellmate Recollects Moments of Horror After Teacher’s Suspicious Death
Two years after his tragic death, details of teacher Gokhan Acikkolu’s last days have emerged and come to public scrutiny once again as one of his prison cellmates offered a harrowing account into the torture claims.
The Turkish public was stunned by revelations over police torture of Acikkolu in summer 2016. The Turkish authorities steadfastly refused torture claims then and stamped out an independent investigation into the tragic incident. In the official account, he died because of health problems presaging his prison days.
But according to his family, and independent observers, Acikkolu was tortured to death. He was brutally beaten and deprived of medical treatment although he suffered a heart attack in prison. Prison administration turned down his family’s quest for transferring him to a hospital for a proper treatment and denied access to most needed medicines for his diabetes. When he was finally brought to a hospital in August 2016, it was too late to save him.
More startling and disturbing was the fact that almost two years after his death, authorities cleared him of coup-related and terrorism charges and restored the now deceased teacher back to his post. It was too little and too late.
How he died in prison still remains a matter of controversy and mystery. The way how the Turkish government handled the case fuels genuine skepticism and suspicion over the official narrative. Almost nobody believes it in Turkey.
And with a former prison cellmate of the deceased teacher now publicly speaking about his last days, the issue has taken a new turn. Journalist Cevheri Guven, living in northern Greece after fleeing the persecution in Turkey, spoke to Bold Medya, divulging details about how police headquarters in Istanbul became the center of torture for people who were taken into custody in the post-coup crackdown.
The Gokhan teacher appears to be the first victim of torture in this notorious place. Guven says that there are more than 15 witnesses who corroborate the claim that Acikkolu was tortured to death.
A teacher, who spoke to Bold Media on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution back in Turkey, was staying in the next cell to Acikkolu’s room. He also suffered torture at the same place, Istanbul Police Department headquarters.
There was a doctor in the witness’ room. He tells Bold Medya that one day there was a chaotic and urgent hurry on the part of policemen who back and forth moved from one place to another in a state of panic in the corridors.
Panic pervaded the atmosphere, and police shouted at one another. At one point, the door of their cell was wide opened. Police fetched the doctor there and urged him to check the situation of Gokhan teacher next room.
The doctor, the witness said, was trembling and his hands were shaking when he returned the room. Police moved Gokhan teacher out. “We lost the friend [Gokhan teacher],” the doctor told other prisoners in the cell.
The account of the witness challenges the prosecutor’s official document about the cause of Acikkolu’s death. The teacher, the prosecutor wrote, died of his diabetes. But the doctor, who, upon the request of police officers, first intervened to help Acikkolu said he died of beating. He appeared to receive fatal blows to his head and died of torture, not diabetes.
Cerebral hemorrhage or heart attack, the doctor said was the probable cause of Acikkolu’s death, the witness told in a new video interview.
Acikkolu was among the tens of thousands of people who had been remanded immediately in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016. He was a history teacher at a public school in Istanbul’s Umraniye district when he, along with his wife, were both dismissed in a sweeping purge campaign.
His death was a particular case that stained public conscience as authorities denied a funeral service for his family. Istanbul Mayor’s Office refused to provide a space in a graveyard, so did the local officials in Acikkolu’s hometown, a village in the central province of Konya. Officials even proposed burying him in the “cemetery of traitors,” a policy briefly introduced as a form of punishment against coup plotters. Facing public criticism, the government later retracted the idea.
The teacher was interrogated neither by a prosecutor nor by the police officials. During his detention, he only faced mistreatment and, according to his family, torture. When his situation deteriorated, he was taken to a hospital, only to be sent back to the police detention.
Guven details how his wife, Mumine Acikkollu, struggled to deliver his medicines in the face of the official ban. After her first visit to custody to see her husband, she detected signs of torture and lodged a petition with the office of Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor to investigate whether her husband faced torture. But her efforts yielded no tangible result in the chaotic atmosphere of the post-coup era.
Their agony did not end with the teacher’s death. The inhumane treatment by authorities and denial of funeral service added to their plight.
Two years after into his death, authorities still refuse to launch an investigation into the role of police officers over his death. But as more and more people speak out and more witnesses come out to offer their sides of the story, it becomes ever difficult for authorities to bury the truth and drag their foot for a thorough probe.
Acikkollu might have been the first victim, but certainly was not the last one. As long as his case remains unresolved, police officers and officials, who commit crimes against humanity and involve in torture, would acquire the feeling that they may get away with whatever they do. They should not have such an impunity and freedom.
If Acikkollu’s torturers are brought to justice, other officials would be deterred and further such incidents would be prevented.