The Uncharted Lives of Women Battling the Legal System
The intent of this report is to declare the victims of the ‘New Turkey,’ especially women with children who have been under persecution since the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Although the Turkish government does not promote transparent data on the number of children imprisoned with their mothers, there are 864 children in the prison according to the Justice Department Prison and Penitentiaries Management. The ages of these children vary between newborns to 6 years, as of May 24, 2019.
This report is based on an interview conducted on behalf of Advocates of Silenced Turkey, via a telephone conversation. The information presented in the interview has been evaluated in accordance with the standards set by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Constitution of The Republic of Turkey, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules), United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). These documents have played a critical role in assessing the human rights violations in the case. This report briefly describes the current women’s rights violations in Turkey and aims to provide an overview of the current crisis.
Persecuted Lives in Erdogan’s Regime by Sevil Sena Kesgin
” Old Turkey no longer exists; this Turkey is new Turkey “
… said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an outrageous speech. Thus, started the story of the dictatorship and the despotic regime of Turkey. Following the alleged coup attempt of 15th July 2016, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) along with President Erdogan has taken a wave of oppressive actions against many innocent people, especially targeting members of the Gulen Movement. Although Gulen strongly denied any role in the failed coup and has called for an international investigation, President Erdogan and the Turkish Parliament has refused Gulen’s proposal. Instead of launching an investigation regarding the coup attempt and finding proof to support claims, the government decided to use the event as a tool to remove and detain people from all walks of life who oppose the government or simply do not support it.
Most of the recent detentions targeted a highly educated segment amongst women’s groups including professionals ranging from academicians, doctors, and teachers to judges and prosecutors. According to Advocates of Silenced Turkey’s report on human rights violations in Turkey, “more than 130,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs. In correlation, more than 217,000 have been detained, 160,000 have been arrested and an unknown number of people have fled from their home country in hopes of finding their freedom” since July of 2016.1
In the aftermath of the government’s propaganda, those labeled as “traitors” have been shown no goodwill by prosecutors and judges who view even pregnant women and homemakers as non-threatening offenders even if they have no prior criminal records. Women have been arrested and tortured over these baseless claims. According to the Turkish Criminal Code, Law No. 5275, Article 16/4 the implementation of Criminal and Security Measures prohibits the arrest of women with babies younger than six months and pregnant women:
“The execution of the prison sentence against a woman who is pregnant or who gave birth less than six months ago shall be postponed.”
However, these rules seem to not apply to Gulen Movement supporters. The young generation growing under this cruel regime have witnessed torture both in the jails and at the courts. Unfortunately, the number of children in Turkeys’ prisons exceeds 3000 according to an AST report. The treatment of female prisoners and their children has deteriorated during the years in which Turkey has experienced a general shift towards authoritarianism.
BEHIND THE SCENES: A TRUE STORY
Ayse Kaya is one of the victims of the ‘New Turkey.’ She is a mother of one, who was detained only a day after she delivered her baby in Istanbul and was then transferred to a police station in Edirne, 240 km away from Istanbul. She is a Gulen Movement member who used to work at a non-profit organization managed by women. Ayse Kaya’s life took a radical turn after the so-called coup attempt, just like other innocent victims. On December 16th, 2016, in the midst of her first pregnancy she received a call from the local prosecutor’s office which informed her of the warrant for her arrest. She was accused of being a member of a terror organization. She speaks of her decision to evade the law until after her birth and said that she refused to report to the police department to give her testimony because all of her friends had been arbitrarily taken into custody for their affiliation with the Gulen Movement without a valid reason or any evidence. This situation is entirely against the principles exemplified by Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
“No one shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed.”
On July 25th, 2017, about half an hour after Ayse’s labor, police officers arrived at the hospital. On the 27th, she was taken to the prosecutor for her interrogation and was detained for a week. She was later released with the condition to report to the authorities once a week to provide her signature. In the period of nine months before Ayse and her husband fled from Turkey, Ayse and her baby continued to provide her signature and to live in different secret locations with her husband who was at risk due to the search warrant issued against him.
IMPROPER JUSTIFICATION FOR ARREST and TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
When Ayse was informed about her arrest warrant, she was in the midst of her first pregnancy. As is necessary for every pregnant woman, Ayse too needed routine doctor’s appointments for both herself and her baby’s well-being. However, she could not go to hospitals because of the formal processes and constant security checks. Ayse spent the duration of almost her entire pregnancy completely in the dark about her baby’s health. She describes her helplessness during those months, saying:
“I was happy only the times when he was moving in my womb because at that time, I knew he was fine.”
On the night of 24th July 2017, Ayse’s contractions began. She tried to control the labor process using the knowledge she had gained through research. She had planned to have a homebirth with a midwife in order to avoid the possibility of being caught by police officers. However, things didn’t go as expected and she knew that she needed to go to a hospital. Still hoping to preserve her freedom, Ayse waited at home until the last possible moment before leaving for the hospital. Upon her arrival, birth was just minutes away. She was immediately taken to the operating room. Approximately half an hour after Ayse’s labor, police officers showed up at the hospital. They wanted to interrogate Ayse right away, but she refused their demand because of the unsuitable environment. The next morning, Ayse was discharged from the hospital and was delivered to the police officers. They took her and her baby directly to the police station, saying that the interrogation would take about five minutes and that Ayse could then return home. Their words were far from the truth.
Although each and every police officer has to always advise the victim, witness, or suspect of his or her rights before an interrogation, Ayse was not informed properly about her rights. Moreover, she was interrogated by a police officer multiple times in the absence of her lawyer and was then taken with her newborn in tow to the local courthouse of Edirne — 240 km away from Istanbul where she gave birth. The group of police officers who accompanied her to Edirne were all men. Although the standards in place stipulate that women detainees shall be supervised by female officers and staff, there were no female police officers in the car. Ayse was in the postpartum period and had given birth only a day ago. She had private needs that she could not meet because she was surrounded by men. The incident is tremendously upsetting and violates a multitude of articles of different declarations.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5 and 9;
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
Moreover, according to the Bangkok Rules, women in Ayse’s condition have the right to be treated humanely;
“There is a prohibition of solitary confinement or disciplinary segregation for pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers.”
These rights are all addressed by the law, but there is the invisible fact of the psychological state of new mothers. As the delivery process brings many psychological and physical shifts in a woman’s life, the actions of the Turkish state and its actors caused both physical and emotional distress.
DETENTION CENTER CONDITIONS
When Ayse arrived at Edirne, she was interrogated without her lawyer countless times.
Mrs. Kaya mentions in her interview that the organization she was employed at was completely legal, operating under the appropriate government department that oversaw non-profit organizations, and was subject to unannounced government audits. However, as in the personal interview conducted by AST, Ayse claims that she was accused to be a member of an association which was identified as a terror organization by the Turkish authority which violates the right of freedom of assembly.
According to the Article 33 of Constitution of The Republic of Turkey;
“Everyone has the right to form associations, or become a member of an association, or withdraw from membership without prior permission.”
Ayse stayed at the hospital that first night in Edirne at which point the doctors diagnosed her baby with jaundice. Because of the immediate detainment after labor and the long distance to Edirne, Ayse had not found enough time to breastfeed her baby. While the baby was taken for the treatment, everyone else neglected to check Ayse’s situation, although she had given birth the day before. Despite the inflammations of her body, she couldn’t get treatment for herself. In her interview, Ayse says;
“I was brought into a clinic for a health assessment and I repeatedly told everyone…that I had given birth. I naively repeated myself, telling them about my post-birth stitches. I hoped that doctors would be more understanding, but they did not care at all, transferring me from one floor to another without listening to my pleadings.”
On the 27th of July, two days after labor, Ayse was taken to the prosecutor for her interrogation. During the tribunal, the prosecutor assumed a tough attitude towards Ayse because of the pressure on him related to her situation on social media. The prosecutor threatened Ayse with her newborn baby and forced Ayse to tell him things that he wanted to hear. He explicitly threatened her, saying, “You cannot see your baby again.” However, his threats and his other comments were not recorded by the clerk during the interrogation.
These actions are a complete violation of Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”
Article 25 of Constitution of The Republic of Turkey;
“Everyone has the freedom of thought and opinion. No one shall be compelled to reveal his/her thoughts and opinions for any reason or purpose; nor shall anyone be blamed or accused because of his/her thoughts and opinions.”
Most interestingly, the officials offered Ayse her release in return for her husband’s arrest. The prosecutor clearly violated the law which sets forth that there is no way to hold someone responsible for another individual’s crime.
According to the Constitution of The Republic of Turkey, Article 38/7;
“Criminal responsibility is personal.”
When Ayse refused their bid, asking why her release would be offered if she was truly a criminal, the prosecutor immediately issued an arrest warrant for her husband as well. This too is a violation of a right stated in the Turkish Constitution.
According to the Constitution of The Republic of Turkey, Article 38/5;
“No one may be compelled to make a statement that would incriminate himself or his legal next of kin or to present such incriminating evidence.”
ILL-TREATMENT and OTHER DEGRADING CONDITIONS
Unaware of all these formal procedures was a newborn baby waiting at the hospital all alone, in need of his mother more than anything else. As baby Ekrem was under phototherapy, breastfeeding would have aided in his recovery, but Ayse was not allowed to nurse her baby during the specific milking times of the hospital. Despite all her petitions, she could not go to feed her baby during the daytime. Being a woman or mother does not mean anything to the Turkish authorities. Even a basic right can be violated easily in Turkey.
According to the Rule 48 of United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders;
“Women prisoners shall not be discouraged from breastfeeding their children unless there are specific health reasons to do so.”
Before the court order, she had a week full of interrogations both in the police station and the prosecutor’s office. She was just in her first week after delivery, and the conditions she was faced with were not suitable for her health. Her environment was not adequate for someone who needed to rest and should not have been standing all day. Since she spent the entire week mostly standing, her hands and feet were swollen. The relevant authorities did not provide appropriate healthcare to Ayse which is another violation of her rights.
According to the UN Bangkok Rules on Women Offenders and Prisoners;
“In addition to reproductive healthcare, gender-specific responses are needed for mental health, substance abuse and the treatment and care of other diseases. Women prisoners should have the same access to preventative healthcare, such as breast cancer screening, as offered to women in the community.”
During the week, Ayse stayed at the hospital where no food from outside the hospital was permitted. She could not eat because of the poor food quality and requested to have food from outside; however, the police officers did not allow this. Although she needed to eat well to produce enough milk for baby Ekrem, she could not eat any cooked meal for an entire week and drank only fruit juices. As a breastfeeding woman, she did not receive any additional food items or vitamins to supplement her complex dietary needs. In her interview, Ayse says that she once asked the police officer to go to the hospital’s canteen to have soup. However, even on the way to the canteen, the police officer showed ill-treatment both physically and verbally by jostling her in front of other people.
The public prosecutor decided to release Ayse on probationary terms during which she would need to provide her signature twice a week. Ayse began to live with her mother-in-law because her husband had to live in secret locations. One day, she received a call that informed her about the indictment which would sentence her to seven to fourteen years in prison. That same day, Ayse left her mother-in-law’s home where police officers came to arrest her the next morning. They pressured her elderly mother and father-in-law to reveal Ayse’s location. The police officers also visited Ayse’s husbands’ grandmother’s house. Police officers came along to search the houses three more times after this. Ayse and her family could no longer stand this cruelty and injustice. They had been forced into civil death and did not want to be treated like traitors any longer. They hoped to start living together as a family again and so one night, Ayse along with her husband and baby, emigrated from Turkey on dangerous waters as they crossed the Evros River with seventeen others on a small boat.
All of those people had one ultimate goal: the hope of finding new lives overseas.
“Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 30.
1 Advocates of Silenced Turkey. “Key Human Rights Violations in Turkey Since the So-Called Coup Attempt.” 2020. https://silencedturkey.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Key_Human_Rights_Concerns_in_Turkey-4.pdf
Gamze Hanim: Disrupted Families by Ahsen Kocaman
In July of 2016, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens would drastically change as they found themselves being unjustly accused of terror crimes. On July 15th, Turkey would experience an attempted coup, which would ultimately be blamed on the Hizmet movement, a faith-inspired civic movement rooted in Islam. This community of people follow the teachings of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Islamic cleric and a spiritual leader. It is this very community that was accused of being a terrorist organization by the Turkish government, which led to the unjust mistreatment of thousands of Turkish citizens.
The 2016 coup attempt became the catalyst for the uptick in instances of human rights violations that would take place in Turkey. In a recent Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) report, reported numbers are staggering: more than 130,000 individuals residing in Turkey have lost their jobs, more than 217,000 have been detained, and 160,000 have been arrested since then.1 Each individual has their own story, but the themes of suffering and heartbreak are a common ground for most of them. Within a few hours after the attempted coup, a group of Turkish citizens found themselves labeled as terrorists — at times by those closest to them. This singular event essentially led to immense pain and hardships that thousands of men, women, and children would face as they struggled to find freedom in a changed world.
One victim to such struggles is a Turkish woman named Gamze. As an attorney in Turkey, it was her job to protect the law of the land as instituted in the constitution. Yet, even attorneys themselves can find the system working against them. It was this very system that betrayed Gamze and her family, unjustly imprisoning her husband and forcing Gamze and her two children to flee the country they once called home. The obstacles Gamze and her family faced were a result of the lawlessness in Turkey. The laws that Gamze once vowed to protect were not there to protect her as the system was misused to purposefully mistreat thousands of Turkish citizens.
In the years since the attempted coup of 2016, Turkish citizens of varying ages and backgrounds have found themselves as victims to the unfair and unjust legal system in Turkey. In a nation filled with corruption, these individuals have been subject to mental and physical anguish, whether imprisoned or not. Those who are imprisoned, such as Gamze’s husband, are subject to unsanitary, inhumane prison conditions for crimes they didn’t commit. These prisoners are left to wonder when — or if — they’ll ever experience full freedom again. Those who are not imprisoned live in constant fear of what could happen to themselves and their loved ones at any given moment. A knock on their door in the early morning hours could mean that life as they knew it would be changing from that moment onward.
This is the story of Gamze, a Turkish lawyer who became victim to the system that was meant to protect her.
This report is based on a combination of desk research and interviews held by Advocates of Silenced Turkey. For the interview portion, a representative of AST interviewed Gamze via a video chat, which was then uploaded to the official YouTube channel of AST for the greater public to view. The desk research portion of this report was completed through a series of steps, the first being to familiarize oneself with the case. The second step was to identify the violations within the case. The third step consisted of conducting research on domestic laws in Turkey and international laws. These included looking into three types of central texts: official United Nations documents, European Council of Human Rights documents, and the Turkish Constitution. The final step in the desk research was to compare violations in the case against standards set in these three central texts.
The purpose of this report is to shed light on the human rights violations occurring in Turkey in the present day. This is only one story out of thousands, and our goal is to advocate and raise awareness for these individuals and the human rights violations they have been victim to. Perhaps most importantly, we aim to provide a platform for victims to make their voices heard.
Gamze and Her Family
Gamze was an attorney by occupation, living in Istanbul, Turkey with her husband and two children — a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old son. Her husband, an electrical engineer, would embark on a business trip in May of 2017 which would eventually lead to his imprisonment and the fleeing of his wife and two sons. Although a seemingly normal business trip, Gamze’s husband found himself under arrest after the hotel he checked into alerted the police about his whereabouts. It was then that the lives of Gamze and her family took a turn for the worse.
Human Rights Violations
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
In the midst of her husband’s arrest by the Turkish police, Gamze was unaware of what had just happened to him. It was hours later that she received a call from her husband. During this pre-trial period, Gamze was not only kept from knowing that her husband had been arrested in the first place, but she also wasn’t made aware of where he was being kept. It was only after a long search with her husband’s family that they were able to find which police station he was being held at. This withholding of information ultimately violates Article 19 of the Turkish Constitution which states that the next of kin of an arrested individual shall be notified immediately when a person has been arrested.2 Similarly, Rule 68 in The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known commonly as the Nelson Mandela Rules, states that “Every prisoner shall have the right, and shall be given the ability and means, to inform immediately his or her family… about his or her imprisonment.” 3 In the case of Gamze and her family, the authorities did not contact Gamze or her husband’s family in an appropriate manner immediately following his arrest, and it was only through their own efforts that his family was able to locate his whereabouts.
Gamze’s husband’s mistreatment began during this pre-trial period. In her interview, Gamze describes how her husband was kept from using the bathroom for an extended period of time — an incident that they decided to file in a report. Because his family decided to do this, Gamze’s husband suffered the consequences. He was made to kneel in front of the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk statue in front of the police station as a public display of shame. For thirty minutes, he was hand-cuffed and presented to any passerby who may have walked by the station that day. At the end of the grueling thirty minutes, his wrists had turned red from the handcuffs. It was only with the threat of filing a report to the doctor did the police finally remove Gamze’s husband’s handcuffs. This period of public humiliation that Gamze’s husband was put through, essentially violates a multitude of laws and human rights conventions. Article 17 of the Turkish Constitution states; “No one shall be subjected to torture or maltreatment; no one shall be subjected to penalties or treatment incompatible with human dignity.” 4 Similarly, the first rule of the Nelson Mandela Rules dictates:
All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. No prisoner shall be subjected to, and all prisoners shall be protected from, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification.5
Likewise, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 5 and the European Convention on Human Rights Section 1, Article 3 state parallel conventions. 6 In the act of publicly humiliating Gamze’s husband for filing a report, these various laws and conventions are ultimately violated. Per the Nelson Mandela Rules, the circumstances within which the police decided to punish Gamze’s husband, do not justify the degrading treatment that he received that day in front of the police station. The physical as well as psychological effects of such maltreatment on the detained prisoner is apparent.
Upon his arrest by the Turkish police, Gamze’s husband waited in jail for a week until he had his trial and was officially charged. The reason for his arrest consisted of multiple accusations. His name was allegedly in the data on an SD card, and this information was confirmed by another individual who named Gamze’s husband to the authorities. Furthermore, depositing money and having a retirement account at Bank Asya, a private bank affiliated with the Hizmet movement, was another reason for his arrest. Yet another cause cited for the arrest was his attendance and participation at Hizmet movement. He was additionally accused of stealing KPSS questions, a standardized test in Turkey. During the course of the trial, Gamze’s husband was also accused of living in Hizmet affiliated housing during college in 2002, a time in which Gamze states that her husband wasn’t even living in Turkey. The documents that the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) produced to prove this were falsified documents, meant to further incriminate Gamze’s husband. Gamze explains this as follows: “…even though [my husband] wasn’t in Turkey in 2002, he [was] faced with such an accusation. Of course, we proved this, and we even sued the MIT for the creation and presentation of fake documents…” This act by a government agency is a violation of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 10 as well as the European Convention on Human Rights Section 1, Article 6. Both conventions state that individuals are entitled to a fair trial, something that Gamze’s husband was ultimately denied due to document falsification. 7
Gamze’s husband was ultimately handed a sentence of 8 years and 3 months.
Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The prior mentioned incident regarding Gamze’s husband and the Ataturk statue was the first instance of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The pre-trial treatment of the detained individual did not change much upon his admittance into prison. Though Gamze’s husband was assigned to a prison ward with a capacity of 10-12 people, an overwhelming 36 prisoners were made to live there. To be clear, this was not for a short amount of time; rather, it is the seemingly permanent conditions that her husband was made to live in for years at a time. Prisoners were forced into tight quarters meant for a third of the number of people actually occupying the space. Such instances of overcrowding can lead to insanitary conditions which pose a potential risk to an individual’s mental and physical health. This cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners is a violation of Article 17 of the Turkish Constitution, which prohibits maltreatment of any individuals; a similar convention can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 5 and European Convention on Human Rights Section 1, Article 3. 8 Most importantly, Rule 13 of the Nelson Mandela Rules dictates that: “All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.” 9 The inhumane treatment of prisoners in regard to their over-capacity living space is yet another violation that Gamze’s husband was subject to during his time in prison.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The violation regarding the number of people in a prison ward are only one of the factors attributing to the terrible conditions in the prison. In addition to living in a small, confined place with a large group of people, there were no activities or classes offered for Gamze’s husband and his prison mates. It is important to note that other prisoners who weren’t affiliated with the Hizmet movement were provided activities or classes while in prison. This indicates that prisoners such as Gamze’s husband were denied these classes simply due to political and ideological differences. The Nelson Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners addresses these specific issues in a few rules. Rule 4.2 states that “prison administrations and other competent authorities should offer education, vocational training and work, as well as other forms of assistance that are appropriate and available, including those of a remedial, moral, spiritual, social and health- and sports-based nature.” 10 Similarly, Rule 105 of the Nelson Mandela Rules indicates that “Recreational and cultural activities shall be provided in all prisons for the benefit of the mental and physical health of prisoners.” 11 The failure to provide activities and classes for specific prisoners when these activities and classes existed for other prisoners is a human rights violation. Due to the political affiliations of Gamze’s husband, he was denied this right.
Conditions did not get any better for the prisoners as they often found themselves with no access to water. Gamze recounted that at times there was no water coming from the pipes. On other occasions, prisoners either did not receive hot water, or any water at all. Once again, these create the risk of unsanitary conditions. The lack of water is a violation of Rule 18.1 of the Nelson Mandela Rules which states that “Prisoners shall be required to keep their persons clean, and to this end they shall be provided with water and with such toilet articles as are necessary for health and cleanliness.” 12 With no continuous access to water, the well-being of prisoners would essentially be at stake. Once again, one does not need to look any further than Article 17 of the Turkish Constitution, Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which state that the maltreatment of prisoners are prohibited. 13
During the course of her husband’s time in prison, Gamze and her two children were also going through a series of hardships. Gamze and her sons left home to stay in a friend’s house where they remained for a few months. When the order came for her arrest, the police searched Gamze’s parents’ house. It was at this point that she and her husband, whom she had been in communication with up until then, decided that she and the children should leave the country for their own safety. Gamze fled Turkey for Greece approximately three months later. A week beforehand, Gamze’s mother and children had caught a flight to the United States of America after being able to obtain visas. Gamze had to travel through Greece first to be able to escape Turkey. Once in Greece, she thought that she would easily be able to book a flight to America; however, she found out that her visa had been canceled. She had expected a quick and painless escape to freedom; this news shattered that probability.
After two months in Greece without her family members, Gamze eventually went to Germany. At that point, Gamze planned for her mother and children to fly to Germany where they would be reunited. Much like her previous experiences, this reunion had more obstacles than Gamze had expected. Due to complications in air travels with certain companies, her children were not able to fly over to Germany to join their mother. Upon booking a second flight after their first failure, Gamze’s children finally made it to Germany where they landed in Frankfurt Airport. This time around, Gamze was nervous about how she was going to find her children at the airport, whether or not she would be able to prove her relation to them, and a variety of other possible problems.
In the midst of all this stress, Gamze found help through the Diakonie Deutschland organization. A woman working there had listened to Gamze’s entire story and had cried alongside her, vowing that no matter what happened, she would reunite Gamze with her children. In an emotional account, Gamze explains that this woman took them into the terminal and spoke with the police. The Diakonie representative told the police that they were in no way to act or to speak harshly to Gamze and that she was a mother who was about to reunite with her family. To this, Gamze said, “Of course this was a very emotional moment. I mean you think, this person isn’t a Muslim, you don’t know if she is a person of faith, yet she is a good person … It was a very different moment, I mean that woman taking care of me, respecting motherhood and the sacredness of motherhood is a very important thing.” Upon this very touching and meaningful moment, the police took Gamze into a waiting room and as soon as the plane landed, went to get her mother and two children.
In the end, Gamze was able to reunite with her children. Eventually, her mother – who sacrificed so much to keep her grandchildren safe – flew back to Turkey. At this point, Gamze and her children stayed at a camp in Germany for four months before being moved to a permanent location. Unfortunately, Gamze’s story does not end well; at the time of her interview, Gamze’s husband still hadn’t been reunited with his family and remains in prison serving his sentence. A family has been split, and the future of Gamze and her children remain uncertain as the fight for human rights in Turkey continues.
1 Advocates of Silenced Turkey. “Key Human Rights Violations in Turkey Since the So-Called Coup Attempt.” 2020.
2 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.pdf
3 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and Related Recommendations. New York: United Nations, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, 1958. Print.
4 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.pdf
5 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and Related Recommendations. New York: United Nations, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, 1958. Print.
6 The European Convention on Human Rights. Strasbourg: Directorate of Information, 1952. Print.; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948-1998. New York: United Nations Dept. of Public Information, 1998. Print.
9 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and Related Recommendations. New York: United Nations, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, 1958. Print.
12 The European Convention on Human Rights. Strasbourg: Directorate of Information, 1952. Print.; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948-1998. New York: United Nations Dept. of Public Information, 1998. Print.
Rahime Yildiz: An Arbitrary Stay in Tarsus Jail by Sümeyye Kara
Turkey has been experiencing the systematic violation of human rights over the past four years. Trust in justice has been shaken by a dramatic erosion of the rule of law. Following the so-called coup attempt on the 15th of July, 2016, the Turkish government under the authoritarian leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took a wave of oppressive actions against not only the alleged coup plotters, but also against those whom they perceived to be critics of the regime. According to data from Advocated for Silenced Turkey, “as part of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown, more than 130,000 people including judges, academics, teachers, journalists, police and military officers, as well as other public servants have been dismissed from their jobs” while “more than 217,000 people have been detained and 160,000 have been arrested.” 1 The torture and maltreatment of captive mothers is another grave and recurring problem within this new system. It has been widely reported that the Turkish government engages in the “systematic use of torture and ill-treatment in police custody … including severe beatings, threats of sexual assault and actual sexual assault, electric shocks, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and deprivation of food and water.” 2 The prison conditions for women and children are contrary to basic human dignity. Women face many issues such as being harassed by guards conducting body cavity searches. Among these new prisoners, there are more than 30 pregnant women or women who just have given birth and 780 children under six-years-old imprisoned alongside their mothers, 149 of whom are younger than the age of one. Pregnant women and mothers with children are constrained to remain with other prisoners in overcrowded cells. Additionally, their access to appropriate pre-birth care is denied, which presents genuine danger to their well-being.
This report is based on an interview with Rahime Yildiz, conducted via a telephone conversation in January 2020. The analysis provides a succinct overview of the ongoing violations in Turkish prisons by comparing and contrasting current practices of the Turkish government with the universally recognized and widely ratified United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules), the European Convention of Human Rights, and the Turkish Constitution. The analysis is composed of part commentary and part interview data. The details of each violation are interwoven directly into the comments to provide a vivid and relatable description of her experiences.
The Story of Rahime Yildiz
In 2016, Turkey’s political air was feverish. One morning Rahime Yildiz was awoken from her freedom. She had received a call from the Provincial Directorate of Security and learned that there was a warrant for her arrest. She made a hasty departure back from her vacation to report to the police. After three days of detention, she was transferred to prison. Her baby, Nil Mualla, was sent to her side after a few days. Not only had Rahime been cruelly separated from her one-month old baby, but she also had no knowledge of what happened to Nil Mualla in the space of those few days. Subsequent to her arbitrary arrest, Rahime spent the next 11 months of her life in prison. During this time, she faced many difficulties, such as the substandard prison conditions and a dangerous illness that her baby suffered. Rahime was only formally indicted after eight months in prison. Three months after the indictment was filed, Rahime was finally allowed a trial during which she was released on probation. However, at her next trial, she was handed a prison sentence of 6 years and 3 months — a decision which she appealed. Having completely lost her trust in the Turkish Judicial System, Rahime deserted Turkey with her family in 2018 while her case was still with the appellate court.
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
On the 7th of September 2016, Rahime Yildiz was taken into custody in Mersin. Her one-month-old baby Nil Mualla was separated from her mother at that instant. According to Rahime’s testimonies, the police used tyrannical interrogation techniques and threatened her with separation from her baby, the hardest kind of loss for a mother. Police authorities tortured Rahime Yildiz in a manner contrary to human dignity. During her testimony, the officers verbally abused and insulted her and used brute force to intimidate her such as by hitting the table. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” the Turkish Constitution also sets forth frameworks for rules that should technically lead to fair trials for political prisoners. However, with few exceptions, “especially those affiliated with the Hizmet movement have been intentionally deprived of such measures, with [few] exceptions.” 3
Rahime Yildiz describes her treatment at the hands of the police as follows: “While I was defending myself, saying that I had never done anything against the law, I was subjected to abusive treatment by the police. From that point on, I decided that there were no people capable of understanding me, and so I kept quiet. I didn’t even know that I had the right of defense through my lawyer because I had not committed any crimes.”
While the government claims to have a “zero tolerance” policy for torture, what Rahime was subjected to is definite proof otherwise. According to the 2019 Country Report of the U.S. Department of State, Turkey’s 2018 Ministry of Justice shared the following statistics: “the government opened 2,196 investigations related to allegations of abuse. Of those, 1,035 resulted in non-prosecution, 766 resulted in criminal cases, and 395 in other decisions. The government did not release data on its investigations into alleged torture.” 4 The story of Rahime Yildiz’s trial lays bare multiple incidents that violate her rights during her detainment in a Tarsus Jail. She described her experience at this jail as follows: “The guards treated me terribly, especially during the body cavity search. They handled me very cruelly and callously during the entire process. Unlike with the other prisoners, they rebuked me relentlessly.” As stated in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners – Rule 51, body searches should preserve the right to privacy and dignity, should be undertaken in a sensitive way, and should never be “used to harass, intimidate or unnecessarily intrude upon a prisoner’s privacy.” This was not the case for Rahime.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
After her ordeal with the police who took her into custody, Rahime Yildiz was promptly sent with her baby Nil Mualla to the Tarsus Jail. The prison was overcrowded, which exacerbated the difficulty of the situation for Rahime, who had to protect her baby as well. Rahime was brought to a prison dormitory with a maximum occupancy of 26 beds. However, Rahime and two other women joined an existing group of 55 other female prisoners in this tight space. Rahime mentions that “some ladies offered their beds to mothers with children, [but] it was an unbelievably frightening atmosphere!”
Since 2016, conditions in Turkish prisons have been increasingly compromised. Under normal circumstances, the dormitories have separate sleeping and living quarters. However, due to the overcrowding, the living rooms have also been converted into makeshift sleeping areas. Even though the number of prisoners has rapidly increased, the number of beds has stayed the same. As such, the entire floor is usually covered with mattresses lined side by side with some prisoners having to sleep almost on top of others while others do not get a mattress at all.
The Prison Administration should also have been offering special accommodations for breastfeeding women, in addition to providing them with adequate nutrition and living conditions. The prison once again failed willfully in this regard. It had no refrigeration systems, and definitely did not comply with even the most basic hygiene standards. According to Rahime’s interview: “Our cells were full of cockroaches. They were all over us, in our beds, and even on our food. We had to put everything in sealed boxes including our cutlery and plates.” As stated in Nelson Mandela Rule 13, a prisoner’s accommodations shall meet all requirements of health, particularly in regard to space, air and ventilation. This requirement was not met.
The prison also did not offer much in the way of meals. The women usually had to pool what little money they had to purchase more food from the canteen. Moreover, the prison did not provide appropriate food for Rahime’s baby when she started eating solids. Since the canteen was not open each day, this became a problem for Rahime. Rule 22 of The Nelson Mandela Rules states: “Every prisoner shall be provided by the prison administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served.” Although Turkish Municipal Law has these correlative rules in place, they were completely ignored by the authorities. Incarcerated mothers and their children in Turkish prisons were callously and continuously neglected in what constitutes a blatant crime against humanity.
Another significant challenge for Rahime was that people were permitted to smoke indoors. Rahime Yildiz and infant Nil Mualla were put at grave danger given that secondhand smoke in such close quarters makes all prisoners as passive smokers. This is in violation of the Turkish Penal Code which stipulates that sufficient hygiene conditions must be given in prison rooms and sections thereof.
Rahime awaited her trial without formal charges for eight months. During this time, she suffered from asthma and baby Nil Mualla developed an acute mucus congestion because of the secondhand smoke. Both Nil Mualla and Rahime became severely ill around their 40th day in prison. Finally, they were taken to emergency services where Rahime recounts: “the doctor told me Nil would develop apical pneumonia if left untreated, and therefore requested that we be removed from our cell immediately. They transferred me to the prison infirmary for 5 months, but the prison administrator really did not want me there.”
AST’s research reveals that appropriate and sufficient health-care services were often absent in these conditions. Rahime Yildiz required prompt medical assistance because her baby was having a health crisis, but unfortunately her request was not met by the prison administration. A well-established right by the Nelson Mandela Rules, specifically in Rule 24, states that prisoners should have access to “necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.” Whereas in this case, Rahime Yildiz’s right to healthcare was jeopardized by the narrow-mindedness that charged her with terrorism.
As well as these, Rahime was also faced with massive concerns for her safety and security. A mentally ill patient in the infirmary where Rahime stayed during her baby’s illness constantly threatened to kill Nil Mualla. The prison guards offered nothing in the way of protection, so Rahime was left no choice but to go back to her ward, leaving behind the care of the infirmary. Nil Mualla’s security was jeopardized by the prison administration who could have let them stay in another infirmary room. The Bangkok Rules pay ample attention to the continual safety and security of prisoners, especially women prisoners deemed exceptionally vulnerable due to pregnancy and the postpartum periods. The Rules require women to be treated with humanity and with dignity at all times. Human rights advocates emphasize that children in prison with a parent should never be treated as prisoners. Nil Mualla suffered through the same ordeals that adult prisoners faced. These experiences may have created irrevocable traumas for which the Turkish authorities are undeniably. Moreover, the initial imprisonment of Rahime in itself is in violation of Turkish law since it is a member state of the United Nations and should comply with its conventions.
Freedom of Expression and Arbitrary Arrest
The Turkish government severely constricts the freedom of expression of its citizens, particularly those who are from a select number of political groups. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights presents the essential right to freedom of speech in Article 18: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; This right includes freedom to change their religion or beliefs, either alone or in community with others; To manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Both during Rahime’s custody and even before her trial, her freedom of speech was limited. Moreover, at both her trial and in her time in custody, she had no knowledge of the crimes she was being charged with. She was also not afforded the opportunity to defend herself. In fact, the only question the judge asked during the trial was how she had met her husband!
Rahime Yildiz’s imprisonment was completely arbitrary. The judiciary system lacked neutrality in her case. As stated previously, she had no knowledge of the nature of the accusations against her. Evidently, Rahime Yildiz was treated in this manner because she was a member of the Hizmet Movement. Her arrest was gratuitous, and there was no evidence regarding the alleged crimes presented by prosecutors. Moreover, arrest procedures required by Turkish law stipulate that an indictment must be prepared in the short-term. Rahime waited for the judiciary to file an indictment for eight months. During this time, her lawyer submitted several petitions to both the prison administration and the court board. These petitions were wholly ignored. The European Court of Human Rights emphasizes that a crime and its potential penalty must be proportional. The arrest warrant cannot be utilized as a punishment device within the legal system as it was with Rahime. Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights stresses that the arrest period must be reasonable. According to the practices of the European Court of Human Rights, if the arrest exceeds a suitable period of time, it could be regarded as an infringement and may result in compensation.
Keeping a mother with an ill baby in jail for a disproportionate amount of time is a form of punishment incompatible with human dignity. Rahime’s life in Turkey came to a conclusion as she left the country on the back of a lorry in 2018. This journey with her tiny baby led her to freedom. Unfortunately, Rahime’s story is a reflection of countless others, but these stories are important to document to both increase social awareness and also to leave a lasting impression in history.
1 Advocates of Silenced Turkey. “Key Human Rights Violations in Turkey Since the So-Called Coup Attempt.” 2020.
3 Advocates of Silenced Turkey. “Captive Mothers and Babies.” 2020. https://silencedturkey.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Captive-Mothers-and-Babies.pdf
4 Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State. “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Turkey.” 2019. https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/turkey/
Ozlem Meci: No Respect for Motherhood by Ceyda Tunca
Introduction and Methodology
The Republic of Turkey has faced significant economic, social, and political challenges since the so-called coup attempt of July 15, 2016, as the country officials have been surreptitiously exploiting its resources for their own gains. Turkey’s current authoritarian regime, headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, framed the followers of the Gulen Movement for masterminding the coup. As a result of this coup, over 500,000 thousand people have been either arrested, dismissed from their jobs, or arbitrarily imprisoned. As the country’s systematic crackdown was used to justify the weakening of the protections of the justice system, countless ordinary citizens were subjected to physical and psychological torture that is still ongoing today. Moreover, amongst those victimized were also pregnant women. By virtue of their vulnerable physical state, pregnant women are protected by principles established in many human rights documents such as the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders. However, many elements of such documents were violated indiscreetly and without concern by Turkish systems and officials. In order to document and record these violations, AST has conducted interviews with some of these women. This report utilizes an interview conducted by an AST volunteer and compares it against the human rights guidelines from the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, European Prison Rules, The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules) to delineate the violations. This report is dedicated to documenting the ill-treatment of one of the hundreds of pregnant women that were detained: Ozlem Meci.
Ozlem Meci’s Story
Ozlem Meci’s story begins before the coup of 2016. By 2013, the Erdogan regime had already begun pressuring Hizmet members in Turkey. The tutoring center where she worked as a teacher was closed down by the governor around April of 2016 due to unspecified reasons. In May of 2016, the police issued a search warrant to find Mrs. Meci’s who had charges of terrorism leveled against him owing to his affiliation with the Gulen Movement. Mr. Meci was not found by the Turkish government, as he had fled for his safety, leaving Ozlem and their daughter behind. After the coup attempt, Ozlem Meci took her five-year-old daughter and moved from Ardahan to Izmir, where her family resided. Around November of 2016, the police showed up at Mrs. Meci’s house and asked her to report to the police station where she was detained for two days. The officers explicitly stated that in addition to her membership of the Hizmet affiliated non-profit organization Sema Foundation, she was also being held simply because her husband could not be found. At the end of these two days, Ozlem was taken to the courtroom and then transferred to prison. At the time, Ozlem was 22 weeks pregnant. The prison conditions took an immense toll on Ozlem and her baby, due to lack of proper bedding, nutrition, and warmth. Her baby was born on the brink of life and death; and yet, Ozlem was still separated from her newborn son for six days after his birth. Fortunately, when this separation leaked into Turkish news outlets, the prison officials took Ozlem to the hospital where her baby was held. Ozlem remained in prison for a cumulative period of 12 and a half months until being released on probationary terms of having to sign-in to a police department every three days. Unable to pursue life and liberty in Turkey any longer, Ozlem and her husband decided to seek refuge in another country in hopes of finding peace.
Section 1: Improper Justification for Arrest
Ozlem Meci’s arrest was based on unlawful terms, as the police officers explicitly stated her arrest was due to “being a member of Sema Foundation, having a monthly subscription to the Zaman Newspaper, sending her daughter to a private school, and especially because of [her] husband.” The newspaper and the foundation, both being associated with the Gulen Movement, became evidence of criminal activity. The reasoning of the police officers underscores that Ozlem was found guilty on the basis of her political opinion in a country where the constitution clearly grants freedom of belief. Consequently, this accusation violates the Turkish Constitution Articles 10, which states that “Everyone is equal before the law without distinction as to language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any such grounds,” as well as Article 33 of the Turkish Constitution.
Most significantly, Ozlem was held guilty for the alleged crimes of another individual: her husband. This is a violation of European Prison Rule 14, “No person shall be admitted to or held in a prison as a prisoner without a valid commitment order, in accordance with national law.” These groundless accusations formed the basis of her indictment while she was still 22 weeks pregnant.
Section 2: Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Some of the most glaring human rights violations in Ozlem’s case was the prison conditions that she faced as a pregnant woman. The prison that she was sent to was appropriately designed to hold 11 people. However, Ozlem was the thirteenth prisoner. Without sufficient space or accommodations, Ozlem was left to sleep on a makeshift bed on the floor in the midst of winter. Over time, the number of prisoners increased to 26 including all the children, which is a common occurrence in Turkey as “women with infants and breastfeeding mothers are forced into overcrowded dormitory-style holding cells” (“Born and Raised in Prison: Turkey’s Captive Children, 17). This blatant disregard for humane conditions for prisoners violates European Prison Rule 18.1 and Nelson Mandela Rule 13, which both similarly state that “All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health…” These conditions coupled with stress, caused a mass to form on Ozlem’s neck, which prevented her from talking — this was only one instance of many in which her health was jeopardized indifferently by those in charge. Thankfully, this mass slowly dissipated over time.
As a pregnant woman in prison, the nutrients that Ozlem needed became even more imperative for the proper growth of her baby boy. Unfortunately, Ozlem stated that “the food given in prison was very insufficient as well as very oily and nutrient deficient.” The prison doctor would often warn Ozlem of complications that could form as a result of these deficiencies. However, when Ozlem asked for advice on what to eat, the doctor would not give her an answer. His lack of response was a direct violation of European Prison Rule 44, which states that “The medical practitioner or other competent authority shall regularly inspect, collect information by other means if appropriate, and advise the director upon: the quantity, quality, preparation and serving of food and water…”
Over the course of routine pregnancy controls that occurred at Menemen Public Hospital, the doctor noted an abnormal enlargement of the baby’s kidney. At 37 weeks, Ozlem was transferred to a hospital after her contractions started and went into labor without having the opportunity to notify her family. Her inability to inform her family is a fundamental issue which violates Article 22 of the Turkish Constitution, which emphasizes the freedom of communication, and European Prison Rules 24.9 which states that “Upon the admission of a prisoner to prison, … or the transfer of a prisoner to a hospital, the authorities shall, unless the prisoner has requested them not to do so, immediately inform the spouse or partner of the prisoner, or, if the prisoner is single, the nearest relative and any other person previously designated by the prisoner.”
The lack of regard for Ozlem’s health during her pregnancy had pressing consequences for the health of her baby Murat who started to show symptoms of complications following his birth. Hence, he was immediately transferred to a private hospital. Ozlem, on the other hand, was sent straight back to prison only a day after giving birth and was denied her right to see her baby or to be informed about his condition. Ozlem’s family only found out about her birth when the private hospital asked for the ID of the newborn and pressed the prison officials to notify the family to process the ID. Throughout the six days that Ozlem was separated from Murat, the prison guards gave Ozlem bags for her to use to pump her milk. However, there was no way for her to preserve the milk which should usually be kept in a refrigerator. In order for the milk to not spoil, Ozlem put the milk bags near the window during February — a cold winter month in Turkey. Ozlem’s brother in law drove a total of three hours every day to transport the milk bags from the prison to the hospital. However, after a few days, the prison guards did not have any more milk bags left and did not make any other accommodations for Ozlem, who had no choice but to pump her breast milk into the prison sink. When her brother-in-law left the prison empty handed that day, this separation of a newborn and its mother was leaked to news outlets. The resultant public outrage led to the involvement of the Minister of Justice. Pursuant to the public pressure, the prison sent Ozlem to the hospital where her newborn was being treated. Ozlem was only allowed to see her baby six days after his birth. Their separation and mistreatment violate Bangkok Rule 9, which states: “Many women worldwide who are admitted to prison are accompanied by their children, who may remain with them in prison, sometimes for long periods. It is vital to respect such children’s right to the highest attainable standards of health…”
Section 3: Ill-treatment and Inhumane Conditions
Murat’s recovery process radically accelerated once he was united with his mother. After he had fully recovered, both Murat and Ozlem were transported back to prison. However, the prison was not accommodated with proper heating and hot water. As a result, Ozlem requested a heater to keep her baby warm many times from the prison officials but was denied every time. In their denial, Ozlem was forced to think of alternate solutions: with the help of other prisoners, Ozlem would bathe Murat with cold water as her friends would hold a hairdryer towards the baby to keep him warm. These inhumane conditions are evidence of the intentional violations of human rights in Turkish prisons and constitute a direct violation to European Prison Rule 36.3 which states that “Special accommodation shall be set aside to protect the welfare of such infants” as well as the Nelson Mandela Rule 16 and Turkish Constitution Article 17. For the next six months, baby Murat had severe sleeping and gas issues; moreover, he would also throw up exceptionally often. When Ozlem took Murat to the prison doctor, nothing conclusive was found. Once Ozlem had the opportunity to take Murat to the hospital after they were released from prison, when he was nine months old, she was told that Murat had gone through a severe infection. All in all, it took a total of 12 and a half months for the court to release Ozlem and her baby after she was sent to prison.
Fortunately, Ozlem Meci and her baby Murat were able to reunite with her family after a year-long separation. Her family made the decision to relocate to another country in hopes of living a normal life again. Ozlem’s circumstances are not unique in Turkey and constitute a pattern of behavior by Turkish officials that are definitively insulting to human dignity and which are proof of a cavalier disregard for the sanctity of life. It is absolutely apparent that these events threatened baby Murat’s life and wellbeing, and that they should not be overlooked or taken lightly. It is critical to recall that no human life is in vain, but the Turkish Government does not treat those accused of being followers of the Gulen movement as fellow humans. This report sheds light on only one of many who have gone through similar events. Many people have lost their jobs, freedom, and life under the Erdogan regime. There are 864 infants and babies in Turkey’s prisons facing the same hostile environments that young Murat spent the first year of his life in. It is imperative to note these events in hopes of obtaining justice one day.
1- Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.pdf
2- European Prison Rules. https://rm.coe.int/european-prison-rules-978-92-871-5982-3/16806ab9ae
3- Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and Related Recommendations. New York:
4- United Nations, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, 1958. Print. https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf
5- The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for
6- Women Offenders. https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Bangkok_Rules_ENG_22032015.pdf
7- Advocates of Silenced Turkey. “Captive Mothers and Babies.” 2020. https://silencedturkey.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Captive-Mothers-and-Babies.pdf
Deniz Hanim: Forced into Hiding by Nihal Kariparduc
The coup attempt of July 2016 in Turkey marked a monumental turning point in Turkey’s political history. Erdogan blamed Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who is based in Pennsylvania, for masterminding the coup and began a systematic process of arresting sympathizers to the Gulen Movement. Any and all connections to the Gulen Movement, such as holding an account at a bank associated with the movement, were used as evidence of terrorism crimes.
But what truly gave Erdogan this power? Erdogan declared a victory in a referendum which gave him access to sweeping new powers allowing him to bypass the normal parliamentary process to implement new policy. After the referendum in 2017. Turkey made the transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. As a result, the independence of the judiciary, legislature, and media in Turkey has been jeopardized as a result of the Erdogan administration’s action.1 As of 2017, more than 130,214 homemakers, teachers, NGO workers, academics, judges, prosecutors and journalists have been imprisoned.2 Currently, Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world.3 Now, there are over 200,000 people imprisoned, many of whom are pregnant women, mothers with their children, or people with disabilities and illnesses.
Deniz and her family are one of many families victimized by Erdogan’s persecution. In 2016, Deniz had been working in community relations at an institution run by Gulen supporters for approximately 14 years while her husband worked as a company manager at a separate institution. Deniz and her husband had two children: a 16-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. They were a typical Turkish family until Erdogan’s regime labeled them as terrorists. Deniz’s husband (henceforth referred to as Mehmet) was arrested on August 19th, 2016 and remains in prison to this day. Deniz was tried for her alleged crimes on October 11, 2018 but was declared innocent. This report details the violations of their human rights using an interview conducted with Deniz by Advocates for Silenced Turkey. Her claims were evaluated using the standards set by the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Turkish Constitution.
FAILURE TO INFORM FAMILY
On August 19th, Deniz received a call while at home from the police, notifying her that her husband Mehmet had been arrested. Her kids began to cry when they heard the police officer through the phone. The police did not tell Deniz where her husband was being held. In a panic, Deniz frantically called all the police stations in her province in the hopes of locating him. When she was finally able to find Mehmet, she was not allowed to speak to him.
According to Rule 68 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (henceforth the Nelson Mandela Rules), every prisoner has the right “…to inform immediately his or her family, or any other person designated as a contact person, about his or her imprisonment, about his or her transfer to another institution and about any serious illness or injury…”4 Deniz was not informed of the institution her husband was taken to and had to take matters into her own hands. She was left to call everywhere in her province and other nearby areas. Mehmet’s location should have been given to her directly without her having to take individual action. Most importantly, Deniz was denied an opportunity to talk to him even after the long hours of searching.
Unfortunately, the Turkish justice system continued to infringe on their rights as human beings, violating both international and domestic standards.
TORTURE AND ILL TREATMENT
Deniz learnt of the conditions behind bars when talking to a fellow prisoner friend of Mehmet who had been released but had stayed in the same cell as her husband. Mehmet’s friend notified Deniz that her husband had been tortured. Moreover, on the day he was arrested, August 19th 2016, the doctor he was taken to reported that he had been assaulted, repeatedly kicked, beaten, clawed, and more. Deniz also learned that during the time that her husband was in custody, he and other detainees were not given pillows and that they had to use plastic bottles to make makeshift pillows.
On the day of his arrest, Mehmet’s family was denied knowledge of his whereabouts, he was tortured, and he was then denied appropriate accommodations. According to the first rule of the Nelson Mandela Rules, “All prisoners shall be treated with respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. No prisoner shall be subjected to, and all prisoners shall be protected from, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification.”5 As similarly stated by Article 17 of the Turkish Constitution, “No one shall be subjected to torture or mal-treatment; no one shall be subjected to penalties or treatment incompatible with human dignity.”6 His treatment at the hands of Turkish officials was a disregard for the “inherent dignity and value” underscored in the Nelson Mandela Rules.7 This is not an isolated incident and is actually representative of the way many sympathizers or members of the Gulen Movement are treated by Turkish institutions.
PRISON AND DETENTION CENTER CONDITIONS
The day to day living conditions at prisons were also not on par with human dignity. Mehmet shared a cell meant for 18 people with 39 others. They did not even have bunk beds; their beds were placed directly on the concrete floor. Prisoners should be afforded enough floor space to live comfortably. The cramped quarters of a cell meant for 18 yet occupied by 39 is definitely not conducive to healthy and hygienic living. The health conditions outlined as “…climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation…” in Rule 13 of the Nelson Mandela were not met.8
The overcrowding of cells has many adverse psychological and physical effects. According to “Overcrowding in Prisons and Its Impact on Health,” “the increase in physical contact, the lack of ventilation and light, as well as a shortage of time spent outdoors favors disease propagation, essentially infectious and parasitic diseases.”9 Moreover, as stated by the same study, overcrowding of prisons leads to a higher rate of suicide, behavior disorders, and psychological disorders. In general, overcrowding of cells leads to a very physically and physiologically draining environment.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
During the time that Mehmet was incarcerated, Deniz found out that the police were in search of her too. She had to immediately move into her brother’s house to evade arrest. She changed her residency address to her mother’s since her kids needed an address for their school enrollment. During this time, the police officers raided her mother’s house six to seven times in search of Deniz. The situation caused heightened stress for Deniz’s family and disrupted the flow of their day to day lives. If the family suspected another raid, they would take days off work in order to discuss what they should do. This regime took an adverse psychological toll on everyone.
After school, the kids could not directly go home for fear of being followed, so they usually went to their grandparents’ house first. They often waited until sunset and went through dark alleyways and streets to get home. They always looked behind them to see if the police or anyone suspicious was following them. In one instance, Deniz’s son couldn’t turn onto the street his mother was residing at for 40 minutes for his fear of a suspicious man following him. He could not be sure whether the man was a police officer or an ordinary citizen.
The manner in which the police raided Deniz’s mother’s home and their routine of following the children home are in violation of Article 20 of the Turkish constitution, which states that “everyone has the right to demand respect for his/her private and family life. Privacy of private or family life shall not be violated.”10 Both in and out of the home, Deniz’s and her family’s right to privacy was infringed upon.
On October 11, 2018 Deniz was ultimately found by police who had followed her daughter back home from school. She was then taken into custody.
FREEDOM OF THOUGHT
The main reason Deniz and Mehmet were brought to court in their respective cases was due to their employment at an institution operated by Gulen supporters. However, according to Article 33 of the Turkish Constitution, “Everyone has the right to form associations…”11 Being associated with a group or an organization is not a valid reason to be arrested.
During Deniz’s trial, she was asked about why she had evaded arrest, where she worked, and the bank with which she held an account. Deniz explained that she was not running away and that she was only in hiding to be able to take care of her kids. This was because she was the sole caretaker in the absence of their father. In regard to her job, she said that it was a regular job that she had been hired for to perform. She also explained that she used her bank account to receive paychecks. Deniz was released after the trial, 27 months after Mehmet’s — who still remains imprisoned.
During Mehmet’s incarceration, Deniz and her children visited him often. However, the security searches they had to endure were intrusive and humiliating. Four or five people would be placed in a room with two officers responsible for a body search. Deniz’s daughter would turn her back to her mother in embarrassment as she saw her mother’s treatment. Deniz reported an incident during which an officer was yelling “You can’t pass through! Take off your clothes!” simply because her daughter was wearing clothing with a zipper. Deniz was finally allowed to help her daughter who was given a shawl to wrap around her waist before being allowed through. After the incident, Deniz’s daughter said, “Mom, let’s never talk about this again. Let’s forget about it.” The family always concealed these events from Mehmet just like he made no mention of his own condition in an effort to enjoy their time together. Trying to brighten each other’s days, the children and their father would take note of and share the fun things they had done recently. They would try to help each other forget about their present situation.
The Turkish government continues to systematically violate the rights of those it considers to be guilty while the public is either largely unaware due to the state-controlled media or actually condones these actions because of their commitment to the government’s narrative. Deniz’s family is just one of the thousands directly affected by Erdogan’s regime. Families just like Deniz’s are awaiting justice behind the bars of Turkish prisons.
1 The Economist. “Turkey is Sliding into Dictatorship.” Apr. 15, 2017. https://www.economist.com/leaders/2017/04/15/turkey-is-sliding-into-dictatorship
2 Advocates of Silenced Turkey. “About Us.” https://silencedturkey.org/about-us
3 The Economist. “Turkey Leads the World in Jailed Journalists.” 2019. https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2019/01/16/turkey-leads-the-world-in-jailed-journalists
4 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and Related Recommendations. New York: United Nations, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, 1958. Print.
6 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.
7 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and Related Recommendations. New York: United Nations, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, 1958. Print.
9 García-Guerrero, J and Andres Marco. “Overcrowding in Prisons and its Impact on Health.” Spanish Journal of Prison Health 14 (2012): 106-113. http://scielo.isciii.es/pdf/sanipe/v14n3/en_06_revision2.pdf
10 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.
Dr. Rana: Cruel Treatment by Sara Gwynn
As a candidate to join the European Union, Turkey’s negotiations for further accession were halted in 2018 due to Turkey “[continuing] to move further away from the European Union, with serious backsliding in the areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights…” 1 Some of the key violations include unacceptable accommodations in prisons where “the current population in Turkish prisons is 4-5 times higher than the normal capacity,” the use of various torture methods such as “severe beatings, threats of sexual assault and actual sexual assault, electric shocks, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, long solitary confinement, and [deprivation] of food and water,” reports of abductions, and an alarming amount of women and children being detained in unfit prison conditions. 2 Likewise, various sources show the same evidence of abductions, disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and unfit detainment/prison conditions in Turkey during 2018 and 2019.3 All of this evidence has shown a necessity for reform in the Turkish government to stop the continuous infringement of the human rights of Turkish citizens.
This report is based on the experience of Dr. Rana, a once high standing doctor in Turkey who was arrested on the basis that she was a member of the Hizmet movement — the group allegedly responsible for the 2016 coup. On this basis alone, Dr. Rana had her rights violated and lost a sense of safety in her home to the point that she smuggled her family out of Turkey and eventually sought asylum in Canada for a new life. Although she was able to escape with her family, Dr. Rana experienced many hardships in order to establish a secure future for her family. She resorted to smuggling her child in a suitcase across the Turkish border and endured the struggles that came with seeking asylum and living life as a refugee. This high price for safety eventually led to a brighter future for Dr. Rana and her family, but normalcy never fully returned to their lives. The desk research done to complete this report looked at official documents, such as the Turkish Constitution, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, European Prison Rules, and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). Each of these documents establish the rights that humans are entitled to and identify violative acts against human rights. By using these documents, the violations that came from the hands of her government can be identified in Dr. Rana’s experience with the judicial system of Turkey.
ARBITRARY ARREST OR DETENTION
The 15th article of the Turkish Constitution protects citizens from being arrested on the basis of their thoughts, opinions, religion, and so forth. 4 However, Dr. Rana’s arrest was solely on the basis of her affiliation with the Hizmet movement rather than substantial evidence or a direct link of her involvement with the attempted 2016 coup. The warrant for her arrest and detainment was an unconstitutional act by the Turkish government and led to further violations of Dr. Rana’s human rights.
PRISON AND DETENTION CENTER CONDITIONS
Dr. Rana was detained for a few days and explained that she didn’t know how anyone could endure such circumstances for a longer period of time. Upon arrival, Dr. Rana was told that her infant could stay with her in the cell or stay in a place away from Dr. Rana with supervision. Dr. Rana chose for her son to be separated from her, a hard decision but one that she later appreciated for the sake of her child. When describing her cell, Dr. Rana explained that it was small and had an overwhelming smell of sewage. The standard accommodation that prisoners are entitled to must “…respect human dignity and… meet the requirements of health and hygiene… especially to floor space, cubic content of air, lighting, heating and ventilation.”9 From her description of the cell, it is suggested that there was improper ventilation in her cell, thus violating the accommodation that she was entitled to while being detained.
In addition to the inadequate accommodation, Dr. Rana was deprived of contact with prison authorities which she should have been entitled to as a detained individual.5 Dr. Rana explained that she spoke to the cameras, yelled from her cell, and even pressed a red call button that supposedly alerted the prison authorities, but no one responded. This lack of contact becomes increasingly more of an issue when Dr. Rana was not given the proper care as a detained individual.
From the lack of supervision and response from prison authorities, Dr. Rana experienced two more violations to her human rights. Being a new mother, Dr. Rana was in discomfort due to her inability to breastfeed and wanted pain relievers in order to cope with the pain along with something to clean herself with when she eventually had to relieve the milk in her breasts. These pleas were not acknowledged or fulfilled by prison authorities. Along with these hygienic requests, her requests for clean water to drink were also ignored. These two instances violate The European Prison Rules, which states that prisoners are entitled to clean drinking water at all times, a clean living space, and the needed toiletries to maintain personal hygiene. Women specifically are entitled to “sanitary towels provided free of charge and a regular supply of water to be made available for the personal care of children and women, in particular women involved in cooking and those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating.” 6 Dr. Rana was subjected to an unclean environment and denied the right to maintain personal hygiene in regards to her breastfeeding needs because no guards or prison authorities upheld their responsibilities. Furthermore, no drinking water was made available to her and Dr. Rana was put in a degrading situation where she needed to use the water from the toilet of her cell as drinking water. This also posed a potential risk to her health.
CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT AND PUNISHMENT
Torture or other degrading or cruel treatment is a prohibited practice on humans and is described by the United Nations as “…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons…” 7 Despite the Turkish government’s “zero tolerance for torture policy,” many reports on Turkey mention sexual assaults, physical beatings, and other harmful experiences for detainees in Turkey.8 In Dr. Rana’s experience, she was subjected to emotional abuse and manipulation in order to get a fabricated confession from her. While being detained, Dr. Rana was urged to confess to crimes that she did not commit under the promise that it was the only way that she would be able to raise her son outside of a prison cell. This intimidation combined with the physical discomfort of her detainment cell and the mental toll of being separated from her newborn could be seen as factors used to try and control Dr. Rana, suggesting the use of psychological torture on Dr. Rana.
By sharing her story, Dr. Rana has shown the necessity for change and reform in the Turkish government. From her arbitrary arrest to the violations that she experienced during her detainment, Dr. Rana has shared another victimized experience from the current Turkish regime. And while Dr. Rana has done her best to escape an environment that failed to uphold her human rights, these infringements continue to persist in Turkey. 9 The Turkish government continues to practice unethical treatment towards detained individuals and to purposefully neglect the accommodations to which they are entitled.10 Without change, unconstitutional arrests are likely to persist, and victims will continue to endure violations at the hands of their own government.
1 European Commission. “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.” 2019. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:52019DC0260&rid=6.
2 Advocates of Silenced Turkey. “Key Human Rights Violations in Turkey Since the So-Called Coup Attempt.” 2020.
3 Human Rights Watch. “In Custody Police Torture and Abductions in Turkey.” 2017. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/turkey1017_web_0.pdf.;
Stockholm Center for Freedom. “HRW Urges UN to Address Human Rights Violations in Turkey.” 2020. https://stockholmcf.org/hrw-urges-un-to-address-human-rights-violations-in-turkey/.;
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Turkey: UN Report Details Extensive Human Rights Violations During Protracted State of Emergency.” 2018. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22853&LangID=E.;
United States Department of State. “Turkey 2018 Human Rights Report.” 2018. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/TURKEY-2018-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf.;
Peoples’ Democratic Party. “Urgent Call: Turkish Prisons Have Evolved into Torture Centers!” 2018. https://www.hdp.org.tr/en/news/from-hdp/urgent-call-turkish-prisons-have-evolved-into-torture-centers/11684.
4 Constitution of the Republic of Turkey. https://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.
5 European Prison Rules. https://rm.coe.int/european-prison-rules-978-92-871-5982-3/16806ab9ae
6 The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for
Women Offenders. https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Bangkok_Rules_ENG_22032015.pdf
7 The European Convention on Human Rights. Strasbourg: Directorate of Information, 1952. Print.; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
8 United States Department of State. “Turkey 2018 Human Rights Report.” 2018. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/TURKEY-2018-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf;
Human Rights Watch. “In Custody Police Torture and Abductions in Turkey.” 2017. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/turkey1017_web_0.pdf;
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Turkey: UN Report Details Extensive Human Rights Violations During Protracted State of Emergency.” 2018. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22853&LangID=E;
Peoples’ Democratic Party. “Urgent Call: Turkish Prisons Have Evolved into Torture Centers!” 2018. https://www.hdp.org.tr/en/news/from-hdp/urgent-call-turkish-prisons-have-evolved-into-torture-centers/11684.
9 Advocates of Silenced Turkey. “The Coronavirus Outbreak in Turkey’s Prisons: Analysis of the Cases, Findings, and Recommendations.” 2020. https://silencedturkey.org/the-coronavirus-outbreak-in-turkeys-prisons-analysis-of-the-cases-findings-and-recommendations.