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ERDOGAN’S LONG ARMS: ABDUCTIONS IN TURKEY AND ABROAD

 

The Origins of the Problem

Turkey’s struggle to draw the country more in line with the pillars of the European Union faced a long and accelerating slide. The country’s Freedom in the World score has been in free fall since 2014 due to an escalating series of assaults on the press, social media users, protesters, political parties, the judiciary, and the electoral system, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fought to impose personalized control over the state and society in a deteriorating domestic and regional security environment.

Turkey’s drift into the grip of authoritarianism began before the failed 2016 coup. The government’s heavy-handed response to nationwide Gezi Park protests in 2013, the start of a purge against members Gülen community after the corruption investigation in December 2013 paved the way for the emergence of an illiberal government. Many observers and experts pinpoint this year, 2013, as the major turning point for Turkey’s drift away from liberal democracy. The steady descent into an autocratic system leads to the full breakdown of the rule of law, judicial independence, and corrosion of the integrity of Turkey’s bureaucratic institutions following the sweeping purge after the failed coup attempt in 2016.

The signs of the conflict first came to surface after Erdoğan made clear his intentions to establish a more authoritarian rule with the powers vested by the 2011 referendum. The battle lines were drawn after the infamous graft operations of 17 and 25 December, in 2013, where prosecutors rounded up some politicians and businessmen who were under surveillance in a longitudinal investigation. Erdoğan said the corruption files were nothing but a sham, perpetrated by the Gülen movement as a soft coup in line with the interests of the foreign powers, which were envious of the Turkish rise as a global power.

Hizmet had long been hailed as the soft power for the country with its huge focus on education and humanitarian aid activities as well as interfaith dialogue efforts. “Gülen schools portrayed Turkey as a mystical but adaptable and open-minded country, and became a place for building intimate connections with elites and their children in dozens of countries.” Erdoğan used the movement’s international prevalence as a proof for his claim that it became the tool for the foreign powers.

When President Goes to War

Erdoğan has vowed on many occasions to uproot the Gülen Movement wherever it is. He did everything in his capacity, banking on the state power, and striking new partnerships with his old enemies against the Hizmet, which Erdoğan started calling the Parallel Structure. Erdoğan declared a “witch-hunt” against the movement, purging Gülen’s followers from public services, crippling its media power, erecting red-tape obstacles, cowing its institutions and companies with interminable inspections, etc. Finally, on July 15, 2016, a coup attempt, which Erdoğan declared Hizmet as the main perpetrator and used this argument to justify his undemocratic measures.

Erdoğan said: “Neither in the East nor in the West is a single member of this organization comfortable as before, nor will they be. If not today, then tomorrow, one day every member of the FETO traitors’ front will pay for his treason against the country and the nation.2 ” FETÖ, the abbreviation for the Fetullahist Terror Organization, was chosen by him to demonize the movement.

A Cultural Genocide

Erdoğan was not simply flapping his jaws. He has already been doing everything to make life unbearable for the Gülen followers inside the country. The coup attempt, which the Hizmet never claimed involvement in and renounced from the first moment, gave him an unquestionable and unchallenged excuse to completely disregard the current laws, as well as some international laws like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under a state of emergency. What ensued was a witch hunt at an unprecedented frantic intensity.

According to the research conducted by the AST as of February 2020, investigations have been carried out on more than 610,000 people. The number of people arrested as a result of these investigations has already gone above 160,000 and counting. Currently, about 63,000 political prisoners are behind bars in the Turkish prisons. A total of 780 children are inside these overcrowded prisons, where their mothers endure agonizing troubles to raise them. 6,021 academics were expelled from their universities; whereas 15 private universities, which had affiliations with the Hizmet were shut down. 3,003 schools and dormitories were closed, millions of books were burned. Roughly 200 media outlets were seized and were either converted to pro-government mouthpieces or muzzled completely. 161 journalists were imprisoned. 4,463 judges or prosecutors were dismissed from public service and some were incarcerated. Tens of thousands of polices officers were axed. The licenses of 1,539 attorneys are currently under trial and 580 of them are in jail. 11 people died under arrest or during interrogation. 93 prisoners were killed due to torture and ill-treatment.

Globalizing the Theatre of War

Erdoğan also attempted to convince countries through carrot and stick policies or more diplomatic means to join his personal fight and do the same to the Hizmet members within their borders without heeding too much about what the rule of law by its very own nature requires. Various governments didn’t hesitate to jump on the bandwagon and yielded to the diplomatic pressure from Erdoğan to arrest and deport members of the Gülen Movement active in their countries. Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Georgia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Myanmar, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkmenistan are some of these countries. In some countries, like Myanmar, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, and Sudan, the countries didn’t even follow their own laws while carrying out the deportations. In some countries, the local intelligence agencies cooperated to seize Gülen followers, while in some others, Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) didn’t even need to ask for permission to stage an operation.

In Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Malaysia, and Pakistan, the domestic authorities blatantly violated international laws by deliberately deporting or letting Turkish intel agents kidnap Erdoğan’s opponents, who had applied for asylum or had UN protection against persecution.

Vicious Methods Inside the Country and Abroad

Although ascertaining the exact number is not easy, an estimated total of 130 people (refer to AST’s research) were abducted inside and outside Turkey through nefarious methods, brushing away even the most basic rights to fair trial and defense. Some of these people whisked away abroad by clandestine operations, were under the protection of the United Nations. They were subjected to heavy tortures, made to sign fake testimonies, turned into the living dead, and even murdered. Ankara was even accused of exploiting the Interpol system by submitting extradition requests for over 40,0003 individuals with arbitrary terror charges, revoking passports of the dissidents who struggle to survive as expats, issuing arrest warrants on fake accusations, etc. MİT organized covert operations to abduct and bring to Turkey mostly people with alleged ties with the Gülen movement, sometimes in collaboration with the relevant authorities of the country and in some other cases without even bothering to inform them.

Inside the country, certain figures were abducted in broad daylight. 29 people (refer to AST’s research) were registered as victims of enforced disappearance. A majority of these people were released, while some are feared to have been killed since no news has been heard from them for years now. Some of the survivors found the courage to tell the gory details of the torture they had been subjected to. Almost all of the people who were turned over to the police and were arrested show signs of heavy physical and psychological damage.

The Scope of the Report

The report consists of three parts. The introductory part will first offer a consolidated approach towards the nature of the war Turkish State has initiated against the Gülen movement, with an emphasis on Erdoğan’s passion for vengeance which has exacerbated the conditions for the Gülen followers. A thorough discussion over the abductions and enforced disappearances within the framework of international law will also be presented in the first part.

The second part will shed light on how the Erdoğan administration extended its operations against the Gülen movement followers all around the world by stipulating and examining all known cases around the world. The third part will deal with the enforced abductions in Turkey, also called the Black Transporter cases.

Part 1- Introduction

It is no secret that Turkey’s authoritarian political Islamist regime, headed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ruler Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has long been suppressing opposition in the country. Hand in glove with the shady elements of the country’s former powerhouses, its fight against any kind of political dissent has been carried out through harsh measures that have often invoked the dark memories of the witch hunts of the Middle Ages.

As revealed in a myriad of incidents, the actions engaged by the Turkish state to squelch and muzzle the critics include a list of the most baleful forms of crimes against humanity. Hate crimes such as defamation and libel gush out in torrents every day from a colossal propaganda machine against any segment of the society that dares to position itself opposite the government. Once shunned as a despicable act even for the nation’s intelligence agency, profiling has become a daily routine of not only state institutions, but also some non-governmental organizations. The profiling files are published in national media outlets as if it is a most ordinary thing. Open or covert threats, physical attacks, and torture in the name of the state and for the “holy” purpose of saving the dignity of Erdoğan’s position are no longer counted as crimes. Nor is this all: those who use force towards this aim are revered and rewarded.

Among all these sinister crimes, this report will attempt to throw light upon one of the most contemptible, one that the state has been relentlessly committing recently under orders of Erdoğan: forced disappearances, abductions, and quid pro quo renditions of the dissidents in Turkey and abroad. It will also attempt to show how the autocratic regime has been employing state institutions as well as what appear to be non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as visible actors in the process of its persecutions.

Besides the fact that the magnitude of such efforts to silence, persecute the dissenting voices has not abated within the borders; the Turkish state has also escalated its cross-border operations against the dissenters. These unbridled and often reckless actions have caused in many cases problems in relationships with other governments since such engagements are a clear violation of international treaties. Such actions are considered a direct interference in other countries’ domestic affairs, as well as an unconcealed denial of their national sovereignty.

It goes without saying that these clandestine operations also pose a crime against humanity, and, as evident in the UN practices in similar cases, may become subject to international tribunal proceedings. Unfortunately, in this sense, Turkey has descended to become a part of the club of countries which hardly respect the foreign jurisdictions while conspiring against persons or communities they deem the enemy. North Korea stands out as a notorious example, as it uses enforced disappearances, abductions, renditions, and assassinations of political opponents as an ordinary practice to eradicate the figures it finds “inconvenient” for its stability. How unfortunate it is to see the public indifference in Turkey as Erdoğan steers the country, which had once been a regional model for its seemingly successful combination of Islam and democracy, towards the path of the most oppressive regimes of the world, with such despicable and inhumane actions of enforced disappearances, torture and murder.

An enforced or involuntary disappearance is a direct assault on human rights, which cannot be legitimized on any grounds in terms of international law. Neither can it be conceivably acceptable in terms of humanity and conscience. The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance provides a satisfactory definition for this crime. Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in its resolution 47/133 of 18 December 1992 as a body of principles for all States, the declaration defines an enforced disappearance as incidents in which “persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law”.4 How can one justify such a vicious act?

What is even worse is that the Turkish authorities have only rarely repudiated extreme and illegal measures to silence the opposition. On the contrary, the top government officials have boasted of them to win the favor of the masses for domestic political gains. Even bureaucrats from security and intelligence units have embraced such practices. The Turkish media, which has almost completely become a subservient tool of the government and a loyal amplifier to propagate Erdoğan’s messages to the masses, is brimming with success stories of how people are beaten and snatched in front of their children and wife or with “delightful” details of how these “bad guys” were whisked away from a foreign country — with or without the cooperation of the officials of that country — as if they were not talking about the devastation of real lives, but rather narrating fictional spy thrillers.

This report aims to put a particular focus on these devastated lives: to examine abductions and enforced disappearances by the Turkish state inside and outside its borders. It tries to include as many cases as possible by resorting to open resources, as well as by trying to get access to the personal accounts of those who survived.

Background

The Erdoğan’s regime has traditionally made the capital of such shady methods to attack its enemies and the groups it sees detrimental to its core establishment. The Kurdish opposition, for instance, has long been a usual target for surreptitious assaults and assassinations. Likewise, leftist groups, communists, and Alevites have also been subjected to similar underhanded actions. During its fight to exterminate the Kurdish separatist insurgency, thousands of victims were vanished, especially in eastern and southeastern Anatolia. Even today, two decades after their disappearance, the mothers of abducted and most likely killed children meet every Saturday in İstanbul to ask for at least a graveyard for their children. In recent years, however, the main victims of the extrajudicial practices have been the members of the Gülen movement or Hizmet.

Gülen movement’s supporters mostly agreed with AKP’s policies that strengthened the country’s democratic institutions while forcing the anti-democratic elements of the established state to retreat. However, as Erdoğan became increasingly more enthusiastic to fill the void left behind by the defeated ancient régime with his own dictatorial desires, the relations between the two groups deteriorated. Erdoğan accused Hizmet of perpetrating a plot to topple his government in December 2013 with two graft operations that implicated some businessmen close to him as well as a few members of his government and started a massive campaign against the movement.

Here, a paragraph must be inserted to briefly recall the dramatic overturn of the relations between the AKP and Hizmet, which also marks the time when the country started severing its already flimsy connections with the rule of law. When Erdoğan’s network of shady relations was laid bare by the corruption operations, the politician promptly declared that his government was under attack by the global powerhouses which didn’t want Turkey’s rise again as a regional actor and that these secret organizations assigned Hizmet to finish off his party, the only hope for the revival of the old magnificence of the country. His declaration paved the way to justify his undemocratic measures and dark propaganda against members of the movement. In just a couple of days, he changed his rhetoric utterly from praising how aloof a movement of sincerity and devotion the Hizmet is, to how fiendish a demon it actually is and that it is responsible for all evil in the country. Erdoğan said Hizmet volunteered to become a puppet of the nation’s foreign enemies and so it is also the enemy of the people and for this very reason, a total annihilation would be good for everyone. This reasoning, inspired suddenly by the corruption cases, interestingly convinced Turks, possibly owing to the extremely loyal media power Erdoğan has and to the general inclination of ordinary Turkish people towards accepting conspiracy theories. The further away the conspiracy theories are from reality, the more credible they become, especially when they are repeated by such a powerful figure as Erdoğan. The politician lost no time in hitting the roads and started public rallies all around Turkey, sometimes in three different cities in a single day, to tell the same lies to the masses, while every single message from his mouth was multiplied by the media to reach millions over and over again. At the same time, the prosecutors and law enforcement officers who had participated in the corruption operations were either demoted or assigned to insignificant units, contrary to current laws. Erdoğan’s next step would be to seek cooperation against the common enemy with the former actors of the deep state, who had been forced to retreat after their coup plans were exposed.

A systematic and sweeping purge of the critical figures in the state bureaucracy ensued; the victims were largely the people affiliated with the movement. Following the failed coup of July 15 in 2016, which Erdoğan blamed on Hizmet and its leader, the purge became even more widespread, and the methods turned more vicious.

Hizmet had been labeled as a terror organization by Erdoğan’s cabinet as per the recommendations of the National Security Council (MGK), a still powerful unit of the former regime, but a considerable portion of the domestic public opinion was still in favor of Hizmet, as the movement had always praised peace over violence, dialogue over conflict and education over everything else. Gülen had frequently maligned anyone resorting to terror in the name of Allah as non-believers and the most dangerous enemies of Islam; therefore, many were still shrugging off Erdoğan’s defamation campaigns and his continuous attributions of terror to Gülen and his followers. But after the July 15th botched coup attempt, with the help of a torrential flood of a one-sided narration of the coup details, it didn’t take long until public opinion completely turned against Hizmet and its leader, even though they were disavowing the coup repeatedly from the first moment on. With the help of an enormous public outrage against anything and anyone related to the Gülen movement, Erdoğan found the strength and excuse to disregard any obligation to stick to laws, fairness, and mercy. When he shouted in public rallies that all Hizmet followers must be exterminated, he got applause. When he ordered the plunder of the properties of Hizmet members, he got cheers. When he asked people to snitch on their relatives and friends from Hizmet, he got standing ovations.

Profiling and persecution of members of the Gülen movement was now not only a leisure pursuit of ordinary people, but also a task assigned to the state’s institutions, government agencies, AKP bureaus, and elected and appointed local administrators from governors to chiefs of villages.

Embassies were also commissioned with coordinating the profiling and spying activities on the expat members of the Hizmet movement. These missions included a variety of operations from mere intelligence gathering and stalking to threatening, harassing, and even physically assaulting the critics of Erdogan. It is quite likely that embassies have also been actively involved in the preparation and logistics phases of abductions and renditions. The mastermind and executer of the operations was Turkey’s main spy body, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), as well as the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), were also active participants in the covert intel operations around the world.

Ironically, the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) also joined the lynch party as a voluntary contributor to the assignment by the MİT to identify people critical of Erdoğan within expat communities, in clear contradiction to the obligatory assignment by the religion to help these people become brothers and friends.

Turkish preachers from the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB) have been actively employed in these intelligence-gathering activities at the government’s request. Even though these were initially said to be “false media claims,” Secretary-General Bekir Alboğa later confessed that “a few” imams provided information to the Presidency of Religious Affairs.

Furthermore, as per later news, German police investigations revealed that these accusations may only be the tip of the iceberg, meaning that such efforts could be taking place across Europe, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium.

State-run news companies, Anatolia News Agency (AA) and Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), spared no effort to follow the dissenting figures and make sensational stories about them in the countries where they operated. The Yunus Emre Institute and the Maarif (Education) Foundation, which acted hand in glove with the Turkish government to forcibly seize the educational institutions built and operated by the Hizmet movement in various countries, were also active participants in the clandestine warfare against the Gülen movement across the world.

Last but not least, government-funded private think tanks and organizations like the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), and the Turkish Heritage Organization, must be counted among the essential actors. They organized panels, conferences, and events, as well as issued a variety of publications, to disseminate ideas designed to bleach the government’s extrajudicial, arbitrary, and inhumane actions as inevitable measures taken at extraordinary times. They have also vied to garner support for Erdoğan and his party among Turkish communities while at the same time collecting information about the owners of the voices against Erdoğan within these communities.

Based on such underhanded investigations and espionage, the Erdoğan’s regime would first ask the rendition of its critics from the countries they were lawfully residing in. Depending on the nature of its relations with them, Turkey first asks through legitimate channels for the deportation of the people it is seeking. If this step proves unsuccessful, Turkey then attempts to offer bribes or use its influence to pressure these countries to hand over the wanted persons. The different milestones of this path are formulated in a report by the EU’s Open Dialogue Foundation: “When non-democratic states do not succeed in attaining extradition by legitimate methods, extra procedural forced expulsions (case of the employees of the Turco-Moldovian lyceum Orizont) or abductions (case of Vladimir Yegorov, Aleksandr Frantskevich, Murdali Khalimov) of the wanted persons often take place. Such actions are implemented on the basis of cooperation between the law-enforcement agencies and special services of both states, in secret, without observing lawful procedures, thus depriving persons of the opportunity to defend their interests in court (cases of Abdullah Büyük, Aminat Babayeva, Yusuf İnan, Salih Zeki Yiğit, Alma Shalabayeva, Muratbek Tungishbayev, Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov).

Enforced Disappearances in International Law

Enforced disappearances have universally been categorized as some of the most heinous crimes that can possibly be committed by malicious state actors. All relevant instruments of international law expressly forbid enforced disappearances, given that the act entirely circumvents avenues of due process while inflicting undue trauma upon both the abducted and the relatives of the abducted.

In a straightforward definition of “forced disappearance”, the Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons states, “forced disappearance of persons is… a grave and abominable offense against the inherent dignity of the human being.” The Convention also adds, “forced disappearance of persons violates numerous non-derogable and essential human rights” and reaffirms that the systematic practice of disappearance “constitutes a crime against humanity.” The International Criminal Court expands upon this definition of enforced disappearance, detailing it as the “arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.”
Finally, one of the most recent instruments of international law, the 2006 Convention on Enforced Disappearance, Article 1, provides an indubitably worded right to all persons:

“No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance.”

A signatory to the United Nations’ Conventions, the Republic of Turkey has violated international laws and the human rights of its victims in all countries detailed in this report. Furthermore, the Turkish administration has utilized baseless national security arguments to justify its egregious behavior across the world. The Turkish government’s unabashed attempts to terrorize Turkish nationals across the world has violated the sovereignty of states in 16 known cases detailed here. International law prohibits the use of enforced disappearance under all circumstances as follows:

“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance.”

The Republic of Turkey, the current Turkish government is overseen by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and all relevant actors involved in the process of terrorizing, abducting, and transporting people around the world to further their objectives continually violate widely recognized international laws, national sovereignty of countries subject to such operations, and local rules and regulations of relevant countries. In sum, the Erdogan Regime and its constituent parts, especially members of the intelligence community taking part in worldwide operations have committed crimes against humanity. Crimes against humanity have no statute of limitations.

Turkey’s extraterritorial incursions to kidnap dissidents and its similarly egregious actions in its own jurisdiction have been substantiated with many cases, and this report will attempt to shed light on as many cases as possible. Nonetheless, one needs to first examine the grounds the Turkish authorities base their actions on.

On April 17, 2014, the Turkish Parliament empowered the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) with the legal authority to conduct undercover missions outside Turkey’s borders with a critical change in Law number 2937. Another important change was introduced in 2017 with the decree-law number 694 that rendered the MİT subordinate directly to the presidency and the President was assigned as the chair of the National Intelligence Coordination Council (MİKK), which would become the main strategy-making body for MİT’s moves outside Turkey.11 MİT now became able to realize to-the-point operations without facing any impediments that could have arisen if parliament had not been bypassed by attaching the agency directly to the almighty presidential post.

As we will discuss in the proceeding parts, although the domestic reactions to the MİT’s covert operations inside and outside the country have been limited, they garnered huge repulsion from certain states and international organizations, as its actions were perceived as a form of deprivation of liberty.

An individual’s right to liberty can be compromised so long as it is in compliance with international law. Article 9 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights clearly defines the arbitrary deprivation of liberty as a lack of respect to grounds and procedures prescribed by law. Both articles provide in indisputable terms the conditions that any individual must be well informed, promptly or at the time of arrest, of the reasons for their arrest and of any charges against them in case of arresting. Furthermore, any individual must be brought before a judge or a similar judicial authority without delay.

However, in Turkey’s practice, people are abducted without even knowing what their crimes are or who exactly has captured them. They appear in court only after months of heavy tortures, if they are lucky to live long enough. Indeed, they can’t see even the faces of their abductors or torturers, much less their lawyers or families.

Turkey’s abduction operations abroad have in some cases been in cooperation with the hosting countries, while in others, the Turkish operational units simply utilized underhanded methods, drawing strong reactions from those countries. For example, the Mongolian Deputy Foreign Minister Battsetseg Batmunkh denounced the abduction attempt of the Turkish teacher Veysel Akçay on the grounds that “it is an unacceptable act of violation of Mongolia’s sovereignty and independence and Mongolia will strongly object it.” The Turkish Ambassador in Ulaanbaatar would, without a moment to spare, reject any kind of knowledge or involvement in the operation.

Another harsh backlash came from Kosovo after Turkey kidnapped five teachers and a medical doctor who had affiliations with the Gülen movement. Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj fired his interior minister and spy chief for their alleged complicity. Kosovo’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a stern statement in which it said, “the arrest and deportation of the Turkish citizens with a regular residence permit … is … in direct contradiction to international norms.”13 Erdoğan lambasted Kosovo’s PM, who had said the followers of the Gülen movement “were not deported but were stolen,” as if he was talking to one of his underlings or to any Turk who dared to question him, saying Haradinaj would “pay” for what he did. Enver Robelli, a prominent Kosovar journalist, told Al-Monitor about Erdoğan’s unbridled disparagement of the Kosovar PM: “People are irritated that Erdogan attacks the prime minister. Most [local] media [report that] Erdogan behaves as if he were the king of Kosovo.”

Nate Schenkkan from the Washington Post wrote, “The idea that Turkish intelligence would brazenly abduct its citizens from a country with which it has putatively good relations is a shocking offense against both international human rights standards and bilateral norms.”14 Schenkkan elaborated on Turkey’s flagrant “transnational repression.”15 He asserted that Turkey has pursued an aggressive policy to silence its perceived enemies in at least 46 countries.

Additionally, he recounted the allegations that it was abusing the Interpol as a political tool to target its opponents. “Ankara has revoked thousands of passports and achieved the arrest, deportation, or rendition of hundreds of Turkish citizens from at least 16 countries, including many who were under UN protection as asylum seekers. It has successfully pressured at least 20 countries to close or transfer to new owners dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Gülen movement schools,” he wrote.

The regime’s blatant moves against the followers of the Gülen movement have also been registered in detail by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its annual country reports since 2017. The report wrote under the Torture and Ill-Treatment in Custody section in 2017: “Cases of torture and ill-treatment in police custody were widely reported through 2017, especially by individuals detained under the anti-terror law, marking a reverse in long-standing progress, despite the government’s stated zero tolerance for torture policy. There were widespread reports of police beating detainees, subjecting them to prolonged stress positions and threats of rape, threats to lawyers, and interference with medical examinations.”17 The report mentioned the abductions by “unidentified perpetrators believed to be state agents” in at least six cases. The report for 2018 marked the continuation of allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment in police custody and prison and the lack of any meaningful investigation into them as a source of deep concern. Furthermore, it would also lambaste the lack of any effective investigations into these serious assertions by the judiciary.

The same report for the next year recorded only exacerbation in these sources of concern without any sign of progress.19 Different from the previous reports, it would point to a pervasive culture of impunity for members of the security forces and public officials implicated. The report would also criticize in harsh terms Turkey’s barring of the publication of reports on the findings of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in their two visits to detention places in Turkey. “Turkish authorities continued to seek the extradition of alleged Gülen supporters, many of them teachers, from countries around the world. Countries that complied with Turkey’s requests bypassed legal procedures and judicial review. Those illegally extradited in this way were detained and prosecuted on return to Turkey,” the report asserted.

Confessing Abductions

Despite undeniable evidence that the enforced disappearances were carried out openly or covertly by several state institutions, mainly by the intelligence and the security units, different government representatives and bodies have vehemently rejected accusations in their official statements. Despite that, their deliberate or on-impulse confessions are available even in the sources that are publicly accessible. Although it is universally accepted as a heinous transgression of the basic human rights and is widely shunned, Turkish authorities have interestingly defended abductions of dissidents in Turkey or abroad, not in blurted-out blunders but in deliberately stated confirmations. In the following paragraphs, some examples of such remarks will be highlighted.

Before proceeding with its abductions, Turkey first tried to capture the dissidents through formal mechanisms and within internationally approved norms, such as requesting the extradition of Gülen movement members. But as its demands were turned down in some countries, especially in the democratic world where the supremacy of law is respected, the Turkish government started to use extrajudicial ways like abductions to bring these people back.

Thinly-Veiled Threats by the Politicians

Turkish president Erdoğan has encouraged his loyalists time and again to make life unbearable for Hizmet followers and ordered law enforcement units and intelligence officers to kidnap his critics and punish them, even hinting vaguely of their murders. For instance, in one of his speeches, he said: “Some countries eliminate terrorists whom they consider as a threat to their national security, wherever they are. This means they accept that Turkey has the same right.” He then hinted about his target: “This includes the terrorists they shake hands with and praise. I hope we will have good news for the nation on this matter soon.”

In one of his early statements in September 2016, he would say that “no country or region around the world will ever be a safe haven for FETÖ and its militants.” The Turkish autocrat described the members of the Gülen movement as cancer cells that must be exterminated, leaving no remnants. “Those who fled abroad before or in the murky atmosphere of the coup d’état should never feel safe. … The children of this country should return and tell whatever they know to the relevant authorities. If they don’t, they’ll pay for it. At any rate, we won’t support them as our citizens. … We will take due action wherever they are captured,” he said.

Similar comments would spill from Erdoğan’s mouth during a joint press conference with Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi in Ankara on December 29, 201624: “Our crackdown on them both at home and abroad is underway and will continue to be the case in the future. Wherever they flee, we will be hot on the heels of the leaders and militants of terrorist organizations.”

Former Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ nonchalantly admitted that Ankara’s spy agency “bundled up and brought back” 80 suspects against their will, as part of their global response to so-called threats to Turkey’s security from the Hizmet movement. He also called the capture of Turkish dissident s from Kosovo, which had caused a serious commotion in that country, as “a great success.”

Commenting on the Kosovo abductions on the state-run TRT radio, Erdoğan’s lawyer Hüseyin Aydın also said similar abductions by the Turkish intelligence would continue. The Kosovo operation was not marking any “paradigm shift” for the MİT, and it wasn’t the first of its kind, said Aydın. “Fugitive Gülenists will walk looking behind their backs all the time. The National Intelligence Organization will continue its operations everywhere. After the government’s success at home, there was a need to carry out operations targeting the movement’s overseas network,” he threatened.

Following suit, the other members of the Turkish government, as well as loyal followers of the president, have expressed similar thoughts. There have been repeated calls for kidnapping, killing and torturing of Gülen followers from these circles; nevertheless, even though these are heinous hate crimes, prosecutors simply turn a deaf ear to any such threats if they are leveled against Hizmet members. This is a public craze, an unfathomable intemperance that is hardly tolerated even under actual war conditions. Even warring sides try to avoid atrocities against civilians, especially children, the elderly and women. However, different units of the state and the civilians, chiefly Erdoğan himself and his zealot loyalists, have repeatedly called for abduction and torture, even murder, of any Hizmet member in Turkey or abroad — even if they are elderly or women — and the plunder of their properties.

Erdoğan’s son-in-law even publicly encouraged the AKP zealots to kill Gülen movement followers, saying he would butcher them wherever he sees them without even batting an eyelid.27 While talking to a group of students that were granted scholarships to study abroad, Berat Albayrak said, “This gang of traitors is now pouring their poison and treason in cooperation with a disgusting ‘diaspora network’ all around the world to smear and betray this nation and this religion abroad. … If I were you, I would not have been able to restrain myself, I would have butchered them wherever I saw them. … These fugitives, stateless traitors, live very normal lives,” he added.

Erdoğan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın, as he was answering questions from the press on September 21, 2018, said, “Now, look, it may be the US or some other places, other countries in which the FETÖ nested, or some other regions, the operations by our relevant units and institutions in these places will continue uninterrupted. Therefore, they will continue feeling the breath of the state of the Turkish Republic on their necks. No one must ever doubt about this. Of course, I am not able to give you any details as to which countries, here or there, but anything may happen at any place. Let me express that our president has a clear order on this matter and that our units have been conducting professional efforts at the fullest possible extent. There may be operations in other regions, too, similar to the one in Kosovo. The Turkish Republic will not allow FETÖ to inhale a peaceful breath, everyone must know this.”28 The Kosovo operation he was referring to had stirred a huge backlash in the Balkan country as its Prime Minister stepped up to sack the internal minister and the head of the security forces for their negligence, which tainted the country’s sovereignty and made Kosovo seem like an unchecked and unprotected field where the agents of other countries could freely do whatever they want.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on April 4, 2017, “We do not stop chasing after them [Gülen movement participants] at home and abroad. We are breathing down their necks. We won’t give these traitors and dishonorable people room to breathe.”29 He would repeat the same threats over and over again by using the exact same words in a venomous tone as he spoke in Antalya in February 2019: “We are breathing down their necks. We will grab their necks and bring them back to Turkey. We will make the whole world a dungeon for them. We are hot on their heels all across the world. We are closing their associations, schools. We are closing down them all, or we are making them closed down. Lastly, Pakistan Constitutional Court declared them a terror organization.”

In some other incidents, the Turkish authorities revealed their plans to resort to underhanded operations against the members of the Gülen movement. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, for example, asserted on March 2017 that the Turkish state units have plans to whisk away the opposition figures, who had escaped the AKP persecution and sought refuge in Germany as political asylees. “One day, these FETÖ terrorists may be shocked to see where they are located, you know. I’m telling you from here, it is not that easy.”31 In one of the most famous such incidents that also kicked up a row in the US, the US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Mike Flynn allegedly discussed with representatives from the Turkish government a $15-million offer in exchange for delivering Fethullah Gülen to Turkey.32 This single case alone depicts the exorbitant plots the Turkish government has schemed and ventured even in the US, much less the countries with less established democratic institutions. Within its own borders and abroad, the Turkish government will continue to round up and bring in the dissidents to fill its currently-under-construction 228 new prisons.

Threats From Loyalists

Pro-government figures not only from politics but also from the media, also encouraged abduction, torture, and killing of government dissidents in Turkey and abroad. Erdoğan’s former speechwriter Aydın Ünal, for instance, penned threats bluntly against the Hizmet members in his column in a pro-government media outlet. The following quote is taken verbatim from his column in Erdoğan’s Yeni Şafak newspaper: “Certain Fetullahists continuing to live does not serve the interests of neither Gülen nor U.S. intelligence. They should prepare for the extrajudicial organization executions approaching, rather than conduct an operation through the judicial theater.”34 When he wrote these lines, he was also an MP of Erdoğan’s party. He claimed that the Hizmet would do something like this to journalists in exile since their lives would no longer “serve the interests of the movement.” These lines, however, were nothing but providing an early excuse for the MİT’s covert operations to assassinate these dissidents.

Another pro-government journalist, Cem Küçük, made an even direr statement. During a live television program, he insisted Turkish intelligence agencies kill family members of people who were arrested over their (alleged) affiliations with the Gülen movement. He was very critical even about the prosecutors, who had notoriously been very tough on the followers of the Gülen movement, accusing these prosecutors of being excessively lenient. He suggested that instead of asking questions and taking answers in conventional ways, the detained people must be subjected to a variety of tortures during their enforced stays in prisons. One of his suggestions to effectively convince Hizmet members to confess their attributed crimes was to “to hang them out of the window by their legs.”

Unfortunately, the Turkish state is already executing much worse cruelty against the alleged members of the movement. There are innumerable grueling accounts of how Hizmet members are treated in prisons.

The threats that come from Erdoğan’s zealot followers must also be noted. There have been countless physical assaults against members of the Hizmet movement inside Turkey, but there are concrete signs that the acts of intimidation and cannonade are being deliberately organized in other countries as well. For example, some German press outlets reported that AKP MP Metin Külünk was ostensibly providing funds for the Turkish “Ottoman Germania” gangs. There are surveillance camera records showing this politician in contact with the gang members while allegedly giving them money. A ZDF news reported evidence that Ottoman Germania was indeed assigned to carry out attacks on the Turkish dissidents living in the country. A former member of the European Parliament Ozan Ceyhun wrote on social media, “Gülenists in Germany will have many sleepless nights. We owe that to our martyrs.” Likewise, Dursun Baş, the chairman of the German branch of the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), addressed two members of Stiftung Dialog und Bildung via Twitter, saying, “How do you dare to go out on the streets? For you, there will be no easy death.”

Sedat Peker, a mafia leader who was released from prison by Erdoğan in 2014, openly threatened dissidents with death but was acquitted by the court without even a slight warning, much less due to punishment. Peker, who was embraced by Erdoğan on many occasions and has very close relations with the youth of Erdoğan’s party, said, “We will force into the jails after hanging all of whomever we catch on the trees, flag poles. We will hang them in the jails as well. We will hang them on the poles from their necks,” and the court accepted these words as nothing more than normal expression of one’s opinions. People quit attending mosques for regular prayers due to the fear of getting assaulted by partisans, and their buildings were stoned or burnt by arson even in major European countries. Turkish businessman Ali Ekrem Kaynak was killed in Amsterdam sometime after he was verbally and physically assaulted by Erdoğan loyalists over his proximity to the Hizmet movement. There have been similar incidents in the US as well.

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THE WOMEN WHO SURVIVED THE TURKEY PURGE

A Graphic Novel about the women who survived after the long journey in Turkey’s dictatorial regime.

After the alleged coup attempt of July 15, 2016, thousands of people lost their jobs and were subjected to court trials and proceedings on the grounds that they were Hizmet Movement followers. Hundreds of people, who do not have a hope to survive in this grueling atmosphere in Turkey, are striving to leave the country illegally by venturing into the risk of crossing the border and facing death in order to live freely. There were people who drowned in this difficult and harsh journey.

Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST), as a non-governmental organization that runs its activities on a voluntary basis, has made it a mission to champion the rights of Silenced Turkey until universal human rights and democratic governance are established and sustained as the utmost priorities of the Republic of Turkey.

This graphic novel was created by a high school student with inspiration from real stories on the APH project.

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THE ILLUSTRATIONS OF A TEACHER IN PRISON

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WHO AM I?
I was born in 1983, in the city of Zonguldak, Turkey. My mother was a housewife; my father was a retired teacher. We were four siblings, and I was the only male child in the house. Due to my father’s profession, we lived in many different cities and towns and had the opportunity to experience various geographies, places, and people. Though I was never very good at my studies, ever since I was little I always had an interest in the arts, particularly drawing. I don’t remember when I first began to be interested in drawing. When I couldn’t find any paper to draw on, I would go ahead and draw my pictures on the walls of our house. Needless to say, I received a fair share of scolding from my mom on that account. During my high school years, through the encouragement of my art teacher, I enrolled in a painting (drawing) course in the city we lived in. Enrolling in this course naturally paved my way into a great university. After completing my [extended] university education, through the reference from the private school where I completed my internship, I was offered a job in a very nice district/city. (This is, in fact, the place where I hope to settle down one day once I reach my retirement, God-willing.) After working in that position for a year, I had to leave in order to fulfill my mandatory military service. Upon completing my military service, I came back and started prepping for the public employee selection exams. When I couldn’t score enough points to be appointed to a public school, I started working at another private school. Unfortunately, due to some unpleasant situations I came across, I had to leave my job there. I spent the next year preparing for the exams one more time. When I could not again score enough points the second time around, my brother-in-law encouraged me to go to Mardin, a city in southeastern Turkey, where there was a shortage of teachers at a private school there. After working at that school for two years, I met my future wife and we got married. Shortly after I heard about an opening for a teaching position in the city which I had loved dearly but had had to leave years ago. Without wasting any time, I applied for the position. I spent four wonderful years teaching in that city, four wonderful years… after which dark clouds started falling upon us.

WHAT I EXPERIENCED DURING THIS WHOLE ORDEAL

I imagine you are somewhat familiar with what comes next. First of all, our work permits were canceled. When I saw the news on television and learned that a state of emergency had been declared, I did my best to keep calm. I asked my mother-in-law to make us some tea so we could sit and enjoy ourselves and not let this bring our spirits down. My wife ended up crying that evening. I tried to reassure her and told her, “Don’t worry. Even if Allah has blocked one path, He will surely open up another.” Sure enough, after that we worked in many different places, in many different cities. There were times when we were even laughed at and mocked. But never did we ever resort to any embarrassing acts or engage in any disgraceful activities. To this day, I can proudly say that we can hold our heads high and walk with dignity. In any case, the government had already started arbitrarily firing people from their jobs, and some opportunist business owners used that opening to hire these unfortunate victims, paying them less than half the amount of what the job should have paid, not to mention the fact that they were denied any benefits or insurance. I’m talking about people who were just like us. I heard of a teacher that had begun working at a gas station. Some friends of the business owner –who were pro-government–were constantly pressuring him, saying, “What?!! How come he is still working for you? Just fire him!” His answer to their objections was quite meaningful; he had replied, “Find me a guy who is as trustworthy and honest as this one and I will fire this one right away.” As far as I know, that person is still working at that gas station… Before having been taken to prison, I had started working at a publishing house. Since I hadn’t been particularly happy with their work policy, I had left that job. And now after my time in prison, I am working at another publishing house. Thanks and praise be to my dear God, I am among the ones who actually has a job to go to. In a country where more than half of the young population is out looking for work, this is truly a blessing. As I head out to work each morning, I catch myself thinking back to the days I spent locked behind bars. Judging by the surprised looks of the people walking past me on the sidewalk, I’m guessing I probably have a huge smile on my face as my thoughts wander back. I used to be a teacher before all this happened. And not just any teacher… I was a teacher who for nine whole years had gone to every class, every day with the same excitement and enthusiasm as the last!.. Thus, I will use a teacher example to explain the next part of my story. You know when you ask a parent about a teacher– if they happen to know the teacher you are asking about–the first thought to cross their mind will probably be, ”Let’s see, was there anything negative about this teacher?” (Of course, they’ll probably be keeping this thought to themselves.) If they can’t think of anything bad, then they’ll say the teacher was ok and kind of brush that off as an answer. The reason? If you ask me, it’s just how people naturally react, that’s all. The first thought to enter our minds about a person is the bad memories they left us with (if any). When you think back about a previous teacher, the things you remember are whether you experienced anything negative with that teacher or not. Now, coming back to my own story, when people ask me how it was on the “inside,” first of all, a great big smile spreads across my face. Then I remember the jokes, the pranks, the fooling around and the sweet mischief, the chitchats around a pot of tea, our excitement for the “snack bar” day, and our deep conversations that extended well into the night. In all honesty, the bad memories are the ones that I remember the last. Now you ask me, is this normal? I should probably start off with telling you that I, myself, am not your typical, normal guy. I can say that I had already somewhat driven myself out of my mind years ago with all the doodling and drawing and the shaping clay into statues and sculptures and crushing them into tiny bits after taking them from the mold, and whatnot… Or maybe it was because I had no bad memories from the “inside.” The people I was in prison with were all educated people, well-mannered and people of good character. The couple of months I spent with them was not wasted with problems like having to learn to adapt to a new environment or wait until we “clicked” with the others. It felt as though I was staying with childhood buddies that I had known my whole life, arm in arm, hand in hand, lighthearted fun and ruckus all around. There was hardship, though, I cannot deny that. And I try to portray that in my drawings. In fact, you’ll see later on that I had a special wish regarding this matter, during the time I was in prison (which may surprise you a bit). The coup attempt that took place in the country was a kind of revolution that had completely different effects on the people going about their lives outside and on those of us who were locked “inside.” We had now become “the other.” People who knew us, who knew who and what we were, would not even walk on the same side of the street with us anymore, they would change their paths once they saw us coming. I didn’t let this become a concern of mine. My own father was among the first to be taken into custody during the initial operations carried out in the city of Konya. I cannot forget the day he was taken away. They just showed up at our house early one morning and took him away before we even had a chance to understand what was going on. God bless them, at least they were considerate about it; they did not shout about or throw insults like the stories we had heard of others. I spent some time looking for work here and there. Naturally, almost every door I went to closed upon me. In fact, during one of my interviews, the man who would be hiring me openly said it to my face: ”Brother, I’ll be honest with you, you are just the guy I am looking for, but if I go ahead and hire you I’ll be getting myself into trouble.” We had to go back to the town where I last worked so we could gather up our belongings and leave, and while we were there, one of our neighbors decided to report us to the police. They came straight away, and I spent that evening in custody. I cannot erase the image I have in my mind of my mother with her teary eyes. First my father, and now me… The next day I was released under judicial control. A couple of days later we changed our official address and settled down in our second hometown. Meanwhile, both my father-in-law and brother in-law were also arrested. They needed someone to look after their business and take care of things on their farm. And so, even though I knew nothing about working the soil, I found myself atop a tractor harvesting carrots on thousands of acres of land just so I could help them out somehow. Though it was difficult at first, I found that in time I grew to like it. After my brother-in-law was released and he could take over and the workload eased up a bit, I could look for jobs in my own field of work. Upon returning to Konya, after doing some odd jobs here and there, I finally started working at a printing center. Meanwhile, my father was transferred to the Alanya prison. Every once in a while I would go and visit during open visitation, but it was my mother who mostly went to the visits because of the distance and expenses involved. Someone I used to work for, and who I loved and respected dearly, vouched for me and I started working at a publishing house after the Ramadan Eid festival were over. Yes, I was working now, but only a month into it and it was time for the court hearings. The hearings took three days. I went in all three days, and I sat and listened. On the second day, before the court adjourned for the day’s lunch break, the judge turned to me and said, “Yes, let’s listen to what you have to say also.” He had the SEGBIS (Sound and Video Information System) closed down. I spoke about my work history. There was no record regarding a report filed in my name, or my name being mentioned anywhere specific, etc… Everything was running smoothly, then the judge spoke again, “Look, our own children were educated in these institutions as well,” and the prosecutor’s head bobbed slowly up and down as if affirming what the judge had just said. Then he asked me the question, “Do you think they were the ones to carry out this coup?” I knew this was a trick question, but still I fell into their trap. Rather, I should say, there were some possible answers I could have given, but I just couldn’t. (It was like Allah did not allow me to say it, I’m guessing that there is some kind of divine wisdom behind my being taken in.) My answer was (as recorded in the official report), “I do not believe that the individuals I worked with in these institutions were members of a [terrorist] organization. In fact, I do not believe they had any relations with either the December 17/25 operations or the coup attempt which took place on July 15, 2016. I am among those individuals who believe that the members of this [social] structure have not committed the act of staging a coup. I see Fethullah Gulen as a leader with a specific religious vision/perspective. I do not believe that he has engaged in any activities which aim to disintegrate any government or state. I have never been a witness to any testimonies delivered by himself to that effect. I believe that the events which took place on July 15, 2016 were forged and were false actions. I am among those who believe that such a coup was merely a stage act.” The court room was dead silent– no sound, no movement at all. The judge spoke to me, “You do understand that this is the high criminal court, you may very well be arrested.” I do not remember anything I said from that point onward. For the first time in my life, my blood sugar levels plummeted, and I felt a dizziness in my head. I held on to the railing in front of me to keep my balance. As I was about to collapse onto the floor, I lowered myself down and just sat on the floor. I asked for some water. The court clerk looked at me, eyes wide open as if to say, “What on earth did you just do!” The judge ordered the clerk to take a record of what I had said, the most significant parts at least, and said to me,”You will come back for the hearings this afternoon, and the ones tomorrow. If you fail to come on your own, I will see to it that the police make sure you come here.” “I understand your honor,” I replied. My mind was telling me right then and there that I would be arrested for sure. When I made it home at the end of the day, I told my wife all that had happened throughout the day. The next day’s hearing was a very short one. The interim decision was announced right away. I was under arrest. My first encounter was with the handcuffs. What we saw only in movies and on television had become the reality of our own lives now. As I was being taken to the hospital for the routine check-up, with permission from the police I called up my wife to inform her of what was going on. She couldn’t say anything except shed tears on the other end of the line. I don’t know whether it was from the shock of it all or just me trying to keep my calm, but there were no tears or any sense of sorrow on my end. I was finally taken to the prison. After taking my information down, the guardians casually conversed on which ward to send me to, displaying such levity as if they were playing the lottery or some other game. When I heard B11, I was all ears since my father had also been kept in that same ward. I entered the ward and looked around hoping to see a familiar face when right before me stood the general director of the institution that I had been working for. “What are you doing here?” he asked me. I told him the whole story. I admit, I did cry a little bit then. “Are you hungry, let’s fix you something to eat,” they offered right away. As I ate, all my fellow “inmates” came over to say sorry for what had happened, asked my name and started up conversations to welcome me in. I stayed in that ward for about two weeks. Even the district governor from our hometown was there. From professors in the university to former police officers, people were there from all walks of life. I don’t remember the exact date, but on one of the weekends we even had a “çiğ köfte” (traditional dish made with crushed wheat, tomato paste, herbs and spices, usually eaten as comfort food) party. We bought the supplies from the snack bar. One of our friends in the ward “kneaded” the delicacy. We prepared the “ayran” (traditional yogurt drink) and spread out our blankets in the courtyard. We ate and had a good time, we even enjoyed our tea afterwards. It was a truly extraordinary day spent in an extraordinary location. Towards the end, some friends grew so enthusiastic that they even started singing marches from Ottoman times (the Plevne march). I guess the prison guards were listening to us from the top floor because the guards immediately rushed over and shut the doors. The next day we received a written notice. Because of the march sung the day before, an investigation file was being opened on our ward. It was obvious that things were going to turn sour. A few days later the whole ward was dispersed, and everyone was sent somewhere else. We gathered in the courtyard and said our goodbyes. I cried a lot, it was a heartbreaking separation. I was sent to ward C7 with two other retired police officers. I stayed there for six weeks. It was about a quarter the size of the previous ward- -a small, tiny ward– but it was all the more sincere and warm. Like all the other wards, it was filled with educated gentlemen. From the morning until the afternoon, prayers books were read and conversations circled around the material that was read. When the afternoon prayer time rolled around, those of us who felt young gathered up and played some volleyball in the courtyard. I spent the Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) in that ward. It was an Eid that I will never forget and will always cherish. Among my fellow inmates was a former student’s parent and a doctor who had previously stayed in the same ward with my father. A project being drawn up by the Ministry of Justice was revealed. They were planning to mix inmates like us together with criminals of petty offenses. They had chosen Konya to be the pilot prison to try out this new plan, but their plan did not operate like they had intended. So, one Tuesday morning, I was taken back to my old ward once again. This time around, the number of inmates had increased, the faces had changed, even the atmosphere felt a bit different. It didn’t feel as comfortable as it used to be. Because it was more crowded now, everything from sleeping arrangements to the long bathroom lines, felt like a big issue now. Thank God, though, despite everything, days were going by quickly, with no fights or any uproars. A couple weeks later, the Konya “Çatı” file (in which many individuals were being tried for the same crime) hearings started. Some of the inmates in our ward were also being taken to the court as part of these hearings. One day, as we were waiting for our friends to come back from the hearings, someone had slid open the window opening on the ward door, asking for me. I had been outside in the courtyard while this was happening, and I rushed to the door when they said my father was calling for me. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It had been months since I had last seen my father, and now he was standing right across from me. I held his hand so tightly, and we talked for a bit. He looked around at my ward and greeted some of the familiar faces he saw, and then all of a sudden they shut the window. It turns out they had secretly opened the window when waiting in the corridor. His friends had kept watch and covered for him. (I tried to illustrate this in the drawing No.24) This was bound to happen when his petition to have us stay in the same ward was turned down. When his petitions were left unanswered, he asked to meet in person with the director, and at last they were able to come to an agreement. One Friday, shortly after the noontime prayers (by the way, because our activities were always centered around the prayer times, when speaking about the time, the vocabulary naturally turned to expressions such as “after this prayer,” “before that prayer,” etc..) as I was reading from the Qur’an, the doors opened. There, standing at the door was my father, holding his belongings. I yelled out, “Father!” and reached towards him as he stepped inside. I learned later that when I cried out like that, one of my fellow inmates started crying because he hadn’t seen his own father for months. It was heartbreaking to hear. Yet, happily for us, we had been united, father and son in the same ward. The last month passed by very quickly. Meanwhile, on the one hand, I was drawing my sketches of what life was like behind bars. On the other hand, I was getting ready for my court hearing. There was an inmate friend who had been a court clerk. I would consult with him, and we would exchange ideas on how I should go about my defense. All the while, my inmate friends would bring over pictures of their spouses, children, mothers and fathers, asking me to transform the pictures into a drawing for them. I did not want to break any of their hearts, so I would take them and work on them as well. On one of those days, I remember I had worked on five different pictures, one after the other, no break. Why they all waited until my last week there beats me! On Saturday, my group was on night duty; on Sunday, I was part of the cleaning crew. I was so beat that the “big brother” of the ward (when I say “big brother” don’t imagine the kind you see in the movies who racketeers money from the other inmates; he was truly a guy who looked out for us and took care of our needs.) felt sorry for me and backed me up saying, ”Why are you guys working this poor kid so much, ease up on him. He’s being released tomorrow!” Monday afternoon I appeared at the court hearing and returned back to the ward towards the evening, a little after the nightly roll-call. Everyone’s eyes were wide open, staring at me with questioning eyes. “RELEASE!” I yelled out and an excited uproar broke out. We celebrated with whistles and applause and congratulations all around. I told everyone how it all went down. After the nightly prayer, I said my goodbyes and left for home. I must have been the only inmate who found it so hard to leave their prison ward, because it also meant I was being separated from my father–again. As I stepped out, I turned and said, “See you Wednesday.” Some of them looked at me with a puzzled expression, but then it hit them that it was open visitation on Wednesday! I would be coming to see my father, as a visitor this time!

WHY I DREW THESE PICTURES

The year I started my university education, I considered dropping out, and on not just one, but three separate occasions. In fact, on my third attempt, I even made it as far as the door of the Student Affairs office (and turned back around, of course). It was an environment that I just couldn’t get used to. I felt like I was in a completely different world. People were so relaxed, so occupied with themselves, not stopping to look around at other people and just going about their own (selfish) lives. As for the professors, they were on a whole different planet, so to speak. I felt like I was a foreign student from a faraway land. As I was about to open the door of the Student Affairs office, a thought hit me, just like that, “If I came all the way here, somehow, some way, then there must be a reason for it.” And at that moment, I decided against leaving. If I had dropped out of school, I would never have become a teacher; if I hadn’t become a teacher, my work permit would never have been canceled for such an arbitrary reason, I would never have had a criminal case opened in my name, I would never have been locked up behind bars, I would never have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people in prison, never have had the memories which I portray in my drawings to share with you… The first thought that came to my mind after I was put in prison was, “Well, I finally get to have a vacation.” One of my inmate friends who was an assistant professor in the field of physics (I keep referring back to the people I met in prison. I can’t help it, because they are all such special and precious individuals whom I cherish. I had always heard about how the friendships formed in the military and in prison were unforgettable, now I know by experience.) said to me, “Brother, I never had a chance to get a tattoo when I was outside, would you draw a dragon tattoo on my shoulder?” I couldn’t say no to such a wish, so I drew one, using a pen. A few days later, a group of friends chatting in the courtyard caught my attention, and I was moved to make a drawing of them (note picture No.18). In fact, one of my friends in the prison wanted to keep the drawing as a memory, so I gifted it to him. A colleague of mine, who had also been my director and who had first welcomed me into the ward, saw the work I did and said to me, “If you ask me, you should draw all that you can to portray what it is like in here, show them in your drawings. A day will come when justice will be sought in the courts. Just as there was a way into all of this, there will be a way out.. When that day comes, everyone should be able to see what we went through.” Upon his advice, I started observing all the activities going on about me more intently, such as the roll-call in the ward, the bathroom line, the “snack bar” day, open visitations, what the ward looked like on a regular day, etc..and I stored everything in my memory. I even felt the need to apologize to my wife one evening. “What are you apologizing for?” she asked me. “I didn’t pay much attention to you during visitation,” I replied. “I was busy observing all that was going on around us so I could store them in my memory and get it down in my drawings.” I drew all that I could find time for while I was still “inside” and the rest of the drawings, I completed after my release. Whenever some friends ask me whether there’s anything new, I give a vague answer and say, “I’m working on it…” Months ago, when I did share a couple of my drawings, they somehow got passed back and forth among friends wanting to share with their close ones, and all of a sudden I had become an anonymous artist on social media. Whenever I started working on anything new, my inmate friends would joke around, saying, “Don’t forget to draw me too bro!” and would always support me. One of my friends in ward C7 said to me, “Brother, whatever you see here, try and carry it all as best you can onto your drawings. We try and do the best we can to pour out our hearts, to write down our memories, our poems, our homesickness and our experiences as best we can, but what you can express through your drawings can only be expressed through pages and pages of writing and still not be as effective.” (The person saying this to me was a professor who had authored the only book written in his own specific field of study.) When I had returned to my previous ward and got to meet new people and form new friendships, I had the opportunity to get to know them and listen to their stories as well. When I told them about my interest in drawing, the first thing they would ask me would be, “Brother, have you drawn pictures about our life here?” and I would rush and bring my drawings to show them. They would admire the drawings and grow emotional. One of them even said, “I keep telling my wife about how we even wash dishes and do laundry and clean and mop, but she blows me off telling me not to exaggerate. If I showed her this, she certainly wouldn’t be so cynical anymore.” The smile that would appear on the faces of those looking at the drawings, it was truly something invaluable, priceless; it meant more to me than the wealth of the worlds. A brother who looked at the pictures said, “Brother, you truly have found your calling here.” I was walking on clouds that day. I was so filled with joy– it felt like I was literally flying. I went to bed late that night. I stayed up, working on my drawings. I thought to myself, “I wish I could change wards every week and be able to draw the uniqueness being experienced in each one of them.” With these thoughts running through my head, I have tried to take notes of all the moments and memories I stored in my heart and mind. Unfortunately, there were some drawings that I could not finish to include in this book. I hope and pray that I have been able to duly portray the atmosphere we all experienced on the “inside.” I thank God that He put me in there. I got to experience unforgettable memories, and I got to know unforgettable people while I was in there. And I was blessed to experience some of the most delicious food I have ever tasted in my life, like the menemen (traditional breakfast dish made with eggs, tomatoes, and peppers) our friends had prepared for us on the semaver (traditional tea pot) during our Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) celebratory breakfast.

If I were a swallow flapping
his winds at the setting sun,

If I ripped out the pages
of my life and started anew

If swung my prayer beads through every
inch of the concrete courtyard I walked
on, while saying a prayer for each new
day, hoping this would end one day

If I raised my hands a bit higher each day,
for you, and my family, and your children

If I begged and pleaded as
my hands touched the ceiling of
the ward, would you, o brother, give me
a handful of your freedom?

I raise my hands up
to my Lord, and I pray,

Please don’t silence this
melody before its day.

These tribulations
shall surely be no more,

As the whole world
will witness one day..

 

 

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CALL FOR INVESTIGATION: Brutal Stabbing Attack on Businessman Hazim Sesli at Menemen Penitentiary

 

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Brutal Stabbing Attack on Businessman Hazim Sesli at Menemen Penitentiary

Advocates of Silenced Turkey urges all relevant institutions of the International Human Rights community to petition the Government of Turkey as follows:

  1. The Ministry of Justice and the Menemen Type T Penitentiary must urgently carry out a thorough, prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the attack in the custody of Businessman Hazim Sesli in order to determine (a) how a deadly weapon was brought into the prison, (b) why the assailant was left unsupervised for the duration of this nearly fatal attack, and (c) whether prison staff have been involved in planning the attack.
  2. Turkish authorities must urgently provide information to resolve questions and suspicions about the Hazim Sesli incident as well as all other allegations of ill-treatment, including violations by guards and other prisoners, of Hizmet Movement members imprisoned for political reasons.

Facts of the Hazim Sesli Incident

Businessman Hazim Sesli, arrested after being detained as part of the investigations against the Hizmet Movement, was attacked while talking on the phone with his family at 4:20 PM on March 11, 2020, at the Menemen Prison. Sesli was stabbed in 7 different parts of his body by another prisoner. Sesli first received medical attention in the prison infirmary in the aftermath of the attack and was later transferred to a hospital for further treatment.

According to information received by AST, Hazim Sesli, as part of Usak 2. Assize Court’s case No. 2016/204 E, has been a prisoner at the Menemen Type T Closed Penitentiary since October 21, 2015.

Testimony received by TR 724 News indicates that while Mr. Hazim Sesli stayed in an 8-person dormitory-style cell until September 9, 2016, he was arbitrarily transferred into solitary confinement without an official explanation from the Menemen Type T Closed Penitentiary Administration. It was asserted that this transfer was requested by the Ministry of Justice. However, in all applications submitted by Hazim Sesli’s legal representatives, they were told by the Ministry of Justice that a transfer request had not been made; the ministry added that the decision to transfer Sesli was at the discretion of the Menemen Penitentiary.

Hazim Sesli had not been interviewed since his transfer to solitary confinement. On March 11, 2020, at exactly 16:20, Hazim Sesli was stabbed by Fatih Oktay while on a phone call with his family. While on the phone, Hazim Sesli first noticed the attack when the assailant accidentally stabbed the phone in his hands. Sesli attempted to protect his life against the stabber who repeatedly attempted to stab his heart. Prison guards intervened, however, Sesli had incurred 7 severe injuries, including two stabbing wounds on his left hand, two wounds on his left leg, and 3-4 wounds on his hips.

The assailant, Fatih Oktay, is a two-time murderer and known for skinning the head of another prisoner in the past. The fact that Oktay, a violent criminal, was left in the same phone area as Hazim Sesli without supervision raises suspicions and numerous questions about the security conditions at the Menemen Penitentiary. More crucially, when Hazim Sesli was brought back from the hospital after his treatment, a prison guard has reportedly intentionally brought Sesli to the assailant’s cell to confirm Sesli’s return to the penitentiary.

Relevant Human Rights Institutions

  1. United National Human Rights Committee

Petitions Team
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10 (Switzerland)

Fax: + 41 22 917 9022 (particularly for urgent matters)
E-mail: petitions@ohchr.org

  1. Committee Against Torture

Petitions and Inquiries Section
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

E-mail: petitions@ohchr.org,
TB-petitions@ohchr.org,
cat@ohchr.org,
registry@ohchr.org

  1. Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
5100 O’Neill House Office Building
200 C Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20515
United States of America

Phone: +1 (202) 225-3599
Fax: +1 (202) 226-6584
Email: TLHRC@mail.house.gov

  1. S Helsinki Commission

234 Ford House Office Building
3rd and D Streets SW
Washington, DC 20515

Email: info@csce.gov

  1. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Mr. José Guevara,
Ms. Leigh Toomey,
Ms. Elina Steinerte,
Mr. Sètondji Adjovi,
Mr. Seong-Phil Hong

Email: wgad@ohchr.org

  1. The Honorable Dunja Mijatovic

Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights
Council of Europe
Avenue de I’Europe F-67075
Strasbourg Cedex, France

Tel: +33 (0)3 88 41 34 21
Fax: +33 (0)3 90 21 50 53
Email:  commissioner@coe.int

  1. The Honorable Abdülhamit Gül

Minister of Justice
06659 Kizilay
Ankara, Republic of Turkey

Email: info@adalet.gov.tr

 

Contact Us:

help@silencedturkey.org 
Phone: 646-504-2088

 

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December 10th, International Human Rights Day Booklet

DECEMBER 10th, INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY Booklet

10 aralık insan hakları gününde yüzlerce insan hakları gönüllülerinin destekleriyle 17 Farklı yerde yapılan aktivitelerin bir özetini sunan bu kitapçıkta bir çok demokratik protesto aktivitesi yer almaktadır. İnsan hakları ihlallerinin bir an evvel dinmesi için gayret gösteren gönüllülerimize teşekkür ederiz.

 

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Free Political Prisoners in Turkey, 13×19

Free Political Prisoners in Turkey, 13×19

 

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Free Journalists in Turkey

Free Journalists in Turkey

 

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Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day

 

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Free Political Prisoners in Turkey

Free Political Prisoners in Turkey

 

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Free 30K+ Political Prisoners

Free 30K+Political Prisoners

 

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