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In Turkish Prisons: A Report from Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s concerns in Turkey continue to be as they have been for some years past, the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, widespread and systematic torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners, and the imposition and use of the death penalty. There is also concern that the difficulties lawyers experience in seeing their imprisoned clients and preparing the defense case and the use of statements in court that are alleged to have been induced by torture may affect the fairness of trails in military courts.

The exact number of political prisoners in Turkey at the present time is not known. On August 1, 1984, a government spokesman told the press agency, Agence France Presse, that 7,500 political prisoners were held in military prisons. However, this figure does not include those political prisoners whose legal proceedings have been completed and who are serving their sentences in civilian prisons, nor does it include those persons not yet charged, but held under martial law, which permits incommunicado detention in police stations for forty-five days.

Although civilian government was restored to Turkey following elections in November 1983, martial law continues in twenty-three of the sixty-seven provinces including all major cities, such as Ankara, Istanbul, Adana, Izmir, and Diyarbakir, and a state of emergency exists in twelve further provinces. Political offenses continue to be tried by military courts, although special state security courts have been established in eight cities to deal with political offenses committed after May 1, 1984.

The Turkish authorities usually refer to all political prisoners as “extremist militants” or “terrorists.” During the five years preceding the military coup of September 1980 political violence had resulted in more than 5,000 assassinations by right-wing and left-wing groups. Some groups have continued to engage in violent opposition to the government. However, although many of those now in prison for political offenses have been charged with violent crimes, Amnesty International knows of hundreds of political prisoners whom it considers to be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned for their nonviolent political or religious activities or beliefs, in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association as laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights to which Turkey is a State Party. They include members of the Turkish Peace Association, the Turkish Workers’ party, the Turkish Socialist Workers’ party, the Turkish Workers’ and Peasants’ party, the Turkish Communist party, TOB-DER (the teachers’ association), and IGD (the Progressive Youth Association).

Many journalists, publishers, writers, translators, and academics have been prosecuted under Article 142 of the Turkish penal code with “making communist propaganda,” simply because of their involvement in the publication of material which expresses left-wing political ideas. Nearly 1,500 trade unionists are on trial because of their legitimate trade union activities. Although the leading members of DISK, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, have now been released from prison, their trial, which started in December 1981, continues; and with the incorporation of DISK-affiliated unions in the trial the total number of defendants is now 1,474, for seventy-eight of whom the military prosecutor has demanded the death penalty.

Some of Amnesty International’s adopted prisoners of conscience are Kurds charged with “separatist” activities. The lack of recognition by the Turkish authorities of the existence of the Kurdish ethnic minority and the prohibitions on the use of the Kurdish language or any manifestation of a Kurdish cultural identity had led long before the military coup of 1980 to the establishment of many different Kurdish groups, some of which used violence and others which worked nonviolently for the preservation of the Kurdish language and culture and for the official recognition of the Kurds. The Turkish authorities appear to have made little distinction between groups that used violence to achieve their aims and those that neither advocated nor practiced violence, and Kurdish prisoners include people from both categories.

Other persons regarded as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International are those charged under Article 163 of the Turkish penal code with trying to change the secular nature of the Turkish state. Many of these are members of Islamic sects, but in June and July of 1984 and again in December 1984 Amnesty International received reports of the imprisonment of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, twenty-three of whom have now been sentenced to between four years’ and six years-eight months’ imprisonment for their nonviolent religious activities.

Both before and after the 1980 coup Amnesty International received allegations that people taken into custody for political offenses had been tortured and that in some cases the torture was alleged to have resulted in death. From the extensive number of verbal and written accounts it has accumulated over a period of years, and from information provided by the Turkish authorities themselves in response to Amnesty International’s inquiries, Amnesty International has concluded that torture is widespread and systematic in Turkey. Amnesty International believes that all persons detained in Turkey are in danger of being tortured and that only a very few of those detained are not subjected to some form of ill-treatment.

The Turkish authorities have repeatedly denied that torture is systematic. They maintain that all complaints of torture are investigated and that when torture has occurred those responsible are prosecuted. From time to time official figures are published of investigations that have taken place, prosecutions, convictions, and acquittals. But Amnesty International knows of many cases in which complaints of torture have been made, very often by defendants in court during their trails, where no investigation of any kind appears to have taken place. Amnesty International continues to receive allegations of torture and believes that all the information in its possession indicates that torture is still being carried out as a routine practice in most police stations in Turkey and that ill-treatment of prisoners is carried out routinely in military prisons. It is worth nothing in this respect that the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were detained in Ankara in June and July of 1984 are alleged to have been tortured and that in October and November of 1984 the Turkish press itself carried reports concerning the alleged torture of customs officials held in connection with alleged smuggling activities at Kapikule on the border with Bulgaria. These allegations were first made by the minister of finance and customs, Vural Arikan, who was subsequently dismissed. They were reiterated by the defendants themselves at their trail in February 1985. These indications that not only political prisoners are subjected to torture are supported by other information given to Amnesty International over the years about the torture of common criminals during interrogation.

Executions, which had not taken place in Turkey since 1972, were resumed within one month of the military coup and to date fifty people have been executed, twentyseven in connection with politically motivated killings. More than four hundred prisoners are under sentence of death and in approximately sixty cases legal proceedings have been concluded and the death sentences are awaiting ratification by the Turkish parliament. Amnesty International opposes the use of the death penalty without reservation in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment and has pointed out to the Turkish authorities many times that Turkey is the only member of the Council of Europe to have carried out executions in recent years, the trend in Western Europe being toward total abolition of the death penalty.

Letters

Detention in Turkey June 27, 1985

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