How Turkish president Erdogan punishes his political enemies

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For six months, Nursena, 21, has been fighting the indifference of the Turkish administration, hoping to find out what happened to her father. Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyigit, 49, who was an adviser to the prime minister, disappeared on the evening of the failed military coup on July 15, 2016, to topple conservative Islamic president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The coup attempt was attributed to the preacher Fethullah Gülend and to his men, of which, in the eyes of the Turkish authorities, Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyigit was a part. Through her computer monitor, Nursena apologizes, but she doesn’t want to say anything that would compromise her father even more. We know about him that she did not participate directly in the putsch.

Discharged from his duties, Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyigit spent six months in detention before being sentenced, in the summer of 2019, to six years and three months in prison. Pending the new judgment on appeal, he was released. However, he disappeared on December 29, 2020, as he was about to leave Ankara, where he lived, to visit his daughter in Istanbul. “He told me that he would pass by around 8 pm, but he never arrived – recalls Nursena. The last time people saw him was when he left his office in Kizilay, in central Ankara, around 5.10 pm. Not even his car has ever been found”.

Since then, the medical student has clashed with the state administrations: “To justify their inaction, they claim that my father ran away.” As a result, hundreds of people suspected of being Gülen’s followers crossed the Evros River to find refuge in Greece. But Nursena does not believe that he, her father, has fled: “First of all, they convinced him that the court of appeal would have revoked his sentence. And even if he thought the verdict would be upheld, the trial would take at least three or four years. Besides, if he had intended to escape, he would not have said that he would come to see me. So, he would not have left me without news.” She adds that her father was kidnapped, and Turkish authorities are trying to stop her from investigating.

The InstituDe platform, founded in Brussels by diplomats, victims of the purges, states in a statement dated January 8, 2021, that Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyigit “was probably kidnapped by government agents and subjected to torture,” along with thirty other people who have also disappeared. “The scheme is always the same,” explains the director of the institute, Hüseyin Konus. People, who present themselves as agents of the secret services, MIT, knock on the victim’s house in broad daylight, who is taken away by force in a black van.

It is unknown where they take her, but she has been tortured for months. Some reappear as if by a miracle in a police station”.eport dated April 29, 2020, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) records 24 cases of alleged disappearances and investigated sixteen. Among these is the case of Gökhan Türkmen, who, during his trial, on February 10, 2020, said he was kidnapped by state agents in Antalya on February 7, 2019, and was transferred to a police station on February 6, 2019. November 2019 and jailed.

Türkmen points out HRW, who transcribed the depositions, said he was locked “in a cell for 271 days, handcuffed, blindfolded, his feet chained, and tortured, deprived of food, water, and sleep.” These kidnappings go unnoticed in the Turkish press. “Beyond the possible crimes committed by these people, Turkey must put an end to these massive human rights violations,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, spokesperson for HRW in Turkey. For example, Erhan Dogan, director of a school in Ankara linked to the Gülenist movement, was arrested ten days after the failed coup: “The plainclothes officers who came to arrest me beat me for two, three hours, on the pretext of making me spit the names of some accomplices, which I was unable to provide,” he explains. Dogan was detained overnight in the school, and at dawn, took him to the Ankara anti-terrorism directorate.

“Two guards banged my head against the wall holding me by the hair – he says -. They told me I wouldn’t get out of there alive.” Then they took him to a gym where there were already a hundred people, dressed in an orange uniform like his, lined up along a wall. They made him kneel with his face against a wall, his hands tied behind his back: “There were traces of blood everywhere – he says -. Later I learned that it was there that they had tortured the military after the coup.” He is stripped and beaten with batons at night: “they wanted me to acknowledge that I was a terrorist and to name ten people. One day they hung me from the ceiling with a rope tied to my wrists so that my feet wouldn’t touch the ground. They hit me”. An agent threatened to rape his wife and his daughter.

One day he was taken to court and jailed. The detention conditions were inhumane: “The dormitory was set up for fourteen people, but there were fifty-five of us, with only one bathroom and a shower. There was cold water for only two or three hours a week. For seven or eight months, I slept on the floor”. He was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, but on January 30, 2018, he was granted probation on appeal. Shortly after that, he fled to Germany with his family via Greece.

Cases of police torture in Turkey have increased since then. A culture of impunity is spreading among the police,” explains Emma Sinclair-Webb. The violence affects not only the alleged Gülenists but also Kurdish activists. Like Kadir Aktar, 17, arrested in July 2020 on the outskirts of Istanbul, on the sidelines of a shooting where a policeman had died, but in which Kadir had not directly participated. Released on February 16, 2021, the young man was arrested again two days later and found dead in his cell, hanged. Officially, it a suicide. Emma Sinclair-Webb also draws attention to the retaliatory measures suffered by the few people who dare to report cases of disappearance or torture.

Tülay Açikkollu is one of them. For months the teacher investigated to find out what happened to her husband, who died in prison on the night of August 4, 2016. Gökhan Açikkollu, 42, a history teacher at a high school in Istanbul, died thirteen days after being arrested on the base. Of a complaint. The autopsy report, carried out by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (Tihv), Sebnem Korea Finance, confirmed his death from a heart attack caused by the torture he suffered. Bruises, head and leg injuries, broken ribs are described. When she filed a murder complaint with the Istanbul prosecutor’s office on February 24, 2017, Tülay was detained by the police. “They asked me to name my husband’s friends. They told me they would put me in prison, then they released me”.

On February 7, 2018, Gökhan Açikkollu, fired shortly before his arrest, was posthumously reinstated in the civil service. “Proof that my husband was innocent.” Tülay, therefore, contacted the media in hopes of washing off her husband’s honor. Still, a pro-government journalist named her, stating that her son had studied in a school of the Gülen movement. “Four days later, a court indictment claimed seven to fifteen years in prison against me. That day, I realized that I could no longer live in Turkey.” Today, Tülay resides with his two children in a European country.

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