The interview of Yonca Poyraz Doğan on September 29, 2014 with Şebnem Korur Fincancı.
This week’s guest for Monday Talk is a person who has dedicated her life to prevention of torture, and she has said that even though Turkey signed international conventions against torture, it acts as if it did not.
“Now, authorities use torture methods that are difficult to diagnose — threats, degradation, insults — methods that involve psychological torture. Authorities use unnecessary body search methods that involve body cavities — unnecessary for political detainees, for example. And there is also collection of body fluids and biological samples for DNA analysis — even though the detainee is not a victim of rape, for example,” said Şebnem Korur Fincancı, who is the recipient of the 2014 International Hrant Dink Award from Turkey.
“In addition, torture is on the streets now because the detention period, which used to be 90 days, is now limited to 24 hours and it can be extended three times by the permission of the prosecution. It is harder to practice torture while in detention,” she also said.
Answering our questions, she elaborated on the issue.
What is the state of Turkey in terms of prevention of torture?
Turkey’s situation in this regard is not so bright. Indeed, all states use torture as a tool of pressure on citizens. Torture affects the whole society, not just the people who experience it. Even though torture has been banned with international agreements and states have been parties to those agreements — including Turkey — torture does not stop. In Turkey, we don’t see anymore certain types of torture, such as foot whipping, Palestinian hanging and electrical shock, as the authorities have seen that physicians diagnose those methods of torture. Now, authorities use torture methods that are difficult to diagnose — threats, degradation, insults — methods that involve psychological torture. Authorities use unnecessary body search methods that involve body cavities — unnecessary for political detainees, for example. And there is also the collection of body fluids and biological samples for DNA analysis — even though detainee is not a victim of rape, for example. In addition, torture is on the streets now because the detention period, which used to be 90 days, is now limited to 24 hours and it can be extended three times by the permission of the prosecution. It is harder to practice torture while in detention.
What types of torture are used on the streets now?
In one period, we often saw people tortured in abandoned places. The most obvious torture cases occurred in the Gezi protests — police used extreme violence against protesters. We have also seen some positive developments. In the past we were not used to seeing torture cases going to the court, and the judiciary was always on the side of the state not people. One positive development has been that a local court found the police who used violence against a young man in a city park in Avcılar a few years ago guilty.
Are such cases, like being beaten by police in a park or being subject to police violence in demonstrations, considered torture, too?
If it is restricting somebody’s freedom, yes. If you had noticed, law enforcement officials did not leave any points of escape for demonstrators in the Gezi protests. Even people who were in the area for other purposes were affected. The discussion about whether or not this kind of restricting of freedoms should be considered torture went on [in the international community] and at the end the international community came to an agreement that it is [torture]. And then, the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR] fined many countries, including Turkey, for torturing people during demonstrations.
‘AKP becomes more authoritarian as it grabs more power’
The decision of the ECtHR is important but is the Turkish government going to take it into account? You know that one of the recent decisions of the same court was finding Turkey at faubecause religion class is required in Turkish schools that impose a certain belief; and following that ruling the Turkish government officials implied that they would not adhere to the ruling Where do you think Turkey is headed?
I am concerned about where Turkey is headed but I’ve been concerned about the situation for a long time, not just recently. This has been a long-standing problem of Turkey. The Turkish government signs many international agreements regarding human rights, however, the judiciary rules in such a way as if they have never heard of these agreements. Turkey either does not make necessary arrangements, laws and regulations in line with the international agreements that it signed or does not implement them even if it has them. For example, cases involving torture claims have been treated as if Turkey has never signed an international agreement in this regard. Even though the Turkish Penal Code [TCK] involves progressive changes regarding how to treat torture cases, they are not implemented. This is our problem. Second, we are increasingly becoming an inward-looking country. Turkish authorities tend to say, “How come international bodies interfere in our domestic affairs?” The mentality was the same before the ruling Justice and Development Party [AK Party] came to power, too. However, the AK Party is becoming more authoritarian as it grabs more power. Yes, the AK Party is imposing a required religion class on everybody, and now it is allowing headscarves for girls as young as 10 years old in schools and it is trying to sell it as “freedom.” How can it be freedom? People are considered children until they become 18, and most decisions concerning them are made by their parents. Are those children able to make choices of their own? This recklessness on the part of the government is worrying. Let’s go back to the Gezi protests: While the Interior Minister at the time was trying to soften the strong feelings in the society in the face of the brutality used by the police, then-Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan said that he gave the orders! There are young people who lost their lives or who were maimed, and unfortunately the prime minister says this!
‘People did not have the courage to open lawsuits’
The International Federation for Human Rights [FIDH], with its two member organizations in Turkey, the Human Rights Association [İHD] and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey [TİHV], released a 30-page report on May 27, “Gezi, One Year On: Witch hunt, impunity of law enforcement officials and a shrinking space for rights and freedoms,” documenting the systematic repression of the non-violent movement in the streets and the disproportionate use of police force. Were the people of Gezi who were subject to this violence able to file court cases against responsible authorities?
At the TİHV, we told people that we would assist those who could document the violence. Some people came to us and documented the brutality that they faced, but they never had the courage to open lawsuits. This is the result of the violence: It threatens people, it scares people, it represses people. Now we have an ongoing process that some serious suspects have been released!
You refer to the Ergenekon [a crime network with links to the “deep state”] case?
Yes, we have responsibility in this regard, too. We have not been insistent on the continuation of the Ergenekon case. I am the only intervening party in the case. I realize that the Ergenekon case was opened not for justice to be served but in order to open channels to the new “owners” of the state. However, if there were enough people to insist on the necessity of the Ergenekon case, it could have been different. At the same time, there were many rights violations during the course of the Ergenekon case raising many questions. In the end, we have serious criminals walking among us. Obviously, the government has completed its operations regarding having full control of the state, so they do not need the Ergenekon case anymore.
When the Ergenekon case first started, I had an interview with one of the close friends of Hrant Dink, writer Ali Bayramoğlu, and he had said that if Dink saw that day [the start of the trial], he would rest in peace a little. Now that the Ergenekon suspects are out, do you think Dink would rest in peace?
No, and his restlessness would last a long time because only one youth has been shown as responsible for his death, and the larger case involving many officials responsible for his murder will be covered up. The mainstream media uses all tools to cover it up, too. Everybody seems to have forgotten the photographs of the murderer after his capture in front of a Turkish flag accompanied by gendarmerie and police.
‘Detainees need to get over with shock and anxiety before seeking help’
Do you get any applications from the police officers who were being detained because they faced violations of human rights in detention? [On Dec. 17, 2013, the financial crimes and anti-smuggling and organized crime units of the İstanbul Security Directorate detained 47 people, including high level government officials; and in August, police officers, including police chiefs who performed the Dec. 17 operation were detained.]
Not yet, and this is normal because at first these people experienced anxiety and shock. They are already greatly threatened so I don’t think that they are at a stage yet that they seek support in this way.
Last week, in my interview with lawyer and opposition party deputy Mahmut Tanal, he said that he currently faces an investigation by the public prosecutor for fomenting chaos at a courthouse for preventing detained police officers from being questioned. He added that even though the 48-hour detention period had finished, the police officers were still in detention, and that’s why he objected to the situation at the courthouse…
Yes, I faced many court cases for similar reasons.
Would you remind us what happened?
In the face of many tragedies, the struggles I had to go through remain miniscule. There have been attempts to prevent me performing my profession a few times, and I had financially hard times as a single mother who pays rent. There are also some tragicomic situations; for example, some people claimed that they were tortured, and I noticed that they had not been examined closely, so I wrote a detailed report regarding what types of examinations needed to be done. And the Supreme Court of Appeals chief prosecutor filed a petition for criminal investigation against me! These types of situations have been happening during many administrations in Turkey, not just today, and I am very concerned.
‘Sense of justice has been so greatly harmed in society’
What are your concerns?
The sense of justice has been greatly harmed. And when this sense of getting justice has been harmed, people start to obtain justice by themselves and their feelings of taking the law into their own hands grow. We now have this feeling; people do not trust the justice system because they do not trust that laws are being implemented. In addition, I hope there will be a realization that law enforcement officials also become victims of the system — why are the suicides and suicide attempts so high among law enforcement officials?
You are at the university and continue to do your job despite the negative experiences you have had. Where do you find the strength?
I continue to go on because of the solidarity that I get from the human rights and professional communities. I believe that human values will prevail, even though I will not see it, but it will happen one day. Besides, Turkey is the land of contradictions — while you have things going down on one side, all of a sudden you can have positive developments on the other side. This gives me hope. Sometimes the judiciary’s decisions upset you very deeply, and then some courts please you with their decisions — like the local court’s recent decision finding law enforcement officials guilty in the case in which a young man was beaten at an Avcılar community park. I am still at the university because of the judiciary’s favorable decisions regarding my cases. I once had been subject to a court case for making a press statement as a public employee at the university. The Council of State ruled in that case that as the head of the Association of the Forensic Medicine Experts and the general secretary of the Chamber of Medical Doctors, she fulfilled her responsibility to inform the public.
Şebnem Korur Fincancı
A medical doctor with a Ph.D., Fincancı has expertise in forensic medicine and heads the forensic medicine department at the İstanbul University. In the 1990s, when torture was prevalent in Turkey and covered up by authorities, she was subjected to the oppression and obstructions of the state as she wrote articles on medical ethics and penned reports documenting torture. In 1996, she took part in post-mortems from mass graves in the Kalesija region of Bosnia as a member of the Physicians for Human Rights team on behalf of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal. On behalf of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture (IRTC), she traveled to Bahrain disguised as a tourist and collected tissue samples from the body of a young man whose remains were discovered at sea and who police claimed had drowned. She brought the samples to Turkey, and in the autopsy she carried out, determined that he had been murdered under torture in detention as his family had claimed. Upon recently receiving the Hrant Dink award, she said: “I feel embarrassed because I am receiving this award as I merely try to fulfill the responsibility of being human.”
The interview of Yonca Poyraz Doğan on September 29, 2014 with Şebnem Korur Fincancı.