"Strip search is a form of sexual harassment"
ROZERIN YUKSEL- Eren Keskin, co-chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), spoke to GercekNews about the extent of strip searches, torture and ill-treatment in Turkish prisons and the underlying reasons for the disproportionate violence, while Serife Oruc and Emir Karakum, who were subjected to torture during their detention, spoke to us about what they went through.
Turkey's prisons are no longer a place where prisoners can reside, and psychological and physical violence continues to increase by the day as prisoners are prevented from exercising their rights.
Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag had declared, “In our prisons there is no torture;” here is what really happens in those prisons:
Oruc says: "We were locked up in this place. We were hearing two women screaming, there were insults and beatings, and they were beaten because they refused to be strip-searched."
And Karakum says, "Although I was subjected to violence in the presence of Ferdi Arar, the prison doctor, he wrote 'there were no signs of physical harm' in the abuse report."
The Civil Society in Correctional System (CISST) received 2795 applications for rights violations in 2021
According to the data announced by the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers on March 31, 2022, there are 314,502 inmates and convicts in prisons. This overcrowding of prisons entails rights violations that limit the living conditions of prisoners. In 2020 alone, 1182 prisoners contacted the Human Rights Association (IHD) regarding violations of their rights.
According to the 2021 report of the Civil Society in Correctional System (CISST), the association received 2795 appeals from prisoners and prisoners' relatives for rights violations.
While prisoners endeavor to survive in such conditions, they are also subjected to acts of torture and ill-treatment by the prison administration, guards, and gendarmerie.
"The strip-searches violate the Mandela Rules and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party"
Speaking to GercekNews, Human Rights Association (IHD) co-chair Eren Keskin said strip-searches, torture and ill-treatment violate the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), to which Turkey is a party, and stated the following:
"Strip searches violate the Mandela Rules and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibit acts of torture. Turkey is a signatory to the Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners. In a society like ours, where male-dominated value judgments are dominant, strip search is an especially severe form of torture for women."
Pointing out that strip-searching constitutes sexual harassment, Keskin noted, "People who undergo strip-searches express that their dignity is violated and that they feel humiliated. This is not limited to the strip-search itself. People who resist are subjected to beatings and verbal harassment.
"The primary purpose of strip-search is deterrence and intimidation"
As far as the IHD Documentation Center and the Central Commission for Prisons could identify, the number of people claimed to have been subjected to physical violence for resisting strip-search or forced to submit to strip-search in Turkish prisons in 2020 is at least 174.
Rights activist Keskin underlined that strip-search is not a new practice in Turkey, as people were already forced to stand naked in their cells in the 1980s following the coup d'état and were subjected to torture before explaining the reasons why strip searches are conducted.
"Strip searches and torture in detention are aimed at getting people to confess or admit a crime, or to humiliate them. From the moment you are taken into custody, they try to give you the impression that you are in their possession and cannot be saved no matter what you do. This is primarily for deterrence and intimidation. This is to make the detainees feel that they are not worth anything.
"I was subjected to violence by the police because I refused to submit to a strip-search"
Journalist Serife Oruc spoke to GercekNews about the physical and psychological violence she experienced in prison during her arrest in 2016.
She said, "I was subjected to a strip search when I was arrested in Batman. The police officers insulted me and subjected me to physical violence because I refused to accept the strip-search. They tried to force me to take off my clothes. I filed a criminal complaint with the prosecutor's office about this, but they indicated that this was only procedural and covered it up."
Not 'strip' but 'in-depth' search
In the regulation published in the Official Gazette in November 2021, the term "strip-search" in prisons was changed to "in-depth search."
"The guards threatened us saying 'You will not get out of here alive'"
Oruc, who was exiled to Mardin after Batman, told that she was again subjected to a forced strip-search. When she was transferred to Elazig T-Type Prison after Mardin, she was threatened by the prison warden from the moment they arrived in Elazig, who said: "This is Elazig, it is not like anywhere else."
Oruc continued as follows: "They locked us up in a place from where we could hear two women screaming, along with insults and beatings. They were beaten because they refused to be strip-searched. Then they dragged the two women back to the ward. When it was our turn, they forced us into the room and took off our clothes. The guards threatened us, saying 'You will not get out of here alive.'"
"Prisoners were given punishments such as padded cells, solitary confinement, and bans on communication"
Oruc stated that she had filed a complaint with the prosecutor's office against the acts of abuse, but that there had been no investigation and that, on the contrary, she had been accused.
"Two months after I sent my petition to the prosecutor's office, I received a response. While the complaint I filed was not pursued, the insult complaint filed by the guards was decided to be incorporated into my ongoing case. Again, we were the ones who were beaten and accused."
AKP Parliamentary Group Deputy Chair Ozlem Zengin had stated that women who were strip-searched in detention centers and prisons filed their complaints too late, blaming the victims: "Honorable women, decent women don't wait for a year."
In response to the reactions, Zengin issued a statement reading, "I am not saying that there are no such searches in Turkey. I just say that if there is such an issue, then please file a complaint about it".
"I was in prison for a total of two years. I spent nine months in Elazig. My friends and I were systematically subjected to physical and psychological violence. Prisoners before me were given punishments such as padded cells, solitary confinement, and bans on communication, and I was no exception."
"They wanted to force me to sing the national anthem"
Emir Karakum was arrested on December 3, 2021 and was subjected to torture by the prison guards. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers ignored the torture and issued a press release stating that Karakum had not been subjected to torture. Although he was subjected to violence in the infirmary, even the prison doctors tried to cover it up.
Speaking to GercekNews, Emir Karakum said, "I was mistreated from the moment I stepped into the prison. I was subjected to physical and psychological violence. The letters I sent to my family and my lawyers were prohibited. My right to get fresh air was constantly violated," he said, describing the Bafra T Type prison, where he was sent as an exile after Samsun.
"As soon as I entered the prison, I was strip-searched and subjected to torture. I was taken to the registration room where they wanted to force me to sing the national anthem. When I resisted, they held me on the floor and tortured me for about 20 minutes. Then I went to the infirmary and told them that I was tortured. The doctor didn't even examine me and just wrote in the report that I had some abrasions on my face."
He was subjected to violence in front of the doctor, but the report indicated “no violence”
Karakum continued his words as follows:
"On April 25, I was going back to my cell because the guards arbitrarily obstructed me while I was going to get fresh air. On the way back, the guard hit me on the shoulder, and then a large group of guards came and started to physically attack me. I started shouting slogans and they covered my mouth with a wire glove. They took me downstairs where they continued the physical violence in a place that the camera could not see.
Then I was taken to the infirmary and beaten again on the way there. I told the doctor that I wanted the guards who had tortured me in the room to be removed. At my insistence, we went to the half-open screen, but the guards were there and watching me while I undressed. Then the guards came to the half-open divider and continued their abuse in the presence of the doctor. Although I was subjected to violence in the presence of Ferdi Arar, the prison doctor, he wrote in the report of the abuse that there were no signs of violence.
The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Facilities denied the torture allegations
After the incident, reactions increased as the media reported images of torture in the prison. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Facilities denied the torture allegations in a press release, stating that Karakum "shouted and threatened the staff on duty, shouted slogans and resisted the officers by lying on the floor."
Karakum stated that he was subjected to a disciplinary investigation after this incident and that he was punished as a result of the investigation, adding that prisons are full of irregularities. Karakum went on an indefinite hunger strike to protest the injustice. His 110-day hunger strike ended with his release. Karakum stated that during the hunger strike, violence increased.
"Common prisoners cannot identify violence"
IHD Deputy co-chair Eren Keskin notes that not only political prisoners, but also common prisoners live in severe isolation conditions and are subjected to violence.
Regarding common prisoners, Keskin stated, "In our conversations with common prisoners, we find that almost all of them are subjected to strip-searches. But they don't even know that this is mistreatment and a form of torture. Since they don't know their rights, they see it as normal and don't object."
Emir Karakum stated that common prisoners are also subjected to torture, and recounted an incident he had witnessed in prison.
"There was a young boy with 54 percent disability. There were sounds of beatings coming from his cell indicating that he was being subjected to torture. Because he pressed the buzzer and asked for his needs, they tortured him for that. It was during that period that I went to see the first warden. I told him about the torture and he told me that this person did not make such a statement. Ordinary prisoners could not identify this torture and they did not file a criminal complaint. In return, they were subjected to more torture," he said, expressing that the system exploited this situation.