UN expert says torture appeared widespread after Turkey coup attempt

"Torture and other forms of ill treatment seem to have been widespread" in Turkey after sweeping security measures were adopted in the wake of a failed July 15 coup attempt, a UN expert says.

Report echoes findings of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International

UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, speaking in Ankara on Friday, says sweeping security measures adopted in Turkey after a failed July 15 coup attempt created an environment conducive to the torture and ill treatment of detainees despite the presence of legal safeguards. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)

Sweeping security measures adopted in Turkey after a failed July 15 coup attempt created an environment conducive to the torture and ill treatment of detainees despite the presence of legal safeguards, a UN expert said Friday.

Briefing reporters in Ankara, UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer said he had visited numerous prisons and met with Turkish officials as well as individuals detained over their alleged involvement in the botched coup.

He said "torture and other forms of ill treatment seem to have been widespread in the days and weeks following the failed coup," particularly at the time when they were detained. 

Melzer spoke at the end of a six-day visit to Turkey to investigate torture allegations, and will present his findings in March 2018 to the UN Human Rights Council. After visiting detention facilities in Ankara, Diyarbakir, Sanliurfa and Istanbul, he described overall detention conditions as satisfactory.

But the expert expressed concern over emergency measures such as the extension of pre-trial detention to 30 days and denying a detainee access to a lawyer for up to five days.

"Worldwide experience shows us that it is precisely in the first hours and days after arrest that the risk of abuse, including torture and other forms of ill treatment, is highest," he said. 

He urged the Turkish government to live up to its declared "zero tolerance" policy on torture.

"There is ... an environment of intimidation in Turkey that is conducive to torture and ill treatment and the authorities — although they have a policy of zero tolerance for torture — they are not following up to investigate these allegations," he later told The Associated Press in an interview.

Turkey dismisses allegations

The expert's preliminary findings echo those of Human Rights Watch, which documented 13 cases of alleged abuse in an October report, and Amnesty International, which says it has it has collected "credible evidence" of torture by police in Ankara and Istanbul.

Turkish officials have dismissed allegations of torture as baseless claims and propaganda.

What we saw after the violent coup attempt of July 15 was an explosion in the number of cases.- Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International

"Ahead of the coup, we were already receiving very serious reports of torture and ill treatment, mostly in the southeast of Turkey," Amnesty International's Turkey researcher, Andrew Gardner, told the AP. "But what we saw after the violent coup attempt of July 15 was an explosion in the number of cases."

Allegations of ill treatment and torture, he said, are now being made by a wider range of people, including individuals with no connection to the coup events or the violence in the southeast, which has witnessed the resurgence of a decades-long conflict between the state and an outlawed Kurdish movement.

Gardner said a "climate of fear" coupled with a state of emergency that increased pre-trial detention to 30 days and saw the dissolution of dozens of NGOS and three lawyers' associations that were active in documenting issues of police ill treatment and torture, has hindered independent documentation of abuses.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seen here arriving at a conference in Ankara in August, has insisted Turkey has 'zero tolerance toward torture.' (Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Press Service/Associated Press)

Turkey's Ministry of Justice had no immediate comment on the issue.

Last month, the ministry responded to the Human Rights Watch report, saying, "There is not even a small doubt that all the allegations of maltreatment or torture are being actively investigated by an independent and objective judiciary."

In the face of repeated allegations that individuals detained in the coup's aftermath were tortured, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted his country has "zero tolerance toward torture," but Turkish officials have also dismissed the allegations of rights groups as propaganda peddled by coup backers.