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Turkish military officer killed in Northern Syria faced terror charges during post-coup crackdown

BOLD – An officer serving in the Turkish Armed Forces who was killed during Turkey’s offensive into Northern Syria had reportedly been detained on terror charges previously, as part of a crackdown targeting the military personnel after the failed 2016 coup.

Çelebi Bozbıyık, a first-lieutenant of the Turkish army had been killed in Manbij province in Northern Syria on the 7th day of the incursion dubbed “Operation Peace Spring.” It had been revealed that he was detained on July 16, 2016, one day after the coup bid, in his unit in the southeastern city of Urfa.

Having remained in custody for 15 days with his hands cuffed behind his back, Bozbıyık was accused of being a member of the Gülen Movement which has been designated “terrorist group” by the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The investigation on terror charges was reportedly still ongoing while he was killed.

Selcuk Ata an academic with a Ph.D. in criminal justice, shared Bozbıyık’s experiences from his social media account and said, “The case was like the sword of Damocles hanging over. There is no evidence about his case. If he had returned from this operation alive, he would most likely have been detained, then expelled and named as a traitor. Yet today we received news that he was killed. May his soul rest in peace…”

According to a personal acquaintance who spoke to BOLD, Bozbıyık graduated from the Military Staff Academy in 2014 and appointed to Urfa (Southeastern Turkey) as his first place of duty. After July 15th, 2016., he was taken into custody after he was labeled as a terrorist.

Bozbıyık was scheduled for promotion to the first lieutenant rank in 2017. This right was denied and not granted to him because of the case against him. He had received his rank after waiting for a year. He was allegedly subjected to mobbing resulting in his dispatching to dangerous zones more frequently than others.

Bozbıyık was accused of “terrorism” three years ago. Despite being labeled as a terrorist, he returned to active duty. He was killed on October 15 during the military action in Syria launched on the pretext of eliminating “terrorist threats.” Bozbıyık was buried in his hometown.

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Report on torture in Turkey

Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST), a US-based human rights organization, prepared a report on the torture incidents and deaths, which occurred after the coup bid that took place on July 15, 2016. In the report, two victims alleged that they were abducted by the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT) and subjected to torture.

Titled as “Systematic Torture and Ill-Treatment in Turkey,” the report covers the cases of Gökhan Açıkkollu, Ayten Öztürk, Zabit Kişi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs employees, the tortured children in Van city, as well as the very first interviews conducted with two people abducted by MIT. The 128-page report examines 104 cases.

Torture and ill-treatment took the lives of 93 people

According to AST, 93 people died in prisons due to torture, ill-treatment, and neglect. As a result of interrogations under torture during detention, 11 people were killed. In addition to registering these individuals’ names, AST highlighted 10 torture cases.

A former official from the Presidency

Mr. A.G. (The name is not provided by the rapporteur due to security grounds), a former official from the Presidency

was brought to the MIT’s Yenimahalle Campus with a sack over his head and while constantly being beaten. He stated that he was electrified on a device called “the Palestinian hanger,” beaten up with whips, sticks, and batons and that he was also subjected to rape attempts.

Staying in the 4.5-square-meter dark cell for weeks, A.G. disclosed that he was actively subjected to similar physical tortures especially during the first 20 days. Accused of being a member of the Gulen Movement, A.G. was left hungry and thirsty and faced curses, insults, and threats on his family.

Torture with baton

A.G. said some captives had ruptured bowels because of despicable actions like making them sit on a dildo or inserting a baton into the anal passage. He also reported that there were attempts to rape him. Listening to the screams of the tortured people in their cells and the laughter of the torturers who mocked them, A.G. described a torture session as 4-5 hours. He said that there were cameras in his cells and they have prevented him from sleeping by giving the torturers constant instructions.

He alleged that an officer from the presidential office came to this interrogation center and received reports from the tormentor. He was asked to become a confessor, to sign pre-prepared statements and to work as an informant in the Gülen Movement by working for the MIT.

It was discussed by İ.S. in the report that he was tortured in the same premises for 7.5 months. When he was released after losing 30 kilos, he predicated that even his wife could not recognize him as similar torture methods were applied to İ.S.

At the conclusion of the report, a list of 93 prisoners’ names, who died as a result of torture and neglect in the prisons after July 15, 2016, and how they died were provided. Besides, those who died as a result of neglect and torture in custody are described in detail.

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Victim of enforced disappearance lost weight and in fear, says wife

Gökhan Türkmen, a Turkish national who was allegedly held in a torture center for 9 months after his abduction, met his wife for the first time recently. His wife Zehra Türkmen told about the meeting which took place in the presence of police officers.

The most damning rights violations perpetrated by the Erdogan regime against the Hizmet Movement, during the ongoing crackdown in which tens of thousands of members have been arrested, are the enforced disappearances.

Gökhan Türkmen, one of the about 30 people who were abducted by the Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT), was handed over to the police after being tortured in a secret center for 9 months.

Months later, Zehra Türkmen met her husband face-to-face at the Ankara Police Department for the first time.


Zehra Türkmen described her impressions as follows:

“My husband was thinner than I expected. His hands were so white, which caught my attention the most. He was afraid. ‘Think about the children,’ he said constantly. Then he told me to withdraw our applications to international organizations and courts, such as the United Nations and the ECHR, and not to share anything on Twitter about his abduction. He said he didn’t want a lawyer. All those who were kidnapped and left were saying the same words to their wives. I said that I would not withdraw my applications.”

“There was one policeman in front of the door and two behind us when we were talking. We couldn’t talk very easily between three people.”

“‘Will you wait for me?’ my husband asked.’ Of course, I will,’ I answered. I said it won’t take much time, not as long as he expected. I explained that this is a political process. ‘No matter how many years, we’re here for you, don’t worry!’ I said.”

“My husband’s case was the first of the six abductions that occurred in February 2019. The other abductees were handed over [to the police]. There was no news from my husband. Frankly, I was scared that they harm him. Nine months later they told me my husband was alive.”

“I always thought before whether he was alive. Now, I am thinking about whether there is any scar on his hand, face, and body, or permanent damage. What is his mood? That’s my concern. But it’s good to know he is alive.”

“I stayed in prison for 9 months”

“One of my kids is 6 and the other is 11 years old. We did not tell my children that their father had been kidnapped. But my children have many problems such as biting their nails, excessive fear, lack of attention. My son can’t even go to the bathroom alone. We have been living this process for four years. I stayed apart from my children for nine months while I was imprisoned. I was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment. My sentence has not yet been finalized at the Supreme Court.”

Legal struggle continues

“Now we have another struggle, the legal struggle. I’ll be a follower of this law process to the end. No matter what international courts it goes to, I will not quit ”

One person is still in the torture center

Gökhan Türkmen, who was abducted on February 7, 2019, is a chemist. Together with Turkmen, Yasin Ugan, Ozgur Kaya, Salim Zeybek, Erkan Irmak and Mustafa Yilmaz were abducted in February.

All of the abductees in February were handed over to the police after months of torture.

Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who was abducted in August, has not got away from the torture center yet.


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Six special captives of Erdogan regime

Forced disappearance of the regime’s opponents, torturing them in secret sites for months or killing of them are practices seen in different periods of Turkish history. Those practices which Kurds suffered in the early ’90s are now in use after a long time for the Gulen movement’s members.


Since the start of 2016, 29 individuals were abducted. There are still no words on the whereabouts or wellbeing of some of them and hope is already lost for them being alive.

In February of 2016, six people were abducted in a similar way: Gökhan Turkmen, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, Erkan Irmak, Salim Zeybek and Mustafa Yılmaz.

Gokhan Turkmen, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, Erkan Irmak turned up in the Anti-Terror Department of Ankara Police Headquarter after 6 months of their forced disappearance.

Remaining 2 persons, Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen, were found “being turned over to police”.

Their first words: withdraw the applications lodged before International Courts

The observations of their wives, able to see them after months, are the same: They have lost extreme weight, have blanched and are scared.

They have not been allowed to see their families or lawyers alone. The visits in police custody can be made under the surveillance of police officers or the surveillance of guardian in prison, despite being against the law. Besides, more than one police officers or guardians are present during the visit. And the whole visit is filmed by video cameras.

The first things they said were the same and they sound like to be dictated:

“I don’t want a lawyer, withdraw the applications filed before international courts and institutions regarding our disappearance and tortures, give up on the complaints filed before Turkish courts, stop twitting.”

They were not allowed to see lawyers retained by their families

The formerly abducted persons were able to tell their families and lawyers about the tortures that they had experienced before being jailed. Thanks to those statements of which the Courts had been aware afterward, the secret place of the Turkish Intelligence Service has been uncovered.

This time, a different method has been followed for those last six. Officials did not let them meet their lawyers or families alone. They said they do not demand a lawyer with the memorized phrases while being in fear due to tortures they had faced for months.

Then, some “surprise” lawyers, known by neither families nor appointed by a Bar association, have appeared. No one knows who paid those lawyers either.

Those lawyers who display a nationalist profile have avoided giving information about those abductees persons to their families.

One of those lawyers is Neslihan Koçer. She insisted upon there is no torture or abduction during our conversation. According to Koçer, they had hidden in an unknown place but then they decided to turn themselves in. She claimed that she came across Ugan and Kaya in the police headquarter where she was for another business. However, she left unanswered the question of why these persons did not ask for their lawyer. Following the publication by Bold Media of her interview, she applied to a Turkish court and blocked access to Bold Medya’s website in Turkey.

Applications to International Courts

Their families showed great efforts for months following their abduction. After exhausting all domestic remedies without any result, they tried remedies in international law. The Committee on Enforced Disappearance of the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights accepted to review their applications and requested a defense from Turkey. And, one of the repeated phrases by all those 6 persons was “Withdraw your applications from international courts”. In spite of their husbands’ requests, the families are determined to maintain their applications.

Twitter is the sole place of freedom

The families, who could not have their voices heard due to censorship over Turkish media, used social media, in particular, Twitter, very efficiently.

The tweets of families racked up thousands of share and in this way, they received public attention.

Sümeyye Yılmaz, the wife of abducted physiotherapist Mustafa Yılmaz, thinks that her use of Twitter played an important role to get her husband back alive.

She said “my husband wants me to stop tweeting, does not want a lawyer and asks for withdrawal of international applications. Those cannot be my husband’s phrase, they sound like memorized phrases. I will continue my fight.”

Zehra Türkmen, the wife of Gökhan Türkmen, said “I will not withdraw my applications to international courts. I will keep up my legal fight. I will bring those (responsible for my husband’s disappearance) to account.”

Ankara Bar Association not being allowed to appoint a lawyer

Ankara Bar Association has designated a committee of lawyers to visit the 6 abducted persons. However, the administration of prison did not allow the visit despite the provisions of law expressly authorizing it.

Since the abducted persons were forced to say that they do not want to have a lawyer, the Bar association has been left unable to intervene. Turkey has never seen this level of pressure before.

Kerem Altıparmak, a human rights lawyer, summarises the situation as follows:

“People have gone missing for months. Their families have been looking for them at that time. This person turns up after months and says I was hiding. So he knows how his family’s situation is but do nothing. The person, coming out of nowhere, persistently decline his family’s and Bar association’s offer for having a lawyer. He insists upon working with a lawyer who is not known by himself or his family. The person who has been running for months suddenly become an informer and give many persons’ name away. Those persons are secretly tried by a special court. What a coincidence that the same scenario plays out for each abduction.”

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a rights activist and an MP from the pro-minority rights Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), noted the similarities of the last abduction cases:

“Forced disappearances are the most important human rights violations. We receive reports of intense torturing in the aftermath of the abduction. They have been kidnapped and then turned up in police custody. In the latest cases, none of the abducted persons want to speak in police custody. Their wives believe that their husbands were forced to speak against their will. The same story goes for Gökhan Türkmen, the very last to be found, and all the other five persons; they have lost weight, their skin has got white due to lack of sunlight and been asking for the withdrawal of applications filled to international courts. All the cases are the same.”

A special court

The special court, referred to by Kerem Altınparmak, is Ankara 34th Heavy Penal Court. It is also known as “MİT (Turkish Intelligence Office) Mahkemesi” by the public. The cases in which MİT takes interest will be judged by this special court which was formed in September 2019. This is a kind of a court special to MİT.

Four of them were brought to this court on 24 and 25 September for the first time. CHP lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkılu, a prominent human rights activist, went to the Ankara Court House to observe the first trial.

He describes what he has seen as “I searched the courthouse with the families for two hours to find in which hearing room Salim Zeybek and Özgür Kaya’s trial is being held. No official in the courthouse gave us information regarding the place of trial. The hearing room of 34th Heavy Penal Court was empty. A secret trial is being conducted and this is against the law.”

Torture Center

The 6 persons, after missing for months, are not being let to choose their lawyers, to meet their families alone and been tried secretly. They are even isolated in their prison cells. Thus, they could not find an occasion to talk about the tortures they underwent when they were missing.

However, Ayten Öztürk and Zabit Kişi, apart from those 6 persons, had the occasion of telling the tortures they experienced in MİT’s torture center called “Çiftlik” in Ankara.

They were able to describe, both orally and written, what they had gone through.

Ayten Öztürk

Here are some of the things that Ayten Öztürk experienced:

“I was taken blindfolded to the torture room. They were first undressing me and handcuffing me in a hanging position to iron rings on the wall. They were pressing an electric shock device on all over my naked body. When they did this, my whole body was shaking and I was screaming at the top of my voice. They kept doing it until I passed out. Marks, looking like holes, were appearing on every part of my body where they applied the taser. Marks in which there are 2 cm gaps between its edges. When I was sent to a prison, my fellow inmates counted my marks of which there are 898. When I was about to pass out, they were taking me to a bathroom and continue torturing with high-pressure water. Sometimes they were doing waterboarding for hours. While one was spraying high-pressure water, another one was holding me to fill the sack on my head with water. They used the shock device also while waterboarding me. And sometimes they were taking the sack off, opening my eyes and pouring the water in my nose.

Moving was impossible in the place called “coffin”. In the cell, though, there was beaten, threat and swears on every occasion. They hit me in the head and face very harshly more than twice. They were doing this until my mouth and nose were covered with blood and got bruised. I was also given an electric shock through my little fingers and big toes. They wrapped a metal ring around my fingers and gave the shock by using a remote control. I passed out a few times so that I could not stand on my feet. When they stopped giving an electric shock, they were harassing all my body with their fingers and sticks. They were trying to thrust the stick into my genital area.”

Zabit Kişi

Zabit Kişi also revealed in the (court) hearing his experiences of the torture center where he remained 103 days :

“Once I got there, they undressed me. I am not able to talk about the harassment and dirty talks that I witnessed. Two persons held me by my arms and hit me on a kind of wall. They gave electric shocks of which they sometimes increased the voltage to different parts of my body starting from the top of it. When I was in sitting position, they turned the sole of my feet upwards and crashed my fingers one by one. One month later my fingers started recovering and some of my nails came back. While I was sitting handcuffed behind the back, they stepped onto the handcuffs.

For a few days, I struggled to hold a spoon to eat the food they gave me. I had to take pills in prison due to the loss of sensation in my fingers and nerve damages.

They threatened to rape me when I was naked and they attempted to do it with a hard object. They repeated this despite my begs.

As I was sitting, two persons held me by arms and hit me in the back, my ribs got cracked. I suffered a lot each time I breathed due to the pressure of ribs on my lung. They were asking me to answer aloud, even though there was a sack on my head. To do that, I was taking deep and fast breathes through my mouth and because of that I experienced a respiratory problem and heartthrob.

The torture team was changing but the torture was going on.”

Zabit Kişi and Ayten Öztürk were not even permitted by the courts to see doctors despite revealing the torture they went through. No probes were launched over the torture allegations.

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