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Human Rights

Jailed cadet’s mother stands up against oppression, conquers fear

Melek Çetinkaya is the mother of a jailed 19 years-old former cadet. A campaign led by her broke the spell cast by the Erdogan regime’s reign of terror. She gets detained by police whenever she steps outside her home. However, she has no intention to remain silent.

Lives of millions in Turkey turned upside down on July 15, 2016, with the coup attempt Erdogan labeled as “a gift from God.”

Cadets, many 18-19 years of age, were among those arrested on the night of the coup bid. Çetinkaya’s 19 years old son was one of those students.

Her mom kept telling during post-coup trails that former cadets, including her son, did not involve in any illegal activities on the coup night and highlighted that they were taken to different locations at the behest of their superiors, without touching any weapon. And forensic reports confirmed her claims.

Lawyers of the Presidency were present in the courtroom when 256 former cadets were sentenced to life in prison. Çetinkaya’s son, Furkan, was one of them receiving a sentence of life imprisonment.

Melek Çetinkaya tried hard to have her voice heard on social media. She has taken her struggle a step further by staging protests in favor of jailed cadets in Ankara’s crowded streets.

Her fight also brought other mothers together. Cadets’ mothers got detained whenever they cried out for the plight of cadets sentenced to life in prison.

Çetinkaya has been taking to the streets for three months to draw public attention, and she was taken into police custody for hours in each attempt.

Çetinkaya, trying to reach out to the public through her Youtube channel, has announced her plan to start a “March for Justice” from Ankara to Istanbul.

She said she would hold the March for Justice for cadets sentenced to life in prison, jailed pregnant women, children in prison, and dismissed public servants.

March for Justice, which kicked off on January 19 in Ankara’s Guven Park, met a police intervention which saw the arrest of Çetinkaya along with 66 people.

Police encircled Guven Park and surrounded the protestors. It was a clear message saying that police would not allow a march of 450 km between Ankara and Istanbul.

Çetinkaya was detained right after stepping out of the metro, before making to Guven Park where the march would start.

“I am an aggrieved mom. You gave life sentences to 19 years-old cadets. We have been silent for three and a half years, but you will no longer be able to silence us. Justice will be served in this country,” Çetinkaya said while being dragged away by police.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was among the protestors when police waded in to disperse the group. Gergerlioglu confirmed the police intervention on his twitter account, saying, “Police violently suppressed Çetinkaya’s march for justice.” He also noted that the police physically assaulted him along with other protestors.

Police held Çetinkaya in detention for hours before releasing her late in the evening. And she was detained each day when she attempted to attend the march. Police went even further by apprehending Çetinkaya right after she left her home on January 21.

Anti-Terror Police took the stage this time. Çetinkaya was taken to Ankara’s Counter-Terrorism department. She had to endure waiting for hours while facing the wall and with her hands cuffed.

Police mocked her height and questioned her about how she learned to use social media. They did not provide her with a bed or mattress, and she had to sleep on the concrete ground.

Some people recorded videos on metros and buses to raise awareness about Çetinkaya’s situation. Those who recorded videos became the target of Erdogan’s fanatics.

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Bar Association files criminal complaint over enforced disappearences

Ankara Bar Association compiled a joint study report on seven people who became victims of enforced disappearance in 2019. The report was sent to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office, along with a criminal complaint.

Mustafa Yılmaz, Salim Zeybek, Özgür Kaya, Gökhan Türkmen, Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan and Yusuf Bilge Tunç were abducted by men with black transporter vans in 2019. Four of them were handed over to the Ankara Police Department after being tortured for six months. The two were similarly given to the police in the 9th month — no word from Yusuf Bilge Tunç.

Many claimed that these people were abducted by government officials and tortured in the area called “Çiftlik (Ranch),” which belongs to the Special Operations Directorate of the National Intelligence Organization. Among them, Salim Zeybek was abducted in front of his wife, Betül Zeybek, and his children. However, the criminal complaints made by neither the Zeybek family nor other families have been adequately pursued by the prosecutors.

Report on enforced disappearances

Ankara Bar Association, Human Rights Center, crafted a report on the issue and filed a criminal complaint with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In the criminal complaint, the studies conducted as a result of the application of the relatives of the abducted were elaborated and following the issuing of the Joint Monitoring Report, it was stated that with the decision of the Ankara Bar Board of Directors dated 05/02/2020, numbered 77/28, it was decided to convey the denouncement to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The criminal complaint stated the following:

“As a result of the researches and evaluations made by Ankara Bar Association Human Rights Center on the alleged enforced disappearances; as applicant Nuray TUNÇ’s husband Yusuf Bilge TUNÇ’s whereabouts are still unknown, an investigation that complies with international standards regarding her complaint needs to be carried out without delay. In terms of other applications, whose relatives have been enforced disappearances for at least five and maximum nine months, and which appeared in the police after the applications, it was determined that the suspected were deprived of the following: rights in the light of the state’s obligation to protect the right to life-related to enforced disappearance and to conduct an effective investigation, the right of everyone accused of crime to have a one-to-one meeting with their lawyers, the right to benefit from the assistance of the advocate of their choice, the right to appear before the judge immediately and the liabilities of the person whose freedom is restricted, having investigations open to public supervision and no investigation was carried out in which victims’ relatives participated in the process.”

In the criminal complaint, which stated that allegations of violations of rights were not duly carried out following the universal standards on rule of law, lawyers demanded from prosecution to deepen the investigation.

“For the reasons explained above and to be considered as ex-officio; We kindly request you to initiate a criminal case against the suspects to be detected in the light of the minutes, reports and documents obtained regarding the allegations of enforced disappearances as a result of the applications received by the Ankara Bar Association.”

The report includes considerations about the relatives’ statements of the abductees and the documents they provided.

The members of the Human Rights Center of the Bar Association went to meet with Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya and Salim Zeybek in Sincan No.1 F Type Prison on August 27, 2019, only to be informed that the prisoners did not want to meet lawyers, and they only met Salim Zeybek. However, the minutes of their meeting with Zeybek were taken away from the lawyers forcefully, and the lawyers were subjected to insults and threats by the prison officials.

Pointing out to the denial of the right to a lawyer to the detainees by the authorities, it was emphasized in the report that the missing persons showed up in police custody in the same way, gave the same statements, had the same physical signs (weakening, distraction, etc.)

The report read that six people have never been able to meet with their families or lawyers alone and that there is a government official in all the meetings, so they have not had the opportunity to explain the torture or violations of their rights.

In the report, while emphasizing the right to hire a lawyer, it was mentioned that the family of the six people refused their lawyers, the impression that this was done as a result of pressure, and the circumstances regarding the lawyers sent to them were suspicious.

In the report, it read that probes into enforced disappearances, and the cases over which victims face trial must be separated: “The probes into the enforced disappearances must be separated from the probes into the alleged criminal acts of the victims. It is paramount that information regarding the probe into enforced disappearances, which are not dangerous to share, disclosed. The family must be notified regarding the development of the case, ensuring their participation in the process.”

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Human Rights

Charred teacup serves as souvenir for Kurukoy’s history of torture

It has been three years since the blockade of Turkey’s eastern town of Kurukoy, which saw the torture of 39 people. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu defended the incident. All of the cases were documented. Victims spoke out about what they had experienced.

Nearly three years have passed since the curfew, which took place between February 11 and March 2, 2017, in Kurukoy (Xerabê Bava) of Mardin province. However, what happened during the curfew has not been forgotten despite all the years. Vedia Aykut, whose husband was among those tortured victims, keeps the memories of curfew alive by keeping her house-fire survivor teacup.

Turkish army mounted a large-scale operation in the region in the aftermath of the curfew. Authorities tore down many houses and ancient caves used as barns and storages by locals referring to them as “shelters.” Many animals were killed during the operation. Human Rights Association (IHD) has documented violations in the region and released it to the public.

Thirty-nine locals, who were abducted in the Turkish army’s operations and went missing for long periods, suffered tortures. One of the torture victim Abdi Aykut’s photo affirmed the torture allegations. Governance Office of Mardin and Ministry of Interiors had first denied torture accusations following the emerge of Aykut’s photo. However, Interior Minister Soylu said as to the incident, “We did nothing against the rule of law. That old guy provides shelter to terrorists” in a bid to defend the torture.

Also, three locals lost their lives during the curfew. Although the governor’s office of Mardin claimed those three were killed in a clash with the soldiers, witnesses said they were killed after they were captured alive.

Abdi Aykut, Hatip Tunç, Rıfat Bayhan, Behçet Koçan, İsmail Ay, Abdülmecit Bal and Vasfi Doğan were arrested by a local court on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization” following the Interior Minister Soylu’s remarks on the incident. The court released them six months later in the first hearing. They were acquitted of all charges later on, and the court condemned Interior Minister to pay TL 18 bin (roughly the equivalent to $3 thousand) in damage.

The traces of destruction- left behind the curfew which stirred a significant public discontent- remain intact. Even though locals restored some of the damage houses with the help of some civil society organizations, most of the curfew-torn houses are still waiting for reparations. They keep alive what they suffered by storing ammunition and detonators left after the curfew in sacks and garden walls covered with bullets.

Abdi Aykut

Aykut, who was subjected to torture in custody, also bears traces of what he went through. After noting his being unable to overcome the psychological trauma of the incident and his aggravated health problems, Aykut said he hadn’t seen anything when they had taken him into custody. He said he retains what remained from those days in his home, even though memories of those days make him feel terrible. He also added that he has no desire to talk about anything regarding them.

Aykut’s wife, Vedia Aykut, also revealed that all their furniture was burnt down together with their home in the curfew period. She said she has been keeping her kids’ burned phones and a smudgy teacup and teaspoon, which were the only items left unburned from blazes.

“Every part of our houses was already burnt when we arrived. It became as black as coal. All around here was looking like coal until we cleaned up. They burned down our house. We had to sleep apart from our kids. My daughter and I stayed alone here for eight months. This teacup was left all alone here. Every place became like this teacup. I lived with this grief for eight months. I will never forget it as long as I live. What I witnessed will always be in my mind,” she said.

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Human Rights

Spouse of businessman Medeni Arifoğlu, who succumbed to cancer, reveals murder by negligence

Medeni Arifoglu was one of the best-known businessmen in Turkey’s eastern province of Bingöl. He was awarded in 2012 by the then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his contributions to the city’s economy. He was also a financial consultant. Turkish authorities froze all his assets in the aftermath of the coup attempt in 2016 and sent him to prison. He faced violation of his rights in prison even when his appendix burst.

He was not allowed to see a doctor for three weeks. He told his wife how he banged on the door and crawled to the infirmary while shouting, “I am dying” to get help.

Arifoğlu had already had health problems when he was jailed due to liver transplantation he had undergone before prison. The violations that he suffered in prison grew more intense after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in July 2018. He was facing “exceptional cruelty” as pro-Kurdish MP and human right defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said. He shuttled back and forth between Malatya (a south-eastern province) and the prison of Adana due to the lack of patient room for inmates. One day his condition took a turn for the worse, and he refused all treatments by saying, “Leave me be, I want to die.”

Arifoğlu, a father of three, was released in March 2019 from prison after great efforts by Gergerlioğlu and his wife, but there was nothing left to do. Businessman Arifoğlu passed away on January 25, 2020. His wife Nuran Arifoğlu said in an exclusive interview with Bold news, “My husband was released but, they put him on a path leading to death. They gave us a funeral. He died in suffering”.

Arifoğlu was arrested two times and sentenced to 7 years and six months in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. His case was before an appeal court.

Here is his wife’s account of events when she took care of him for 35 days under the surveillance of four soldiers, one commander, and one warden:

“He underwent transplantation of liver in 2012”

“My husband was taken into custody on July 25, 2016, and put in the prison of Bingöl three days later. They transferred him to the prison of Malatya 20 days after. Then, his life in prison got worse. They made life miserable for him in prison. They threw him into a prison cell and did not let him go to the hospital, and he returned from the edge of death many

times. He suffered from several health problems during his time in the Malatya prison. He started having health problems stemming from liver transplantation he had in 2012. He was released two and a half months later but re-arrested three and half months after his release. He suffered seizures, extreme loss of weight, exhaustion. He could barely show up for prison visits. He was always sick.”

“The doctor said he faces a risk of organ loss”

“I submitted applications to many authorities because of his health condition. I sought a lot of help. Because I knew that my husband could not survive with those health problems. He was transferred to Turgut Özal Hospital in Malatya. The doctor who performed the liver transplantation surgery said he would lose his liver if he remains in prison.

“We learned that he was hospitalized when we went to prison visit. We rushed to the hospital, but we couldn’t see him. I’ve seen some of Gergerlioglu’s pieces of writings. I wrote to him, and he returned quickly. He voiced our situation in parliament. MP from Batman province Mehmet Ali Alsan also addressed it in the parliament.”

“He was taking 19 pills in a day”

“My husband was supposed to take 19 pills a day. He had taken 17 pills initially, and then, he started taking two anti-depressants. He said his condition was heading for worse. He was taken back to prison after having stayed in intensive care for 21 days. Prison turned into a nightmare for him. He could no longer go out for a walk and barely made it to prison visits. It continued like this for long.

“They took him to a hospital in July 2018, and a five cm-tumor was spotted in his kidney. But they did not inform him about it. He kept saying he could not sleep due to intense pain. We were helpless. We had no one but Gergerlioğlu to ask for help. He did whatever he could do. When he was retaken to hospital in November 2018, they said the tumor reached a size of 8 cm.”

“Tumour became 14 cm in five days”

“We were told that they would take him to Balcalı hospital in Adana for kidney surgery. We did not want him to be taken there, but we were relieved a bit in thinking that he would get better after surgery. The doctor in Balcalı hospital said he could not operate due to the lack

of patient room special for inmates. I traveled between Malatya and Adana to see him. I found his condition to get worse in each visit. He was feeling very cold. He put on a goose-down jacket. He said he was freezing and sleeping with it. I couldn’t convince anyone that he could no longer live under these conditions. 50 days passed like this.”

“Leave me alone; I want to die”

“They took him back to prison. He was saying, ‘I want no longer to live, leave me alone, I do not want treatment. Because you are not sincere in treatment. If you care for me, then take me to the hospital.’ He could not take the risk of going again to the hospital for nothing because they did not assure him of receiving treatment. We learned that my husband was

brought back to Malatya since he refused treatments in Adana.”

Cancer blew up a bone in his neck

“We became happy when he returned to Malatya. Since Turgut Özal medical center was going to perform the surgery and it was where he had been operated before. But they made him wait for 20 days. He was taken a few times to emergency to ease his pain with painkillers but, cancer developed metastases. It blew a bone up in his neck, his arm could no longer function, and he couldn’t walk. He was in terrible condition, in other words. His appearance took a gut-wrenching turn.

He was put in hospital after great efforts. Tumors in his neck were removed; however, it was too late for his kidney. Tumors spread to main arteries, and doctors said he might not wake up if they operate on him. So, they refused the operation. His other organs were also targeted by the cancer cell. All this happened in 6-7 months. I took care of him for 35 days, along with four soldiers, one commander and one

warden I went to see the prosecutor after the operation on his neck. I asked for permission to tend him in the hospital. I said, please do not consider my request too much; let me be at his bedside. The prosecutor accepted my request. I was trying to take care of him all day long

in the presence of four soldiers, one commander, and warden.

“Although the Institute of Forensic Sciences had refused all our previous requests as saying, “There was no issue for him to stay in prison,” it granted this time a delay of execution for six months. But it was already too late. There was no use in releasing him at this point. When a tumor in his neck was removed, it spread to his brain and throughout the body.”

“He had longed for having a conversation with his kids”

“We couldn’t see any smile on his face after his release. All he wished for was talking with his kids. But he never could do it. He was praying for being able to live 2-3 years more to do something for his kids. This happened neither. He knew he was going to die. He had some wishes and desires. But it was all over. It was too late for my husband; arrangements should be put in place for other sick inmates.

“The reason I am voicing our victimhood is that there are 1334 sick prisoners, pregnant mothers, and babies behind bars, as I know. Those sick inmates could not survive prison under those conditions. I saw myself how my husband wasted away in three years. I watched how his eyes faded away, and his death came closer every week. There are so few patients surviving cancer, and this is only possible with high motivation and spirit. This is not possible in prison. It was too late for my husband, they released him too late, and justice for his death is left for the afterlife. For God’s sake, some arrangements must be made for other sick prisoners.”

Nuran Arifoğlu described his husband’s first times in prison when his appendix burst, his last days, his funeral and her kids on our first phone conversations:

“He was kept waiting for three weeks when his appendix burst. He was poisoned, but nothing happened due to the antibiotics he took. He told me later on, “Nuran; they saw me crawling on cameras. I went upstairs to the infirmary by crawling and told them I was dying”. They scolded him for banging on the door. They took him to a hospital, and my

husband was put in the intensive care unit right away. They did not let me wait at the door of the unit, things that others are allowed to do have become a crime for me.”

“Those calling him traitor came to his funeral”

“I was leaving his patient room together with the soldiers at night. His time in intensive care was the most difficult for us. One day when I was sitting next to his bed, I heard the commander saying they would discharge him from the hospital. It drove me crazy. They made the doctor discharge him. I started yelling, and I said I wasn’t going to let my husband be discharged, even you put a bullet in my head. I have pictures of him showing which condition he was in when they discharged him.

“Chemotherapies did not work afterward. We heard about a smart drug and went to Hacettepe University. However, they couldn’t use it on my husband because of his liver transplantation history. He was given another chemotherapy treatment, but he passed away before completing the procedure. We were at Elazığ University hospital for his last five days. We were just sitting at his bedside and praying.

“Those who were shouting “Death to Medeni Arifoğlu” in Democracy Watches following the coup attempt were present in his post-funeral reception. My husband was chosen as the sacrifice of this city.”

“My daughter was diagnosed with heart failure”

“My daughter developed heart failure in traveling for prison visits. His father wanted her to study law, and she is now a 21 years old law student. My son is 15 years old, and he is in high school now. My husband’s only dream was to have a conversation with his kids at the

same table. He could not pass a single night without pain.”

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