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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Dismissed lieutenant commits suicide by hanging himself in a mosque
Former Lieutenant Adem Gürbüz committed suicide by hanging himself in the pulpit of the Istanbul Dudullu Central Mosque. It was disclosed that Lieutenant Gürbüz stayed in the mosque for 8 hours before committing suicide. In terms of present-day Turkey, symbolic aspects of suicide in the mosque were discussed in social media.
Halis Tunç, Former Turkish Naval Attaché in Greece, who was expelled with a Decree-Law while serving with the rank of Staff Colonel, wrote the chain of events that led a young officer to commit suicide.
The ex-soldier who committed suicide in a mosque / Halis Tunç
Starting his duty as an officer on contract on August 30, 2015, with the rank of Lieutenant, Adem Gürbüz was arrested a year later after the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. He was in jail for five months. When operations against Syria started on August 24, 2016, many officers / non-commissioned officers were released pending trial at different times by the state to send them to the operations in Syria. Despite continuing their trials as a `terrorist,` they were sent for the action in Syria by removing their travel bans abroad.
This stands in stark conflict with what they were allegedly claimed. When they are tried as `terrorists,` they were given weapons, they used fighter jets, helicopters or tanks.
If Adem Gürbüz had died during the operation in Syria, he would have been recorded as a `martyr.` But Gurbuz, while the court allegedly claimed that he was a `terrorist,` came back to Turkey alive after an extended stay in Syria. Then he was dismissed from the Turkish Armed Forces.
The reason behind this is that the computer algorithm called “FETÖMETRE” used to identify Gulenists also marks Gürbüz as a Gülenist. FETÖMETRE is an algorithm developed by the deputy chief of the Naval Forces Adm. Cihat Yaycı. FETÖ-METRE is derived from the derogatory term “FETÖ,” which is used widely in the Turkish media to describe the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization.
Purged officers from the Turkish Armed Forces describe FETÖMETRE as a Post-Modern genocide tool.
Adem Gürbüz returned to his family in Erzurum after being expelled from the Turkish Armed Forces. However, he was now stigmatized as a Gulenist, and great social pressure began. He applied for jobs in different places while he was unemployed, but he could not get any job in Erzurum as he was called a `Gulenist.` He responded to the social pressure of his family and relatives as “If it were not obscene, I would show you the traces of torture on my body.” During his five months in prison, Lieutenant Gürbüz was also tortured like many other soldiers.
Gürbüz went to Istanbul and started working in the construction sites for daily earnings. On January 22, 2020, after the night (isha) prayer in Istanbul Dudullu Mosque, he hid in the mosque. After everyone left the mosque, he committed suicide by hanging himself to the pulpit with the cable of the broom machine. Gürbüz sent to his brother before he committed suicide a text message which read “Can you send me 150 TL ($25)? Thank you even if you don’t send it!” His last message with such content shows the dire financial state he faced and the crisis caused by being left to civilian death.
Although the cameras in the mosque have recorded how Lt. Adam Gurbuz gave his last breath, a former soldier’s drama was not highlighted even in a single media organ in Turkey.