A Human Rights Watch researcher conducting research in Turkey was detained by police on Wednesday, and is expected to be deported tomorrow, Human Rights Watch said today. At the time of his detention, the researcher, who has not been charged with any crime, was carrying out research in the predominately Kurdish southeast of the country into abuses allegedly involving the Turkish gendarmerie and government-armed local defense units called “village guards.”
“Turkey should not be arresting and expelling researchers looking into possible human rights abuses,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The desire to cover up human rights abuses is evidently still very strong, despite recent moves towards more accountability in Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Turkish authorities to halt the deportation and allow the organization to continue its research.
The researcher, Jonathan Sugden, was detained by regular police in the town of Bingol, in southeastern Turkey, on the morning of April 12, 2006. He had been documenting abuses in the area allegedly carried out by Turkish paramilitary police, known as the gendarme, and the village guard. He was first moved to the town of Malatya and later taken to Istanbul, where he is expected to spend the night in police custody before being deported to London on April 13.
Sugden is a U.K. national and fluent Turkish speaker with more than two decades of experience monitoring human rights in Turkey. The Turkish authorities have claimed that Sugden did not have valid authorization to be carrying out human rights work in Turkey. However, Sugden was present in the country on a three-month visa, which Turkish authorities had confirmed provides a legitimate basis for him to carry out research in the country, as it is and has been for any human rights lawyer or delegation carrying out similar work. In recent years, Sugden has traveled repeatedly to Turkey on such a visa to perform research, with the knowledge of the Turkish authorities and without being detained.
“This is not about a visa,” said Cartner. “It is about the Turkish government wanting to prevent investigations of misconduct by its agents. The human rights situation had been slowly improving, but this is a big step backwards.”
There has been a recent upsurge of violence in southeastern Turkey between separatist rebels of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish security forces. Hundreds of thousands of Kurdish villagers remain displaced from the region, and the threat of violence from village guards against these villagers remains an important obstacle to their return.
Last week, following the funeral of PKK rebels who had been killed by Turkish security forces, Kurdish demonstrators clashed with riot police in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, as well as in Batman, Kiziltepe, Nusaybin, Siirt and other towns in the region. Protest became violent, with protesters throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at law enforcement officials. In response, law enforcement officials appear to have used excessive and disproportionate force in responding to the rioters. At least 13 people are believed to have been killed. Many other protesters, as well as law enforcement officers, were injured during the clashes. Hundreds of demonstrators were detained, and there have been credible reports that many detainees were tortured or otherwise ill-treated.