Torture and Mistreatment In Pre-trial
Detention By Anti-terror Police

March 1997, Vol. 9, No. 4 (D)



This report documents a pattern of torture according to internationally recognized definitions of the term and mistreatment of security detainees by the Anti-Terror Branch (Teror’le Mucadele Subesi) of the Security Directorate of Turkey’s Ministry of the Interior. While criminal suspects also face the prospect of torture and maltreatment at the hands of the regular police, Turkey’s anti-terror police have become infamous both within the country and outside of Turkey for the widespread use of such practices against detainees accused of political crimes, both violent and non-violent. The Anti-Terror Branch deals with offenses that fall under the 1991 Anti-Terror Law and/or under the jurisdiction of state security courts; the term “security detainee” is used for individuals held for any period of time in the preceding two circumstances. International bodies have condemned this force, as well as the practice of torture in Turkey. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) did so in a December 1992 “Public Statement.” Four years later, in another “Public Statement,” the CPT stated that the maltreatment of seven suspects at the Anti-Terror Branch of the Istanbul Police headquarters, “must rank among the most flagrant examples of torture encountered by CPT delegations in Turkey.” In November 1993, the United Nations Committee Against Torture even went so far as to warn that “certain departments” within the Interior Ministry were becoming a “State within a State.”

Security detainees held for alleged crimes under the jurisdiction of state security courts suffer a wide-range of abuses and de jure are exempted from many of the most important due process protections introduced by a 1992 amendment to Turkey’s Code of Criminal Procedure (CMUK), Law No. 3842. That law reduced periods of detention and guaranteed and improved access to a lawyer for criminal suspects. Under Article 30 of Law No. 3842, however, security detainees held in “collective crimes,” i.e those committed by three or more persons, can still be kept in police detention for fifteen days without access to a lawyer or arraignment before a magistrate; under the State of Emergency Law, which is presently in force in nine provinces in southeastern Turkey where a conflict rages between government security forces and the outlawed Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK), that detention period can be doubled. In a December 18, 1996, decision, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had not only violated the provision of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibiting torture, but had also violated Article 5(3), the right to “be brought promptly before a judge.” That case dealt with a Turkish citizen held in detention for fourteen days and tortured by anti-terror police.

While in detention, numerous methods of torture are used to gain a confession, information, or often simply to punish those who oppose the state. The most frequently employed methods which often are used in combination include the following: hanging by the arms in a variety of positions; electric shock; falaka, or the beating of the soles of the feet; spraying with high-pressure water; beatings; death threats or threat of sexual abuse; squeezing of testicles or breasts; isolation; stripping the suspect naked. Detainees are also often blindfolded, sometimes isolated, not fed properly or given the opportunity to wash or use the toilet, and kept in cramped quarters. Such actions violate numerous domestic laws and international treaties to which Turkey is party: Article 17 of the Turkish Constitution forbidding torture; Article 135/a of Code of Criminal Procedure (CMUK), which applies to all detainees, forbidding the use of torture techniques and invalidating testimony or confessions gathered under such conditions; the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights; and the U.N. Convention against Torture. Under Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, treaties signed by Turkey have the force of domestic law.

Torture by the anti-terror unit is neither spontaneous nor rogue. This unit has methodically incorporated torture and abuse into its daily operations, utilizing special equipment, including special straps to bind detainees, high pressure hoses, racks for suspending suspects by their arms, and instruments to apply electric shock. As international and local scrutiny of torture in Turkey has increased, the anti-terror unit’s methods have become more sophisticated. Torture methods are constantly updated and improved to inflict pain but to avoid marks or bruises that can be documented by human rights groups within Turkey or state forensic doctors filling out mandatory detention medical reports. Sometimes, police pressure doctors to fill out false reports. Often security detainees are tortured intensively during the first few days of their incarceration and then allowed to recover for a longer period of time and even given rudimentary food and medical care so that evidence of abuse fades before the victim is brought before a magistrate or prosecutor.

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey-HRFT (Turkiye Insan Haklar Vakf), a professional, non-governmental human rights monitoring organization that also operates treatment centers for victims of torture in Turkey’s four largest cities, has documented 124 deaths from torture and ill-treatment in prison or in pre-trial police custody from January 1, 1991 - September 12, 1995. Most of the deceased were security detainees. In addition, during the same period some 98 persons have disappeared while believed to be in police custody or under mysterious circumstances; some of their bodies were later discovered bearing signs of torture. The HRFT reports that between September 12, 1980 and September 12, 1995, a total of 445 individuals including the 124 cited above died under torture while in police detention or in prison.

Since the 1980 coup, security forces in Turkey have increasingly attracted personnel from supporters of far right, extreme nationalist, or fundamentalist political parties and groups. Police with such views are extremely hostile to left-wing ideologies and/or Kurdish nationalist ideas, the very beliefs with which most security detainees who report suffering torture are associated. Human Rights Watch found a widespread perception that the police are politically-biased in the discharge of their official duties and may be more inclined to abusive behavior towards such detainees.

The depth of such improper links between ultra-rightist militants and security forces were exposed in November 1996 when the head of the Istanbul police academy was accidentally killed while traveling in a gun-laden car along with an ultra-rightist militant implicated in seven political killings and wanted by Interpol and a women alleged to have links to organized crime. A parliamentarian who is also a Kurdish tribal leader and commander of a pro-state village guard militia was injured in the accident. There have been earlier indications of this connection, however. A report released in the fall of 1995 by the then junior coalition partner Republican People’s Party (CHP) indicated that nearly 48 percent of Turkey’s provincial security directors had either extreme nationalist or fundamentalist backgrounds. In September 1996, a leading Istanbul daily reported that the General Staff Headquarters had issued a directive ordering security forces not to wear or make signs or symbols connected with ultra-nationalist groups. In the summer of 1994, Sevket Kazan, the present Justice Minister from the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi), charged that “special team members” were recruited from a far right nationalist party, MHP.

The Turkish coalition government that was in power from 1991-95 True Path Party (Do gru Yol Partisi-DYP)/Social Democratic Populist Party (Sosyal Demokrat Halká Parti-SHP)/Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi-CHP) took some steps, albeit imperfect, to address the problem. That government denounced the practice at the highest level (though never admitted its widespread nature), prosecuted a small number of officers for torture, changed Turkey’s code of criminal procedure to give criminal suspects more legal protection, and appointed a State Minister for Human Rights who openly and vocally condemned human rights abuses. Notwithstanding these initiatives, however, the Anti-Terror Branch of the Interior Ministry’s Security Directorate as well as other police units continues to torture and maltreat large numbers of security detainees who pass through their hands.

There are several reasons why government efforts failed. While legal proceedings are sometimes instituted against police for alleged abuse and torture, the overall number of such actions is small relative to the problem, and proceedings are problematic. The HRFT reports that the government has acknowledged that seventy out of the 445 individuals who the HRFT believes died as a result of torture or police abuse between September 12, 1980-September 12, 1995 in fact died of torture. Of the above cases prosecuted, twenty-six ended in a successful conviction, while in six the court ruled that the death did occur as a result of torture but released the officers for lack of evidence. Thirty cases are still in progress. According to the U.S. State Department’s 1996 Country Report,

Prosecutions of police or security officers increased somewhat. However, the climate of impunity reflected in the relatively small number of convictions probably remains the single largest obstacle to reducing these troubling human rights abuses.

In its December 1996 “Public Statement on Turkey,” the CPT called on the Turkish government to review sentences passed against police charged with torture or maltreatment to determine whether the punishments were proportional to the crime in view of amending the law to increase punishments for future cases. Under a law stemming from the Ottoman period, police and other civil servants cannot be brought to trial for malfeasance unless a Provincial Administrative Council chaired by the state-appointed provincial governor gives its approval. Such approval has been rarely given in the State of Emergency region where many abuses occur.

When trials are launched, they drag on. Police are rarely arrested when they face criminal charges, and under the 1991 Anti-Terror Law, anti-terror police cannot be remanded into custody if charged and their legal fees are paid by the state. In April 1996, murder charges were brought against eleven police for the January 1996 murder in custody of journalist Metin Goktepe; since that time the court has held only two hearings, and none of the police have been remanded into custody. When sentences are handed out, they are usually lenient. In one case in 1996, two policemen convicted of beating and maltreating a twelve-year-old child had their sentence commuted to a fine of TL750,000, about eight U.S. dollars at the time.

Turkish elected officials and nongovernmental groups (NGOs), expert international bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the United Nations Committee Against Torture, and international NGOs like Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and Amnesty International have repeatedly called upon the government of Turkey to take specific actions to end torture, such as limiting periods of incommunicado detention, providing immediate, independent medical examination of detained persons, and prosecuting in larger numbers police suspected of torture. Some actions have been carried out, many have not. But torture continues. Either the government is unable to stop the practice because is does not fully control its security apparatus, or it does not wish to do so because it views the “tough” methods of the security forces as an important asset in the fight against the PKK and various radical armed opposition groups. A 1995 report issued by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), then junior partner in the ruling coalition, bitterly complained that the government did not have full control over security forces, a charged echoed in 1996 by the former State Minister for Human Rights Adnan Ekmen, who complained that he was unable to investigate abuses because of interference by security forces. Public prosecutors, who de jure have wide-ranging oversight powers over police during a criminal investigation, do not seem to make full use of them, especially in cases involving security detainees.

In October 1996, the current Welfare/DYP coalition government of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan announced a plan to reduce detention periods for security detainees and in November 1996 submitted such a bill to parliament. It has still not passed, however. On November 29, 1996, the Ministry of Interior announced that its officials would conduct surprise inspections of police stations to determine if the treatment of detainees corresponded with established procedures. A week later, at a press conference in London, Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller announced that, “Our government has decided to take a series of measures in order to totally eliminate in practice the crime of torture, which as a matter of fact is forbidden by our laws....We courageously take up the Committee’s [CPT] findings and if they prove true, we identify the responsible and punish them.” It is still too early, however, to determine what the outcome will be of any of these efforts or whether they will lead to the elimination or reduction of torture and abuse by police.


To the Government of Turkey:

Disband the anti-terror forces. Officers who have been implicated in human rights abuses should be dismissed from the police and tried for crimes;

Work toward passing the bill introduced on November 27, 1996, reducing periods of detention to a maximum of ten days for security detainees from the present maximum of thirty. Introduce into the bill, however, “guaranteed, immediate, right to meet in private with a lawyer” for all detainees throughout the period of their detention and trial. Abolish Article 31 from Law No. 3842, which removes many Code of Criminal Procedure (CMUK) protections from detainees charged with crimes under the jurisdiction of state security courts;

In line with the recommendation contained in the United Nations “Report of the Committee against Torture,” of February 1994, create a “national machinery to combat torture.” Such a “machinery” would be part of the Justice Ministry and command independent prosecutors with access to all police facilities and detention centers in the country. Its head would have ministerial rank;

Grant access to all police/pre-trial detention centers and prison facilities to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture;

Implement all recommendations in Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture [CPT] “Public Statement on Turkey” of December 6, 1996, including reviewing past sentences of officers convicted under Articles 243 of the penal code (obtaining confessions by torture or inhuman treatment) and 245 (ill-treatment by law officers) to determine if both articles need to be amended to strengthen sentences in future cases and instituting necessary measures to enable forensic doctors performing mandatory pre/post examinations of detainees to work uninfluenced by outside pressure;

Present a bill to the Turkish parliament amending State of Emergency Decree No. 285 so that public prosecutors not the provincial administrative council chaired by the Emergency Rule Governor, who is also ex officio in charge of police forces has the sole authority to initiate prosecution of security forces alleged to have violated the law. Such approval has been infrequent in the past;

Present a bill to the Turkish parliament abolishing the Temporary Law on the Procedure for Investigation of Civil Servants [Memurin Muhakemat Hakk nda Kanunu Muvakkat), so that public prosecutors have the direct responsibility and authority to investigate and prosecute malfeasance by civil servants, including by security force members;

Present a bill to the Turkish parliament abolishing Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law and any other laws or decrees that punish peaceful free expression;

Allow access to international humanitarian organizations;

As promised by Foreign Minister Ciller, make public the most recent CPT report on Turkey when it becomes available and continue to make public such reports in the future;

To the Council of Europe:

Under Article 57 of the European Convention of Human Rights, call on Turkey to show how domestic laws “ensure the effective implementation of any of the provisions of this Convention;”

The Parliamentary Assembly should issue a statement condemning the practice of torture and link the Turkish government’s ongoing failure to realize completely and fully CPT recommendations to possible punitive measures such as the exclusion of Turkish parliamentarians from the Assembly;

To the European Union:

Raise the issues of torture and police impunity during official meetings with the Turkish government;

Provide funding for the training of forensic pathologists both in the government and in NGO organizations in Turkey;

The European Commission, the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament must use political dialogue with Turkey, provided for in the EU-Turkey Customs Union and the Barcelona Process, to condemn the widespread practice of torture throughout Turkey and urge for the implementation of practical and legislative changes as outlined by the CPT;

The European Commission, the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament must clearly state that only a sincere effort by Turkey in practical as well as in legal terms to combat the practice of torture would provide tangible proof of Ankara’s willingness to take steps towards closer ties with the EU;

To the U.S. Government:

End all military sales and security aid to Turkey until such time as Turkey no longer engages in a pattern of gross human rights violations, as required by section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act or give concrete reasons why such a measure should not be implemented;

Raise the issues of torture and police impunity in meetings with the Turkish government;

Call on the Turkish government to provide a detailed list of police prosecuted for abuse;

To the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE):

In line with the 1990 Copenhagen Document, the OSCE Permanent Council and the Chairman-in-Office should reaffirm that the prevention of torture is a priority matter of the OSCE and publicly condemn the widespread practice of torture in Turkey;

The OSCE Permanent Council and the Chairman-in-Office should urge Turkey to implement the recommendations outlined by the CPT and ask the Turkish government to keep the OSCE informed about its efforts in this regard;

The OSCE should institute a public reporting procedure according to which member states provide information on their compliance with these OSCE principles;

To the United Nations Human Rights Commission:

Urge the government of Turkey to adopt all the recommendations made to it in this report;

To the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture:

Conduct a fact-finding mission to Turkey and issue a public report on the mission’s findings.








Under the DYP/SHP Coalition Government, 1991-1995
Why DYP/SHP Efforts Failed to End Torture New Initiative by the Welfare/DYP Coalition Government, November 1996


Turkish Constitution
Turkish Code of Criminal Procedure (CMUK) Turkish Penal Code (Turk Ceza Kanunu)
State Security Courts and the 1991 Anti-Terror Law (Law No. 3713)



Summary of Interviews with Detainees

Human Rights Watch      March 1997      Vol. 9, No. 4 (D)

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