Mr Abdulhamit Gül
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Dear Minister Gül,
Human Rights Watch is writing to ask you to ensure the urgent and effective investigation of the abduction and possible enforced disappearances of at least four men in Ankara since March 2017. One of the men, Önder Asan, is now known to be in official detention (in Balıkesir Burhaniye T-type prison), but was unaccounted for 42 days after his abduction. The whereabouts of the other three are still unknown.
It is vital that the Turkish authorities uphold their strict obligation to promptly investigate these cases, and others like them, and seek to locate the whereabouts of the missing men, who may be in grave danger, and let their families know where they are. The authorities should secure their release or at a minimum those in custody should have immediate access to a lawyer and be promptly brought before a court to have their detention reviewed.
Human Rights Watch has received detailed information about the abduction of Önder Asan, an Ankara-based former teacher who after 42 days disappeared was located in state custody, and the cases of at least three other men whom witnesses saw being abducted in broad daylight from Ankara streets. The three men have been missing for periods of up to four months.
In none of the cases in which the men’s whereabouts remains unknown, could witnesses definitively identify the abductors as state agents through indicators such as a uniform. However, given that there are strong similarities between circumstances of the abductions of these men and that of Asan, and that Asan was located in official custody 42 days after having been abducted, there are credible grounds to believe that the men are also victims of enforced disappearance by state agents.
An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is taken into custody, or otherwise deprived of their liberty, by state agents or their proxies, but authorities subsequently deny it or refuse to provide information about the person’s whereabouts, placing the victim outside the protection of the law. The lack of due process and safeguards for those detained under an enforced disappearance gives rise to a heightened risk of torture and other abuses including a real risk to the right to life.
The Turkish authorities should urgently demonstrate their commitment to upholding the absolute prohibition on enforced disappearances and ensure prompt and effective investigations into security forces, intelligence services and all other public officials alleged to have unlawfully deprived individuals of their liberty and tortured or otherwise ill-treated them.
Önder Asan, 41, a former teacher dismissed by decree under the state of emergency, is currently in pretrial detention in Balıkesir prison, under criminal investigation for alleged links to the movement designated by the government as the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization” (FETÖ).
On June 23, 2017, his lawyers made a formal complaint to the Ankara prosecutor alleging that on April 1, 2017 unknown men who said they were police officers abducted Asan from the taxi in which he was travelling and took him in a VW Transporter van to an unknown place of detention. An eye-witness has given a detailed account of the abduction to the Ankara prosecutor. Asan alleges he was held in a cell for 42 days and tortured over a 20-day period during repeated interrogation. Asan’s complaint states that after 42 days was he taken from the cell and put into a vehicle, then transferred to another vehicle, handed a cell phone and made to call the Ankara Security Directorate and turn himself in. Once in regular police detention he was able to see a lawyer and inform his family that he was alive. An Ankara court issued a decision to jail Asan pending trial on May 17, 2017.
The Turkish government should ensure that the Ankara prosecutor conducts a full investigation into the circumstances of Asan’s abduction, torture and his detention between April 1 – May 17 with a view to bringing those responsible for all crimes, including a potential enforced disappearance, to justice. The investigation is of critical importance because it may shed light on the whereabouts of several other men whom witnesses also saw abducted from Ankara streets in circumstances bearing a close similarity to those of Asan.
A common feature of the cases is that the men were followed in cars and then apprehended and taken away in VW Transporter vehicles. In the three cases in this letter, witnesses’ accounts and security camera footage provide crucial evidence.
The three cases examined by Human Rights Watch are:
Turgut Çapan, who went missing on March 31, 2017 in the Şentepe neighbourhood of Ankara. He had been dismissed by emergency decree from the administration of Turgut Özal University closed down by decree. Önder Asan knew Turgut Çapan and Çapan’s wife reported to Human Rights Watch in April that on the day her husband went missing it was from Asan she had learned that he had gone to the barber and never returned. Asan was abducted one day later.
Mustafa Özben, who was abducted on May 9, 2017 in Ankara. He had been an instructor in the justice program at the Turgut Özal Vocational High School until the institution was closed down by decree under the state of emergency and he had registered as a lawyer with the Ankara Bar Association. Shop keepers who witnessed his abduction called the police and gave testimonies describing his abduction in a black VW Transporter van.
Cemil Koçak, who was abducted in Ankara on June 15 in front of his eight-year-old son. He had been dismissed by the Ministry of Agriculture from his position as an agricultural engineer by emergency decree. His son and other eye witnesses reported seeing Koçak taken away in a dark-coloured VW Transporter van, allegations supported by security camera footage showing the van.
Human Rights Watch has also examined a fifth case of a man, Fatih Kılıç, who has gone missing from Ankara. Although no witnesses to his likely abduction have yet been identified he had a similar profile to the four men above who were abducted.
Kılıç went missing on May 14 in Ankara. Kılıç had been dismissed from his job as a literature teacher at a vocational high school in Etimesgut district of Ankara by state of emergency decree. His wife reported to Human Rights Watch that Kılıç went missing after taking her and the children to the Ankara bus station. CCTV footage reveals that he left the bus station by metro and got out at the Dikimevi station after which he was not seen again.
In addition to these cases reported to Human Rights Watch, two opposition members of parliament have received several more reports of men abducted in Ankara and missing since late last year. Human Rights Watch has not had the opportunity to review the evidence in those cases but they should also be subject to effective investigations.
Opposition member of parliament, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, in April tabled a parliamentary question to Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım seeking information about the investigation into the whereabouts of seven missing men, including Asan and Çapan.
Opposition member of parliament Şenal Sarhan tabled a May parliamentary enquiring about the state of the investigation into 11 cases of alleged forcible disappearance raised by Turkey’s Human Rights Association. All cases reported require a full investigation capable of producing information on the whereabouts of those missing and the prosecution of anyone responsible for unlawfully depriving the men of their liberty.
Turkey has a shameful history of security forces conducting enforced disappearances in the 1990s. The European Court of Human Rights issued repeated judgements finding that Turkey had violated the rights to liberty and security and often the right to life of victims who were mainly Kurds.
Given that context it is vital that the Turkish authorities demonstrate their commitment to upholding the absolute prohibition on enforced disappearances and take urgent action to eradicate any practice of holding people in unacknowledged detention.
We urge you to ensure that authorities carry out prompt and effective investigations into these cases of abductions and possible enforced disappearance to identify the missing men’s whereabouts and secure their release. If they are in custody you should ensure that their families are informed as to their location, they have access to a lawyer and are brought immediately before an independent judicial authority. The investigations should also be capable of identifying those responsible, including any state agents, with a view to holding them to account.
We look forward to receiving detailed information about the findings of the prosecutors’ investigations into the whereabouts of the missing men and details of your plans to end unlawful detention practices.
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch