Lawyer Vefa: Systematic torture in Urfa police station in the past 6 years

There is systematic torture in the police headquarters in Urfa. An inspection by the European Anti-Torture Committee did nothing to change that.

The fact that Kurds are tortured in Turkish police stations and centers of the military police is constantly on the agenda. However, the torture continues. The media have repeatedly reported that the police department in Urfa was set up as a pilot project and that there is a department in the premises where various torture methods are used. Almost all of those arrested on political grounds have described the same torturers by the methods and voices used. When a village in Xelfetî (Halfeti) was stormed by security forces in 2019, over fifty people were arrested and most of them were tortured. The police department in Urfa hit the headlines again.

Lawyer Mustafa Vefa is the chairman of the local branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) and in this capacity is frequently involved in reports of torture. He has been working as a lawyer in Urfa since 2015 and says that it was at this time that torture as a systematic method used by the police increased. Two of his clients were arrested for the unsolved murder of two police officers in Ceylanpınar, which was a welcome occasion for the government to end the process of resolving the Kurdish question.

“In this process we were confronted with terrifying things. When I visited my clients, I found that they had been tortured very badly. Other suspects in the trial testified that they were sexually tortured. This statement was confirmed by the forensic medicine department in Adana,” says Vefa.

Since 2015, the lawyer has repeatedly listened to the accounts of torture victims, either from his clients or from those affected who turned to the human rights association: “Various clients of mine testified in court about how they were tortured. The worst practices they reported were electric shock, Palestine hooks, and sexual torture. These statements made their way into the court records. In all of the statements a dark room in the Political Department of the Urfa Police Department appeared: There, the torture was carried out. The descriptions of the torturers suggest that they were the same group of people."

Inspection by the European Anti-Torture Committee

There are documented reports of systematic torture in Urfa between 2015 and 2019, says lawyer Vefa: “This systematic torture was last documented in the Halfeti trial. Over fifty people were arrested. Both the IHD and Urfa Bar Association, have followed the statements about the torture of those arrested. The reports were the same as before. Almost all of those arrested have reported sexual torture and the same room. Just a week earlier, the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) inspected the police headquarters. It was really very worrying that such serious statements were made immediately after this inspection. In other words, int the very same place that the CPT investigated, a week later about thirty people said they were tortured. All descriptions were very similar."

Vefa, along with other lawyers and human rights defenders, has published reports of this torture. In his opinion, this has had an impact: “International human rights organizations have asked what is going on in Urfa. Torture is still systematic in Urfa, but has decreased since the Halfeti report was published. People still turn to the IHD and there are still cases of torture, but not in such a massive form as between 2015 and 2019. This means that the torturers have been pushed into the background. Nevertheless, a separate method is being implemented in Urfa and some other cities: impunity. This is an attempt to prevent social opposition. This applies to all state institutions: the governor's office, the police department, the judiciary. It promotes impunity, which is a general problem in Turkey. In Urfa in particular, this policy is very violent. A striking example of this is the case of the Şenyaşar family."

The “policy of impunity” gives torturers and other violent criminals courage, emphasizes Verfa: “Security forces in particular know very well that nothing will happen to them if they torture. That is why people have been abducted, tortured and murdered since the 1990s. For this reason, electric shocks, Palestine hooks and sexual torture can also be used in Urfa without fear of being caught. Urfa has a very bad record in this regard. All of the criminal charges we filed for this fizzled out. In no single case have investigations been initiated. That encourages the torturers to continue, knowing that they won’t even be investigated."

Turkey is ruled by an oppressive regime that prevents the emergence of a strong civil society, says lawyer Vefa. “They are trying to suppress all opposition voices, including protests against torture and ill-treatment while in police custody. Nevertheless, opposition has arisen in Urfa in recent years. The IHD, the Bar Association and other civil society organizations have developed a sensitivity and are now in a position to jointly react to legal violations."