In the early 2000s, after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in Turkey, its leader, then Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, proclaimed a policy of “zero tolerance” for torture.
In June of this year, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül repeated the same mantra. “We — as the AKP government — are implementing a policy of zero tolerance for torture,” he said.
Statements by many prisoners, their lawyers and human-rights defenders, however, tell a much different story; victim and witness accounts reveal that torture and other forms of unlawful abuse are increasingly widespread in Turkish jails and prisons. Inmates in a jail in Şanlıurfa in southeast Turkey, for example, tell of the plight of 27-year-old Uğur Yeloğlu, who they say has been isolated and tortured so badly since his imprisonment seven months ago that his level of functioning is like that of a baby. He has apparently lost his memory and is unable to walk, or even eat, on his own. In addition, these inmates said, the prison’s healthcare staff are lax in their treatment of him.
Yeloğlu was arrested in Istanbul in January for allegedly “aiding a terrorist organization.” His lawyer, Abdülkadir Aslan, said that in spite of the many months his client has been in jail, his indictment has not yet been prepared by prosecutors. “We have officially appealed to authorities for my client to be transferred to a full-fledged hospital,” Aslan said. “But we have not received a response yet. The investigation file is also marked ‘confidential,’ so we do not know what it contains.”