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11 Jun, 2009 08:13

Torture still routine practice for Turkish police

In order to join the European Union, Turkey has introduced changes to its legal system to comply with EU standards on human rights, but critics say that people are still being tortured in Turkey by the country's police.

Engin Ceber died of brain damage after he was allegedly beaten severely and tortured by Turkish police. It all began when the human rights activist was detained with three other men for selling an opposition newspaper.

Earlier he was detained for the same thing and acquitted, after being kept in custody for almost two years without trial, but the next arrest turned out fatal for him.

The parents say their son was tortured for twelve days and that they were not allowed to visit him even after he was brought to hospital with brain trauma. When they finally received permission to see him, their son was dead.

“I don’t believe that there will be justice but I want it because me and all the family are in a very deep sorrow and I want the people responsible to understand what pain and suffering is,” said Engin’s mother, Kamile Tekin, who does not conceal her tears.

According to the Turkish Human Rights Organization, last year 38 people were killed by the police. Officers faced prosecution in only two cases. One of them was for the death of Feyzullah Ete. The 26-year-old was sitting in a park when a policeman kicked him in the chest for drinking in a public place. Feyzullah died of a heart attack.

For his murder the police officer Ali Mutlu was sentenced to twelve years in prison. Later the sentence was reduced to five years for good behavior, and after just a year inside he was released on appeal.

Human rights activists say it’s almost impossible to prosecute police for torture as in most cases the officers file counter complaints accusing the person of resisting arrest.

There are also concerns that some recent legal changes in Turkey are simply cosmetic, designed to help its bid for EU membership. For example the country has signed a UN agreement on torture prevention internationally, but four years have passed and it still hasn’t been adopted domestically. In addition, police powers in Turkey were increased in 2006.

“For instance, under the new legislation, if the police ask you to stop and you don’t then they are authorized to shoot you. So there were many people who were shot and killed after that,” Hurriyet Sener from Turkey’s Human Rights Association said.

The association published a book in 2007, with dozens of documented cases of police brutality. It is claimed the smallest person tortured was only three years old. The book received huge media attention, but the government remained silent and no prosecutions followed.