Teacher’s Death Under Torture and Officially Admitted Innocence Should Act as a Reminder

On Aug 5, 2016, Gokhan Acikkolu, a 42-year old history teacher, was tortured to death under police custody in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. Mr Acıkkolu was dismissed from his job allegedly for being “a member of a terrorist organisation” and “coup-plotting”. 18 months later, after his death, on Feb 27, 2018, it was revealed that he was reinstated to his job and charges against him were dropped.

LONDON – 28 February 2018

What happened?

On Aug 5, 2016, Gokhan Acikkolu, a 42-year old history teacher, was tortured to death under police custody in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. Mr Acikkolu was dismissed from his job allegedly for being “a member of a terrorist organisation” and “coup-plotting”. 18 months later , after his death, on Feb 27, 2018, it was revealed that he was reinstated to his job and charges against him were dropped.

Background of the Gokhan Acikkolu Case:

  • Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) published a report providing day-by-day account of Gokhan Acikkolu’s case based on testimony of witnesses, accounts by family members and medical records.
  • Gokhan Acikkolu was purged from his position as a teacher and was detained with a night raid to his house on 23 July 2016, one week after Turkey’s coup attempt, with charges of terrorism and coup-plotting.
  • He stayed in police custody for 13 days, and was not officially interrogated and police did not even take a statement from him.
  • He was taken from his cell every day to be subjected to physical and psychological torture.
  • Acikkolu told his cellmates that the doctor who examined him had taken photographs of the signs of torture.
  • Acikkolu asked his wife to send replacement glasses through his lawyer. When she asked the reason, the lawyer said his glasses were broken [under torture] and he was having difficulty seeing.
  • Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) told in her report that he died of a heart attack as a result of the torture he was exposed to.
  • After his death, authorities refused any funeral services, and it was given on the condition that he was buried in a “graveyard of traitors”, which was allocated for the alleged “traitors” after the coup attempt. State imams refused to perform funeral prayer for him.
  • Acikkolu was detained with a fabricated evidence as the person who gave his name under torture later recanted his statement in court.
  • Acikkolu’s reinstatement decision given by the Turkish Education Ministry on 7th February, 18 months after his death, was delivered to his wife, who was also dismissed from her position with the state of emergency decree.
  • Authorities have still not conducted any investigation into his death.

What does this mean?

  • SCF said, “His case represents only the tip of the iceberg of monumental problems in prisons and detention centers in Turkey, where torture and ill treatment have been systematic and deliberate in the last couple of years.”
  • Amnesty International reported that in Turkish prisons after the coup attempt, “police held detainees in stress positions, denied them food, water and medical treatment, verbally abused and threatened them and subjected them to beatings and torture, including rape and sexual assault”
  • In October 2017, Human Rights Watch documented several cases of police torture, abductions and forced disappearances.
  • Rights and Justice Platform report note that “a significant number of the victims of the SoE who faced criminal investigation were treated with prejudice in police custody, by prosecutorial authorities and the courts. A significant part of them were ill-treated /tortured in custody and in prisons and left with permanent psychological damage as a result.”
  • Very recently, on 25th February 2018, it was reported that more than 80 women including high school and university students, were exposed to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at Mersin police station.
  • On 27 February, 2018 the UN Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer expressed “serious concerns about the rising allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in Turkish police custody since the end of his official visit to the country in December 2016”.
  • SCF has documented 107 suspicious deaths so far in Turkey, most in jails and detention centres where torture and ill-treatment is being practiced.
  • Human rights activist Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu reported that more than four people who were falsely under investigation for using Bylock, a mobile application, committed suicide.
  • On 27 December 2017, Turkish prosecutors said that 11.500 people were falsely investigated.
  • Turkish Justice Minister Gul held that 89 percent of those arrested had no links to the 2016 coup attempt.

Dr Ismail Mesut Sezgin, Director of the Centre for Hizmet Studies, said:

Gokhan Acikkolu’s case was one of the earliest reported cases of torture and death under police custody in the aftermath of the coup attempt. Mr Acikkolu’s tragic death and his now officially admitted innocence shows the extent of the disregard for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms and how innocent people suffer as the result of being wrongfully accused.

In a functioning democracy, the presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle in criminal justice. Mr Acikkolu’s death under police custody and his eventual reinstatement decision is a testimony of violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms and how basic tenets of criminal justice are ignored in Turkey. Moreover, the Turkish government’s unwillingness to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment suggest that there is an implicit impunity in place for such practices.

Nothing can bring Gokhan back. I do, however, hope that the inhumane treatment to which he and his family were subjected and dignity they were denied at the time can act as a tragic reminder to those following Turkey closely to demand an end to the perpetual state of emergency in Turkey in order to prevent similar tragedies from unfolding in the future.

#ENDS

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