Turkey: Maltreatment of conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan

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Arrest of nonviolent activists and conscientious objectors at trial in Sivas

In May, the situation of imprisoned gay conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan worsened considerably, and War Resisters' International put out several co-alerts on his case, and also set up a special Turkey campaign page - at present in English and German, to respond to the news on abuse and death threats against Mehmet Tarhan. Mehmet Tarhan started a hunger strike in protest against the authorities inactivity and abuse on 26 May, after his trial.

Suna Coskun, Mehmet Tarhan's lawyer, reported on the abuse her client faces on 24 May. On arrival at the Military Prison in Sivas, staff sergeant Mustafa Selvi threatened Mehmet Tarhan with transfer to "Common Cell No 2", where the "wildest" prisoners are imprisoned. Later Mehmet Tarhan was ordered to enter "Common Cell No 1" on his own. The cell was dark, and the inmates (which Mehmet Tarhan could not see) ordered him to sit down on a chair next to the door. They started to ask questions. They wanted to know whether he was a terrorist or traiter, in which case they would kill him. Then the inmates started to beat Mehmet Tarhan, and insulted him because of his long hair. Prisoner Ertan Mertoglu showed his weapon to Mehmet Tarhan and threatened to kill him. This attacked was ended by other prisoners. Mehmet Tarhan was then transferred to the dormitory, where a few moments later the same prisoners attacked him again. The beat him everywhere and pulled on his hair. The attack turned into an act of lynching. After 20 minutes, other prisoners again stopped the attack. After the attack in Common Cell No 2, the light bulbs in the cell were tightened again, so that the normal light in the cells was made to work again. This indicates that the attack had been prepared. Later, the prisoners who beat Mehmet Tarhan came to him and told him that staff sergeant Mustafa Selvi had told them that he was a terrorist, and "you know how you have to deal with him". They said that this was the reason they beat him. Mehmet Tarhan was then transferred to a single cell, but during each time Mehmet Tarhan left the cell, the prisoners Ertan Mertoglu, Hakki Dincel, Ersoy Özbulduk, and Ercan Kizilboga threatened him. They told him: "We could have killed you on the first day if we wanted. But we still can do it." Mehmet Tarhan was fearing of his life, and therefore did not tell anyone. But then the prisoners demanded first money, and later clothes, and telephone cards. On 29 April, the prisoners Hakki Dincel, Ersoy Özbulduk, and Ertan Mertoglu demanded 500 YTL (about 290 EUROs) and added he would know what to expect, if he would not pay. Mehmet Tarhan answered that he is unable to pay such an amount. One week later he submitted to the threats and handed over 300 YTL to Ercan Kizilboga and Ertan Mertoglu. Then, his extortioners demanded clothers. On 9 May 2005 they demanded three black suits. To guarantee that he would deliver, they forced him to call his sister and listened during the phone conversation. On 11 May 2005, Emine Tarhan brought two black suits, shoes, tyes, and shirts to the prison, which were handed over to Ertan Mertoglu by the prison authorities. Mehmet Tarhan's upper lip and the right side of his lower lip cracked as a result of these attacks. He is suffering ecchymosis at the chin, the neck, and other parts of his body. As a result of being beaten on his chest he suffered from breathing problems until 30 April. In the following days, he contiunously lost hair. Because of being beaten on his knee, legs, and feet he suffered from ecchymosis there, and for a long time had difficulties standing up.

Mehmet Tarhan informed the prison authorities about the abuse on his first day. As the report above shows, the prison authorities did do nothing to stop the abuse, and actively encouraged other prisoners to abuse Mehmet Tarhan. After her visit on 19 May, Mehmet Tarhan's lawyer Suna Coskun alerted the prison authorities, and demanded an examination of Mehmet Tarhan, and a new lock for Mehmet Tarhan's cell. On 20 May, the prison authorities recorded the abuse, and promised to ensure his safety. At the trial on 26 May, the abuse was clearly visible: Mehmet Tarhan had bruises all over his body, and could hardly walk.

The trial also lead to new developments which give rise to concerns. After the trial, police arrested three conscientious objectors out of the groups of supporters, and then nine more activists for "resisting the police", because they tried to nonviolently prevent a police van with the arrested objectors from leaving. Although eveyone got released during the night, the circumstances were quite strange. The three objectors were brought to the recruitment office well after office hours, and the recruitment office was opened especially for them. At the recruitment office, the three objectors had to give their ID cards, and where told to come back in the morning, when they would be able to pick up their ID cards. They were then released. A fourth objectors was briefly arrested in the night. He was sleeping in a car outside a friends house in Sivas, and arrested by police. He too was brought to the recruitment office in the middle of the night, and released after he had handed over his ID card. He too was told to come back in the morning. Of course, nobody followed this order.

The other activists were released too, but are likely to face trumped up charges of "assaulting the police". War Resisters' International does not know yet when their trial will take place.

War Resisters' International is again organising an international delegation for the trial on 9 June. In addition, War Resisters' International also calls for actions in front of Turkish embassies and consulates on 9 June, and for protest emails/faxes/letters to the Turkish authorities, and Turkish embassies. WRI set up a web facility to send protest emails to the Turkish President Ahmet Nezdet Secer.

A documentation on conscientious objection in Turkey is available on WRI's website for download.