Turkish journalists recount three days of torture and threats in detention

Four Turkish journalists have been recounting the torture and threats they faced after being arrested as the crackdown on media continues across the country.

And they thanked all those who campaigned for their release, believing the solidarity helped stop them being treated worse and held longer.

The IFJ has joined Turkish journalists in demanding an end to the crackdown and respect for the rights of professional media workers.  IFJ President Philippe Leruth said: “It’s time to stop the arrest, intimidation and now torture of journalists who are simply carrying out their work. Those who carry out such brutal acts must be held accountable”.

Evrensel journalists Hasan Akbaş, Fırat Topal and Serpil Berk, as well as Reuters’ Sertaç Kayar, were among the first on the scene following a bomb attack on 10 August in the Southeast Anatolian province of Diyarbakır.

The quartet, who were coincidentally at a cafe next the province’s famous Dicle Bridge when the explosion occurred nearby, were deemed suspicious by the police for being in the vicinity of the attack. They were subsequently detained and held for three days.

Now freed, they have spoken to their union DİSK Basın-İş, about the torture and threatening and abusive behavior they faced in detention.

Fırat Topal (Evrensel and Hayatın Sesi TV Diyarbakır correspondent)

“After the explosion, we went to the site and took pictures – just like any journalist would. At the same time, Hasan went to help the wounded. After sending our pictures to our news desk, we departed. After walking for a while, we came to the first checkpoint; they looked at our ID and gave us permission to pass. As that was happening, a car was passing; we asked for a lift and the driver agreed to take us. We passed a second checkpoint, but at the third, they took us out of the car, forced us down to the ground and made us wait 1.5 hours with our faces to the ground. They took us one by one to an interrogation room. They asked me to become an informant “as a friend,” saying that in exchange for me helping them, they would help me. I told them that I would not help them on such matters, but they said they would call again.

“In the morning, they brought us to the detention room. There were six or seven people in a cell that was only made for two. When they closed the door, it was hard to even breathe. Because you’re in custody, you’re not allowed any visits or cigarettes, and if you need a shower, that’s not allowed either. There were people in there that hadn’t had a shower in a week or two. We were released thanks to the support campaign that was launched for us.”

Serpil Berk (Evrensel and Hayatın Sesi TV Diyarbakır correspondent)

“The moment we were taken into custody, everything that we experienced was an attack directed at our profession. As soon as we said that we were journalists, the scale of the profanity changed and we were subjected to verbal and physical abuse.

“They handcuffed our hands behind our back and piled us into an armored car. When we were taken to the Diyarbakır Anti-Terror branch, they kept us handcuffed behind our backs and prohibited us from standing next to each other or even talking to each other.

“We were taken to dark places [for interrogation] with our face to the floor. Even during interrogation, we weren’t allowed to raise our heads, and they constantly said, ‘Don’t you even think of raising your head, look at the floor. These guys are not allowed to talk to each other. Shoot anyone who talks.’ As the pictures on my phone were being inspected, my roommate called and I asked to answer it. This confirmation [to the outside world] that we had been taken into custody happened about four hours after the incident.

They took the handcuffs off toward 3 in the morning, collecting our clothes for a criminal inspection. After taking a record of our clothes, I was taken to the sports hall alongside the other women at about 6 in the morning because there was no room in the detention room. I stayed in the conference room of the sports hall with 16 other women. The day after, we were able to speak to our lawyer and relate what had happened to us.”

Hasan Akbaş (Evrensel and Hayatın Sesi TV Diyarbakır correspondent)

We went through eight hours of torture in this vacant lot with our hands cuffed behind our back and a policeman endlessly shouting, ‘Shoot anyone who raises their head. After this place clears out, you’ll see.’ From there, we were packed like sardines and taken to the police station. There, we were forced to wait for about six hours with our hands cuffed behind us and our face to the ground against the wall where all the garbage was. There was a constant stream of police from a number of units, including intelligence, who came to interrogate us. One of them said, ‘You came from Ankara. I’ve researched everything about your journalism, your life and your family. I thought to myself, ‘What’s he doing here?’ Now I’ve come to ask you myself. What are you doing with these people?’ I said: ‘Journalism is a profession done everywhere and in every condition. I’m doing it here.’ This person then said, ‘Look, big guy, this is Diyarbakır. People are shot dead here in the back of the head. Their houses are raided and they’re shot dead in the night – it’s not clear by whom. If you say you’re going to do journalism under these conditions, then by all means, continue to do it in Diyarbakır. If not, get out of here.’

After the handcuffs were taken off, I couldn’t move my wrists for some time. I had bruises that had gone from purple to black. I was accompanied by police as I went into the examination room at the state hospital, but we weren’t examined. ‘Do you have any injuries?’ the doctor asked. When I mentioned my health complaints stemming from the handcuffs, the doctor dismissed it, saying, ‘That’s not important; anything else?’ The torment of the handcuffs was replaced by the bad conditions of the detention room. Our right to three meals a day was fulfilled, but the cleanliness and hygiene, in terms of a possible breeding ground for disease, was [terrible]. There were close to 70 people in custody who had not been given a health check; because of the lack of ventilation inside, most were sick. Also, because there was nowhere to lie down, you also got extra pains in your body.

Sertaç Kayar (Freelance/Reuters)

Because we were so close to the site of the explosion, we were also the victims of the incident. Despite the psychological effects stemming from the explosion, we attempted to perform our profession by informing the public about the incident. Later, however, we were stopped by the police and subjected to insults, violence and death threats. [After our car was stopped], our cell phones were taken from us, so our ability to communicate was completely eliminated, while we were forced to wait for hours on our knees with our hands cuffed behind our backs. During this time, they were insulting and threatening us with stuff like ‘If you make a sound, will blow your head off. What were you doing there? You guys think you’re journalists?’ while also subjecting us to brute violence.

“Again while in custody, they made overtures about us becoming informants, saying ‘Help us; we’ll talk outside.’ When we said no, we were threatened with arrest. Our pants, shoes, T-Shirts and belts were taken for inspection, while our computers, telephones, camera cards and mobile modems were confiscated.”

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