Probe reveals Turkish government behind forced disappearances

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In early 2017, a black van stopped alongside a man walking down the street in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. Two men jumped out, grabbed the man, dragged him into the van and sped off. He tried to fight off his kidnappers but they beat him, covered his head with a hood and cuffed his feet.

“I quickly realized that there was no point in trying to defend myself, and that I had to calm down and act in a calculated way,” the man, calling himself Tolga, told the joint investigation overseen by the German nonprofit news outlet Correctiv. Other media outlets involved include Israel’s Haaretz, France’s Le Monde, Spain’s El Pais, and Denmark’s Monday Morning.

According to a summary published in Ahvalnews, Tolga was taken to a remote facility and put in a cell. He was beaten, interrogated, given electric shocks and threatened with rape. “I thought they were going to kill me,” he said.

Since July 2016, Turkish civilians have started to disappear, according to the report. The victim is usually grabbed by a couple unmasked men in broad daylight and pulled into a black commercial vehicle. Videos, documents, and interviews suggest Ankara is behind these forced disappearances, with most of the abducations targeting supposed followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, Haaretz said .

Turkey’s government accuses Gülen of masterminded the 2016 coup attempt, and has dismissed more than 100,000 public-sector workers and detained some 50,000 people suspected of links to his movement.

With help from lawyers and human rights activists, Tolga’s relatives searched for him, but got nowhere. They launched a social media campaign and appealed to international media, but no clues or evidence was ever found, the report said.

Tolga and Ali, another man abducted similarly, faced interrogation and torture in difficult-to-describe facilities and had no access to the outside world for several months of detention, Haaretz said. Tolga said his cell looked like it had been designed for torture, with rings on the wall for hands and feet, as well as torture instruments and clubs.

Their captors urged them to report their friends and colleagues. They also recruited them to stand as a witnesses in upcoming trials against Gülen, testifying behind a curtain to hide their identities.

They use anonymous witnesses because there is no other evidence,” Eren Keskin, a lawyer and human rights activist, told the joint investigation. “This is an undemocratic method that doesn’t exist in law-abiding states.”

Tolga pretended to collaborate with his captors and the torture decreased. They urged him to “help the state” and he would be fine. One day he was driven back to the center of Ankara and released. He went into hiding, then fled to Europe.

“Neither myself nor my family have gotten over the trauma,” said Tolga, speaking to reporters in a hotel room in a Western European country where he has received asylum based on human rights violations that threatened his life.

Erdoğan and other officials have rejected accusations of torture. In June 2017, the Turkish parliament’s human rights committee told BBC Turkey that it had opened an investigation into these disappearances, but little progress has been made.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom, which was established by journalists who fled Turkey after the coup attempt and has been linked to the Gülen movement, says that since 2016, at least 20 cases have been reported of academics, teachers and public servants being mysteriously abducted.