Palestinian’s death in Turkish prison raises questions on torture

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The recent death of Zaki Mubarak, a Palestinian man who died under suspicious conditions while in detention on espionage charges, has raised questions on others cases of torture and abuse, according to international reports.

Zaki Mubarak was arrested alongside another Palestinian in Turkey on charges of alleged espionage. 10 days after announcing his arrest, Turkish authorities announced that he had died from an apparent suicide.

Mubarak’s family said they were skeptical of the suicide claims and called for an investigation into the matter.

Mubarak’s sister told Al Arabiya that the family believes Turkish authorities are delaying the process of repatriating the body in order to conceal any traces of torture that may prove his murder.

According to several international organizations, Turkey is among the top countries accused of systematically failing to investigate allegations of torture in police custody.

Torture claims

In October 2016, Human Rights Watch published a report on Turkey’s state of emergency, which was enacted that year after a failed coup attempt against the government, and how it removed protection against torture and ill-treatment of people under police custody.

Since the failed coup in 2016, the Turkish government has launched a crackdown against dissent and opposition members by firing more than 150,000 civil servants and arresting more than 50,000 civilians. At least 600,000 citizens have been investigated on terror-linked charges since then.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), an advocacy organization that promotes the rule of law, democracy, and fundamental rights and freedoms with a special focus on Turkey, says that the true number of deaths under the extended emergency rule since July 2016 in Turkey is still unknown. However, it has documented at least 126 cases of suspicious deaths and suicides since 2016.

The most recent documented case was that of İbrahim Özyavuz, a young doctor who died in prison on the first day of 2018 from an apparent suicide. His family allege that he lost his life after he had been heavily tortured by police officers in pre-trial detention at the notorious Silivri Prison. The Özyavuz family said that they saw traces of heavy torture on their son’s body when they retrieved him.

Mubarak also died at the same prison.

According to a 2017 report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the impact of the state of emergency on human rights in Turkey, a number of police officers who refused to participate in arbitrary arrests, torture, and other repressive acts were dismissed and/or arrested on charges of supporting terrorism.

Prison overpopulation

The number of people in Turkish prisons have increased annually since the failed coup in 2016. That number increased by 15.7 percent in 2017, up to 232,000 compared to the previous year.

As of September 15, 2018, there were 246,426 prisoners in 449 prisons across the country with a capacity that can only hold up to 211,274 inmates, according to a report sent by Turkey’s Justice Ministry to the Turkish Parliament.

“Thirty prisoners share a 12-person ward. Due to inadequate beds, detainees take turns sleeping. In some jails, there are beds on the floor in front of the bathroom entrance. The overcrowding is a significant issue in going out for social activities, meeting with psychologists, and for exercising one’s rights,” Berivan Korkut, an executive board member of Civil Society Association for Law Enforcement Systems (CISST) group told SCF.

Turkey has also been accused of arbitrarily arresting journalists in recent years. Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 157th out of 180 countries in its 2018 press freedom index.

Writing for Foreign Policy, Nate Schenkkan, the project director of the Nations in Transit publication at Freedom House, called the arrests of foreign journalists “hostage-taking” and “Turkey’s new foreign policy.”

“It is something that everyone knows is happening, but political leaders and diplomats are reluctant to call it by its name,” Schenkkan wrote.