US Says 10,000s Arrested Since Turkey Coup With Little Clarity on Evidence

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In the United States, it was State Department’s palpable indifference to its own report over the dismal state of human rights across the world that spurred debates over its image as the standard-bearer of democracy and moral values. Marking a dramatic break with a tradition that had persisted since 1970s, neither Secretary of State Rex Tillerson nor any other senior official from State Department took the stage for an on-camera presentation of the report at a press event.

That has immediately become the locus of political fervor and sharp criticism from detractors of the Donald J. Trump administration. Is the U.S. abandoning its leading position in the world to promote and uphold universal values of democracy and human rights? That was the question in place in Washington D.C.

But it was the content of the report that most jarred the citizens and observers of Turkey. State Department’s riveting report reveals the wrenching effects of a failed coup on Turkey’s institutions, freedom of speech, rule of law, and criminal proceedings. Since then, Turkey has placed tens of thousands of people in prison with “little clarity on evidence.”

Turkey constitutes the major focus and bulk of the entire report with 75-page section. And post-coup rollback of legal rights of detainees, crumbling justice system, the crippled state of media freedom, the ever-growing government clampdown on critics, worsening security conditions across the country, a paralyzed bureaucracy and civil service are the central themes that were subject to rigorous and thorough investigation. 

The report elaborates on inconsistent access to due process during coup trials, government interference with freedom of expression, and inadequate protection of civilians in southeastern Turkey where security forces are locked in a lasting war with the Kurdish insurgents. 

The Turkish government holds U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and his sympathizers responsible for the attempted coup, which killed 240 people and wounded 2,100. The Turkish authorities have, however, suspended due process protections under the state of emergency for the suspects tried over allegations linked with the coup.

“Courts imprisoned tens of thousands of persons accused of supporting the coup or terrorist groups, in many cases with little clarity on the charges and evidence against them,” the report said.

The government has restricted detainees’ access to legal assistance and lawyers, allowed them to be held without a charge for up to a month. Human rights noted some cases in which authorities rounded up family members of the accused when suspects remain at large.

Famous national soccer star Hakan Sukur’s 75-year-old father, Selmet Sukur, on August 12 in lieu of his son. In another well-known case, the Turkish police arrested the wife of Bulent Korucu, the former editor-in-chief of now defunct Aksiyon weekly. Mrs. Korucu is accused of subscribing to a weekly magazine that his husband was editing for years.  

The officials also either froze or confiscated properties of suspended or sacked public servants. 

During the post-coup crackdown, the Turkish government has shut down thousands of associations, schools and companies. 

State of media freedom is in extremely bad shape. “The government used its authorities under the state of emergency to close more than 195 media outlets critics of the government as of mid-December. Authorities linked most to either the Gulen movement or PKK,” the report said. For more than 200 journalists arrest warrants have been issued, while 155 journalists are currently in jail, according to Istanbul-based Platform for Independent Journalism, or P24

“Human rights groups documented several suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody following the coup attempt and noted 16 to 23 reported of suicides of detainees as of November. On September 16, Seyfettin Yigit in Bursa allegedly committed suicide after being detained for Gulen-related connections. His family claimed he was a victim of police violence,” the report said.

“Yigit had been heavily involved in developed the case around 2013, alleging high-level official corruption that implicated members of then-prime minister Erdogan’s family and close circle, including four ministers.”

The report also documented 300,000 displaced civilians who are caught in the urban fighting across war-riven southeastern Turkey. During renewed clashes after the collapse of a cease-fire in 2015 summer, 637 security personnel, including 398 soldiers, 187 police, and 52 village guards have been killed.

The fighting in cities led to high casualties of civilians as 208 citizens were killed while 1,259 wounded, according to the government report. Ankara-based Human Rights Association, a non-governmental organization monitoring human rights abuses, however, offered a different tally of civilian loss. It says the security forces killed 317 civilians and injured 130 in what it says arbitrary killing across the country in the first 9 months of last year. 

During 79-day-long curfew in Kurdish town of Cizre, nearly 200 people, unarmed citizens, have been killed during clashes, State Department referred to Human Rights Watch’s previous report.

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