Political prisoners in Turkey have long confronted a chilling reality: once arrested, they face almost certain torture. Based on thousands of reports over many years, Amnesty International has concluded that “anybody detained in the country for political reasons is at great risk of being tortured, and very few detainees are not subjected to some form of ill-treatment in police stations, security forces’ interrogation and detention centres and prisons.” This has been true under all Turkish administrations, military or civilian, since the early 1970s.

Political arrests were particularly widespread after the September 1980 military takeover: the Turkish newspaper Milliyet reported on September 21, 1984, that security forces had arrested 178,565 people in the four years since the coup. Prisoners are most often tortured by the police during interrogation or in military prisons for the purpose of extracting information or confessions. Torturers apply electric shocks, beat the soles of their victims’ feet, assault them with truncheons or iron rods, or hang them from the ceiling by their hands or feet for long periods.

Security police may hold prisoners incommunicado, without charge or trial, for 15 days, or for up to 30 days where martial law is in effect. Once charged, they face unjust trials. Amnesty International concluded in October 1986 that 48,000 political prisoners had-been sentenced to death or imprisonment in unfair trials since the introduction of martial law in December 1978. Although martial law has now been lifted in all but four of Turkey’s 67 provinces, political prisoners still face mass trials, with up to several hundred defendants. Special State Security Courts have been set up recently in eight major cities and have already begun sentencing political prisoners.


Sources: Amnesty International publications: Turkey: Testimony on Torture, 1985; “Continuing Violations of Human Rights in Turkey” Al Index: EUR 44 AW, June 15, 1987; “Unfair Trial of Political Prisoners in Turkey,” Al Index: EUR 44/22/86, October 3, 1986.

How to cite this article:

Martha Wenger "Torture in Turkey," Middle East Report 149 (November/December 1987).

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