When torture spills over to the street
As I was preparing to write on another subject Wednesday, I watched the video of a citizen in Istanbul’s Fatih district being beaten by policemen on the 1 p.m. newscast of CNNTürk.
I was just dumbfounded in front of the TV. In the footage, four or five policemen encircled a citizen and beat him mercilessly. When the citizen collapsed to the ground, they took turns kicking him. One policeman was hitting him with a baton. Another took out his belt and starting hitting him in the patriarchal method. They continued beating him.
The screams of the relatives of the beaten citizen were not enough to stop the beating that transformed into something like a ritual of violence. According to the news story, other policemen who arrived at the scene later also started hitting the citizen. The beating continued in the police vehicle where the citizen was taken.
What annoyed me the most was the clear recording of the thumping sound of the baton each time it hit the body of the citizen.
This footage provided by Cihan News Agency is one of the most outstanding recent journalistic achievements in Turkey in the field of human rights.
Time for zero tolerance
How this scandal will be dealt with has now become a credibility test for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which said it adopted a “zero tolerance” policy against torture almost 10 years ago.
Now, we need to see that the same thing is done in Turkey in this case as would be done in a civilized state of law.
First of all, there needs to be an apology. A top-level official, on behalf of the police, should apologize for this ugly incident to this citizen whose honor has been trampled on and, in the name of this person, apologize to the entire Turkish nation.
The administrative and legal investigations against these police officers should proceed in the quickest and most transparent way; the responsible parties should receive their deserved punishments so that the public should be effectively convinced that the policemen will not get away scot-free on this atrocity.
Culture of impunity
Let’s diagnose the problem correctly. The fact that the policemen got carried away this easily to a recklessness of this extent stems from a lack of effective deterrence in the system.
The tendency of public employees to mistreat citizens is a widespread issue encountered in many countries. However, the difference between the countries that claim to be states under the rule of law and other states is the deterrence created by applying severe sanctions against public employees who violate the rights of citizens.
The interesting aspect of the incident in Fatih is that it happened after the merciless beating of a woman named Fevziye Cengiz last year in the Aegean city of İzmir’s Karabağlar Police Station. This situation demonstrates that despite all the measures said to be taken, serious deterrence to prevent these kinds of violations within the police has not yet been instituted.
The reason that the “laissez beat” (let them beat) mentality still dominates the police is the widespread and genetic “culture of impunity” within the state.
This is one of the main recurring issues in all recent human rights reports on Turkey. State employees who violate the rights of citizens are somewhat protected by the system, and they often get away with little to no penalty.
The obstruction of legal proceedings, especially against policemen who are the subject of complaints for torture and mistreatment, through the immediate opening of a counter-case on the grounds that “they were insulted” or that the person in question “raised a hand” often causes the criminal complaint files to remain inconclusive.
In its Progress Report 2011 on Turkey, the European Union says this: “Counter-cases launched by law enforcement bodies against persons who alleged torture or ill-treatment may deter complaints. In many instances such cases launched by security forces are given priority by the courts.”
According to the U.S. State Department 2011 Human Rights Report on Turkey, “Courts investigated allegations of abuse and torture by security forces during the year but rarely convicted or punished offenders.”
In the eyes of the Western world, justice in Turkey favors the policemen who victimized citizens instead of favoring the victims.
The time has long come to end this culture of impunity that takes the torturers and abusers under its wings. If the scandal in Fatih does not lead to such a start, then what other footage of beatings do we need to expect to see in newscasts?
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on June 21. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.