Turkish police 'tortured by colleagues'

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The Independent Online
Istanbul - For the first time, the Turkish media have taken on the security forces and won an important victory in a battle to end the torture, disappearances and murders that have stained Turkey's human-rights record, writes Hugh Pope.

A sustained campaign has forced the Turkish government to suspend 15 riot police after an investigation found that a left-wing photo-journalist, Metin Goktepe, 27, had been beaten to death in police custody in Istanbul on 8 January.

There were even accusations that police had been torturing other policemen to find out what happened to Goktepe. One policeman, Coskun Ozturk, told a television station: "They called us over to headquarters. Then the fists and punches came. They hit my chest and back and head."

Both investigators and Goktepe's newspaper, Evrensel,doubted Mr Ozturk's allegations. But he struck a chord and the airwaves filled with police calls of protest to superiors.

"Distressing practices have distressing results. It looks like the police are sharing in this distress," said the minister of state for human rights, Adnan Ekmen.

But the Goktepe affair, said Mujgan Atilgan, news editor at Evrensel, has been "a turning point. It is the first time such a 'mystery murder' has been solved like this. And the police have certainly stopped harassing journalists so much."

The affair proved the new power of Turkey's media, especially the 15 national television channels.

Unlike in the cases of more than 40 journalists killed in the past five years, the media did not let go of the story. Police chiefs and ministers were forced to squirm on television as they rehearsed official assertions that Goktepe had "not been detained", "fell off a wall" or "collapsed on a park bench". But witnesses soon told the true story.

The caretaker Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, who sent a secret order to police stations a year ago to try to put a brake on torture, quickly ordered the truth to be exposed.

But exposure is all that has happened so far to the 15 policemen who were suspended and another 40 under investigation. There is also doubt about how far the government wants to go against the police, whom Mrs Ciller described as "the people's darlings".

The police have improved, but Mrs Ciller's assertion that Goktepe's killing was the result of "individual acts" seems absurd in the light of information from the Ankara-based Human Rights Foundation, which reported that in 1994, 32 people died of torture in detention.

Another 49 had disappeared and are presumed dead, while 423 died in unsolved "mystery murders".