The Observatory has been informed about the threats against human rights lawyers Messrs. Erdoğan Akdoğdu, member of the Progressive Lawyers Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği - ÇHD), and Mehdi Zana Akkaya, member of the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (Özgürlük için Hukukçular Derneği - ÖHD), who have taken up torture cases in the aftermath of the deadly earthquakes of February 6, 2023, which caused the death of over 52,000 people and left thousands more injured and displaced in Turkey and Syria. This humanitarian crisis prompted President Erdoğan to enact a three-month state of emergency in the affected areas, which led to disproportionate restrictions to fundamental freedoms and abuses by law enforcement.
On February 12, 2023, Erdoğan Akdoğdu and Mehdi Zana Akkaya met with their client S.G. at the Altınözü Gendarmerie Station, south of Turkey, where he was detained, to represent him in the investigation and document acts of torture he and his brother A.G. had been subjected to while in detention. During the meeting both human rights lawyers were repeatedly interrupted by gendarmerie officers, and one officer threatened them "with the same fate" as their client and his brother. Furthermore, the Gendarmerie prepared a report against Mr. Akdoğdu for taking photographs documenting the torture his client faced.
A.G. and S.G. were detained on February 11, 2023, in their houses in the Büyükburç village in Altınözü, Hatay, under charges of “plunder” and “theft”, before being taken to the Altınözü Gendarmerie Station. In violation of procedural rights, they were not taken to the hospital for health control at the beginning of the detention. Relatives and local witnesses stated that they were both healthy and unharmed when they were detained. On the same day, their father İ.G learned his son A.G. died shortly after being admitted to a hospital. The autopsy report indicates cuts and bruises in several places in A.G.’s body, broken nose and ribs and brain haemorrhage. Gendarmerie officers alleged that these severe injuries and wounds were the result of a mob battering and self-harm, namely head banging. The final cause of death will be determined by the Council of Forensic Medicine based on findings of the autopsy. İ.G. filed a criminal complaint for the death of his son A.G., and the Prosecutor subsequently launched an investigation.
When Erdoğan Akdoğdu and Mehdi Zana Akkaya visited their client S.G. in Altınözü Gendarmerie Station on February 12, 2023, they saw visible signs of beating and violence on S.G.’s body, including a swollen nose, cuts on his face, bruises and injuries in his feet and hands. S.G. stated that he was tortured and subjected to sexual violence, including testicle twisting, threats of rape using batons, and attempted rape. He stated that after his health seriously deteriorated, the Gendarmerie took him to the hospital in Adana, where he received some treatment, and later brought him back to the station where he met with his lawyers. It is during this meeting that the two lawyers were threatened by a Gendarmerie officer.
On February 14, 2023, S.G. was released under judicial control. He identified the officers who tortured him, and three gendarmerie personnel were suspended from duty. The prosecutor launched an investigation into the torture of S.G.
At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, a criminal complaint had yet to be filed against the gendarmerie personnel who threatened the lawyers.
The Observatory notes with great concern that in the aftermath of the deadly earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, there have been several reports and videos circulating on social media showing violent beatings of people alleged to be “looters”, including by people assumed to be police officers due to their uniforms. Refugees, and especially Syrian refugees, are particularly targeted with such accusations, hate speech and threats of violence on social media by far-right politicians and groups. The three-month state of emergency declared in the ten provinces affected by the earthquake seriously risks deteriorating the situation, given Turkey’s track record of widespread human rights violations and abuse of state of emergency legislation during 2016-2018.
The Observatory deplores the death in detention of A.G. and the acts of torture committed against him and his brother S.G., and urges the authorities to carry out immediate, thorough, and impartial investigations into these acts. The Observatory recalls that full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms must be ensured in the aftermath of the earthquake, and that no exceptional circumstances may be invoked to justify any act of torture.
The Observatory strongly condemns the threats against lawyer Erdoğan Akdoğdu and Mehdi Zana Akkaya, which are only aimed at preventing them from exercising their legitimate activities as human rights lawyers and documenting instances of torture.
The Observatory urges the authorities in Turkey to carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats against Erdoğan Akdoğdu and Mehdi Zana Akkaya and to ensure that all human rights lawyers and human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals. The Observatory further urges the authorities to guarantee the safety, physical integrity and psychological well-being of all human rights defenders, including lawyers, documenting cases of torture and ill-treatment, representing survivors and seeking justice for these human rights violations.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Turkey, asking them to:
1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Erdoğan Akdoğdu and Mehdi Zana Akkaya, as well as all human rights defenders in Turkey;
2. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats against Erdoğan Akdoğdu and Mehdi Zana Akkaya, while ensuring their protection, and bring the perpetrators to justice in accordance with international standards;
3. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Erdoğan Akdoğdu and Mehdi Zana Akkaya and all other human rights defenders in Turkey, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
4. Unequivocally and publicly condemn any and all acts of torture and ill-treatment, undertake prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the above-mentioned acts of torture, ensure the alleged perpetrators are duly prosecuted in a fair trial and provide effective remedy, redress and rehabilitation to the survivors and their families;
5. Ensure that state agents abstain from using any type of excessive force, acts or threats of torture or inhumane treatment and ensure that law enforcement officers and detention authorities are properly instructed and warned about the prohibition of this conduct with an effective sanction mechanism in place;
6. Repeal the state of emergency rule, to resort to powers conferred under existing legislation designed specifically for disaster response and to ensure that any measure taken in this context is strictly necessary and proportionate to address the current crisis and fully compliant with Turkey’s international human rights obligations.
- President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Email: email@example.com
- Minister of Justice, Mr. Bekir Bozdağ. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Minister of Interior, Mr. Süleyman Soylu. Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ambassador Mr. Mehmet Kemal Bozay, Diplomatic Mission of Turkey to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium. Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ambassador Mr. Sadık Arslan, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Turkey in your respective country.