- bailout : BoC caught in the crossfire
- Opinions : Our View: CyBC should not expect the taxpayer to cover loss of...
- coercion : House was ‘coerced’ in Laiki rescue
- bailout : Troika team arrives to monitor developments
- AGM : BOC’s restructuring must be a priority, top businessmen say
- addes : Neophytou suggests removing CyBCs rights to sell ads
- Cyprus : Early ‘parliamentary’ elections in the north
- APOEL : Police gear up for cup final
- Cyprus : New parole board sworn in
- Cyprus : CyTA boss says outside interest in loan proposal
‘Winds of change’ stop blowing for Turkish Cypriots
JUST over a year ago, a Turkish Cypriot cross-party ‘parliamentary’ committee concluded an investigation into whether police in the north used torture in their prisons and police stations.
The investigation had come after a spate of shocking reports in the Turkish Cypriot media claiming police were torturing suspects and convicts with apparent impunity. Blood-curdling stories had made their way into the press, highlighting such methods as the use of electric shocks, beatings with the notorious falaka, sexual abuse and humiliation, and even rape. These methods had been used, the stories said, either to extract confessions or to dish out extra-judiciary punishment to prisoners and suspects.
But over a year after the findings were first published, along with a list of police officers the committee wanted to see investigated for their alleged involvement in torture, nothing has changed.
“The system is functioning to protect the torturers,” human rights lawyer Oncel Polili told the Sunday Mail this week.
“The parliamentary committee established that torture was being used in the north of Cyprus, but there have been no serious efforts to write or implement a law distinguishing between torture and other forms of violence,” he added. Without this distinction, he says, there is no way to combat the problem, at least not from a legal position.
Among the most notorious cases of alleged police torture was that of Fatih Demirel who was arrested in June 2011 accused of child molestation. He was later released without charge, but not before police had allegedly beaten and raped him in a series of assaults that left him hospitalised for weeks with internal and external injuries.
Demirel is still battling the courts in an attempt to gain compensation for the injuries he received. However, his lawyer Tekin Soylemez told the Mail this week that Demirel’s case has been “deliberately and repeatedly delayed” by the police and the courts, primarily because there is no actual law against torture.
To be fair to the politicians, creating such a law may not be as easy as their critics might claim.
As leading human rights lawyer Emine Colak told the Sunday Mail, much of the problem stems from the fact that the police in northern Cyprus remain, as they have done since 1974, under the direct command of the Turkish military in Ankara. The result is that police feel little compunction to respond to criticism from civilian sources, including the ‘government’ .
“We have written many times to the police and military asking for information or reaction to cases, and they do not even bother to reply. There is a hard shell that surrounds them that is very hard to break through. We got one response once from the police on an alleged torture case, but all we got was a letter stating that torture had not taken place,” she told the Mail.
The military in northern Cyprus, she said, remains “over confident” that it won’t face repercussions. Comparing the north of Cyprus with Turkey, where significant inroads have been made in bringing police accused of torture to account, Colak said: “They [police] have an easier time of it in north Cyprus; the [civilian] leadership here is more passive and the system [that of the military being in ultimate charge] is more entrenched. Moreover, in Turkey the police are not under military control, even today in areas where Turkish forces and Kurdish separatists often clash.
Colak describes a similar silent approach when the military is approached over other human rights issues. Property claims (whether involving Greek or Turkish Cypriots) over lands expropriated by the Turkish army during and after the 1974 invasion are handed back to the civilian ‘authorities’ without any serious engagement.
“They simply tell us that if the claimant is due compensation, it should be paid by the civilian authorities. It seems they are reluctant to relinquish anything, even if it comes at great cost to the civilian authorities,” she said.
“Nobody stands up to the military here,” she concluded, adding that despite the democratic changes that have taken place in Turkey, which many see as having made significant inroads toward becoming a civilian rather than military state, nothing has changed in this respect in the north of Cyprus.
But although Colak might believe Ankara is at least partly to blame for this regressive state of affairs in the north, she believes the ‘government’ in power in the north does nothing to improve matters, even when it can.
“We have a right-wing nationalist government here, which is not in the habit of standing up to the military. On the contrary, they have a culture of respect and admiration for the military,” she says.
Not only have there been no repercussions for the Turkish Cypriot police on the matter of torture, the force also appears to be taking an increasingly heavy-handed approach toward public political dissent in general.
Last week the force announced the purchase of a vehicle designed purely for policing urban unrest amid widespread criticism that levels of recruitment were so high that the force could effectively police a population twice that of the north. Moreover, the announcement of the police’s planned purchase of the Armoured Public Disorder Vehicle - which is bulletproof and can spray protesters with either water, foam or bullets - might have passed unnoticed had it not been for the growing number of anti-austerity demonstrations currently taking place, and at which police appear to be under orders to unleash hitherto unprecedented levels of force to prevent demonstrators from “insulting Ankara”.
Polili says the purchase comes as a direct result of “an increase in the number of demonstrations taking place, mainly over the austerity measures being implemented by the authorities, but also over environmental issues”.
Colak goes further, saying, “The fear here is that this is preparation for a clampdown on demonstrations,” and added that she viewed the future with concern.
“My personal view is that they want this vehicle so that demonstrators do not end up face to face with police, many of whom they could know personally,” she says. The preponderance of mobile phones with cameras that could be used to implicate individual policemen is also something Colak believes the police might have taken into account when purchasing a vehicle that would “put itself between the police and the demonstrators”.
Colak says she is convinced Ankara is only partly to blame for the gulf that is growing between the people and their ‘state’ in the north.
“People are feeling more and more that the Turkish Cypriot leadership is using the state mechanism for its own benefit and that it is totally insensitive to the needs of the people,” she says and adds: “There was a time when we felt the wind of change blowing here. Not any more.”