(Istanbul) – The heavy sentences for nine prison and police officials for torture, leading in one case to death, is a momentous verdict that should signal a renewed effort by the Turkish government to end torture in custody, Human Rights Watch said today. The case is the first in which a Turkish court convicted a senior prison official for torture by guards under his command.
The convictions in an Istanbul court on June 1, 2010, were for the torture death of Engin Çeber, an activist with the Rights and Freedoms Association, a political association. Çeber died in an Istanbul hospital on October 10, 2008 after being repeatedly beaten in police custody and in prison. An autopsy report by the Forensic Medicine Institute concluded that he had died from a brain hemorrhage as a result of blows to the body and head and that his injuries were commensurate with torture.
"The authorities in Turkey have been notorious for protecting torturers," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The Çeber verdict should signal that the Turkish justice system will no longer turn a blind eye to torture and other ill-treatment."
Three guards and a senior official from Metris Prison were sentenced to life in prison. Two additional prison guards were each sentenced to prison terms of seven years and three months for torturing Çeber and two fellow activists, Özgür Karakaya and Cihan Gün. A Human Rights Watch representative monitored the trial. Three police officers were also convicted in the case.
The conviction of the senior prison official, Fuat KaraosmanoÄŸlu, for Çeber’s death is particularly noteworthy, Human Rights Watch said. KaraosmanoÄŸlu was convicted for torture carried out by guards under his command, for having known about the torture, and for having failed to stop it. Previously, in almost all investigations into human rights violations by the security forces or public officials in Turkey, senior officers and officials have been absolved of responsibility. KaraosmanoÄŸlu’s conviction should send a strong message that senior officials will be held accountable for serious abuses by those under their command, Human Rights Watch said.