Victims seek legal redress for Diyarbak?r Prison atrocities

Victims seek legal redress for Diyarbak?r Prison atrocities
?SMAIL AVCI
   

   

Thirty years have passed, but the alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated behind the infamous Diyarbak?r Prison’s thick walls are set to be open to judicial oversight for the first time as hundreds of victims of ill-treatment file criminal complaints against those who had a share in the Diyarbak?r Prison tragedy.
Diyarbak?r Prison is known as one of the main places where post Sept. 12, 1980 coup atrocities and crimes against humanity took place. Thirty-four people died in the prison between 1981 and 1984, dozens of people were permanently disfigured or disabled, and almost every inmate experienced some form of torture at the hands of its wards. Twenty of those who died in the prison were tortured to death, five died during hunger strikes, five set themselves on fire and four of them hung themselves in protest of the circumstances.
A total of 303 individuals, jailed in the notorious prison between 1980 and 1984, were at the Diyarbak?r Prosecutor’s Office yesterday to call for the perpetrators of the crimes committed in Diyarbak?r Prison to be held to account. They demanded the perpetrators be tried on charges of committing a crime against humanity, since they say what was done in Diyarbak?r Prison was nothing other than a “crime against humanity” — with respect to international legal norms.
The group, which came from across Turkey to file its complaints, first met in front of the Diyarbak?r Municipality building. It later marched towards the Diyarbak?r Courthouse with complaints in hand and made a statement to the press there.
The spokesperson of the ’78ers Union, Celalettin Can, read the statement on behalf of the victims and underlined that the group had formed to take the historic step. Noting that what happened in Diyarbak?r Prison went down in history as the “shame” of the state, he said Turkey should settle accounts with the perpetrators of ill-treatment in the prison in order to free itself from this shame.  Can also said crimes against humanity were systematically committed in the prison and that the statute of limitations could not be used to prevent bringing the perpetrators to justice.
“We are here today to ask officials to take our demands into consideration and to open a court case,” he said. After the statement, some victims took to the stage and shared their bitter experiences in the prison with the press. Among them was Y?ld?z Akta?, who was tortured in the prison while she was only 12 years old. “I am here to enable the trial of those who did that to me at the time,” she said, and added that she was the youngest victim of torture in the prison.
After submitting their complaints, the group also went to Diyarbak?r Prison and posed for a photo where they were once subjected to torture.
The complainants came together at an initiative launched by a civil society organization known as the ‘78ers Union, which established the Justice Commission to Research the Truth about Diyarbak?r Prison in 2007. They asked for the punishment of the leader of the coup, Gen. Kenan Evren, his command echelon, then-7th Army Corps commander Gen. Kemal Yamak, then-Warden Briol ?en and guards who served at the prison.
The ill-treatment in the prison is believed to have played a major role in the establishment and rapid growth of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist organization Turkey has been fighting against for many years. The group demands autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds in the country’s Southeast. More than 40,000 people have been killed in clashes between Turkish security forces and PKK terrorists.
‘Statute of limitations does not apply in crimes against humanity’
Turkey took a landmark step last month and took the chance to settle accounts with the dark 1980s by approving a 26-article constitutional reform package which, among other things, paved the way for the trial of the perpetrators of the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, by abolishing Article 15 of the Constitution. This article used to give immunity to the generals responsible for the coup.
The abolishment of the article has also started a debate over whether it is possible to try these generals for their crimes.
Some experts are quick to declare that the statute of limitations has passed and that the principle of “no crime, no retroactive punishment” makes it impossible to bring the coup generals in front of a court. But other experts suggest that it is possible to try them. The principle of “no crime, no retroactive punishment” states that there can be no crime committed, and no punishment meted out, without a violation of the penal law as it existed at the time. Another consequence of this principle is that only those penalties that have already been established for the offense at the time when it was committed can be imposed.
Yesterday’s complainants also dismissed comments that the perpetrators of the coup could not be tried and said there could be no statute of limitations when the issue was a crime committed against humanity.
The 1980 military coup took place with the approval of all military commanders and was the most organized coup in Turkey’s history. After Sept. 12, the 1961 constitution was eliminated, and the coup ushered in a new period of Turkish politics.
The coup was a source of great suffering for Turkey’s citizens, as a total of 650,000 people were detained during this period. Files for 1,683,000 people were recorded at police stations. A total of 230,000 people were tried in 210,000 cases, mostly for political reasons. A full 517 people were sentenced to death, while 7,000 people faced charges that carried a sentence of capital punishment. Fifty people who received the death penalty were executed. As a result of the unsanitary conditions and torture in prisons, 299 people died while incarcerated. A total of 144 people died in crimes where the perpetrators could not be found, while 14 died during hunger strikes, 16 were shot to death because they were supposedly trying to escape from prison and 43 people committed suicide.
Infamous prison to turn into human rights museum
There has also been a controversy regarding the notorious prison’s conversion to a museum, which was last month sparked by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, who said during a visit to the southeastern province of Diyarbak?r that the prison would be demolished as part of government efforts to win the hearts of the nation’s Kurds.
Shutting down the infamous prison was first put forward by Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Mehdi Eker, who suggested that it be transformed into a school. However, many past inmates of the prison, civil society representatives and intellectuals opposed this, saying a place known for torture and crimes against humanity cannot possibly be used as an educational institution for children. Instead, it should be a museum, they suggested.
The ‘78ers Union, which compiled documents, witness accounts and testimony from 450 individuals and other information on the horrific crimes the prison’s walls have seen, plans to turn the prison into a human rights museum soon.
The prison, which served as a military prison after the coup, will host various items, such as pictures, personal belongings of inmates, letters, documents, paintings and documentaries when it becomes the Diyarbak?r Prison Human Rights Museum, scheduled to open this year.


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