For Immediate Release
Turkey: Rising Police Violence Goes Unpunished
Prosecute Abusers to Reverse Trend
ISTANBUL - A rising wave of police violence against the public in Turkey is
linked to the Turkish government's failure to hold abusive officers to
account, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 80-page report, "Closing Ranks against Accountability - Barriers to Tackling Police Violence in Turkey,"
documents 28 cases of police abuse against members of the public since
the start of 2007, and examines official investigations of police
conduct in those instances. The cases include fatal and non-fatal
shootings by the police; ill-treatment and excessive use of force by
police against demonstrators; and ill-treatment during or following
identity checks. Those who file complaints against the police often
find themselves put on trial for having "forcibly resisted" the police.
"Turkey needs to tackle its violent and trigger-happy policing
culture," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
"That can only happen if the criminal justice system holds the police
to account for these serious crimes."
Police violence in Turkey has been exacerbated by changes to the law
on police powers made in June 2007, which give police excessively broad
discretion to use lethal force and encourage arbitrary stops and
searches by police. Since the research for this report was finished in
June 2008 there has been a spate of shootings by police officers in
cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, Adana, Bursa, and Antalya. Seven of
them were fatal.
The problem is compounded by the failure to adequately investigate
abuses when complaints are made. The report documents a pattern of
police interference with investigations, including attempts to conceal,
contaminate, or plant evidence. Investigations by prosecutors last many
months and even years, often with no result. Where a prosecution is
commenced, trials also last for years and the rate of conviction is
extremely low. Convictions rarely lead to prison sentences.
"Victims of police violence we interviewed frequently told us that
the police feel untouchable," Roth said. "That will only change if
police officers who break the law are punished."
Motivated to meet conditions attached to its prospective European
Union accession, Turkey has made important changes in law and in
detention regulations in the last five years, providing better
safeguards for those held in detention facilities. While the changes
did bring a reduction of abuse in police custody for those detained
under anti-terrorism laws, there was less impact in other areas of
policing. Since the beginning of 2007, reports of police abuse have
risen compared to previous years, especially outside formal places of
Incidents of police torture or ill-treatment are now more often
reported as occurring outside formal places of detention - in the
street, during apprehension, in police cars, or out of the sight of
cameras or witnesses. Police also show a readiness to use firearms,
shooting unarmed demonstrators and individuals whom the police claim
have failed to obey stop warnings, and sometimes killing them.
The report contains detailed recommendations to the Turkish government, including:
- The establishment of an effective, independent police
complaints authority to investigate police misconduct, leading to the
prosecution of offenders;
- Requiring police to report when
they use stop-and-search powers, and giving the person stopped a form
that includes the officers' names, identification numbers, and the
reason for the stop;
- Legal clarification that use of lethal force should be a means of last resort and used only where necessary to protect life;
- Tamper-proof video and audio recording in police stations at all times; and
- Action to ensure that trial hearings of law enforcement officials facing prosecution take place without undue delay.