Female prisoners and female visitors are continually being sexually harassed by guards during strip searches, a Turkish opposition member of parliament has claimed.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Sezgin Tanrikulu, who is the deputy chairman of the parliamentary Human Rights Inquiry Committee, claimed on Monday.
Giving a statement on the human rights violations in Turkey, which was streamed live from his social media account, Tanrikulu, former vice chairman of the CHP, denounced the conduct of prison guards, asserting that perpetual sexual harassment had become standard administrative practice.
Tanrikulu’s remarks came three weeks after two separate harassment allegations made by female relatives of detainees held in the prisons of the central Anatolian city of Eskisehir and the Black Sea province of Samsun, had been published by the online news portal Medyabold.
A female visitor gave an account of the alleged harassment that takes place in the Eskisehir penitentiary. Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to security concerns, she described the treatment visitors face when they enter the premises, namely during the strip searches conducted for entry and exit.
“The guards discomfortingly touch our private parts to check if we wear a sanitary pad,” Medyabold quoted her as saying.
The victim of the alleged abuse continued by adding, “You have to show the pad if they feel you are wearing one. You have to open the sticky part of the pad. They check if there is something hidden there. Unavoidably, your private parts become visible.”
The victims of the alleged misconduct are relatives of detainees who were imprisoned on charges of being members of the Gülen Movement, a group led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt.
Gülen has repeatedly denied the allegations and Turkey’s calls for his extradition from the United States where he has lived in exile since 1999 were rejected due to lack of substantial evidence according to Washington.
Recounting the treatment of guards in search rooms, anonymous interviewee of Medyabold said that guards did not allow a woman who recently gave birth to sit, despite her dire condition impairing even her walking abilities.
“Guards told the woman who recently gave birth to remove her pad and wear the one they had given to her instead,” said the anonymous source, and continued to detail the picture by saying, “Later on an officer came up with a notebook, asking the visitor whom she came to see. It became clear that the money of the sanitary pad given by the guards was to be charged from the credit of her detained spouse. Being obliged to change your pad there is one thing but your private information is exposed.”
The woman speaking to Medyabold also explained the reason visitors abstain from confronting the violations of privacy as she continued to depict the “routine” strip search conducted by guards,
“Even if the whole process plays out behind a curtain, it is big not enough to cover it all. It is already a heavy psychological burden to remove your pad there and put on the one they give you. Your privacy is being violated. They undress your torso without letting you touch anything. You stay there like that half-naked. The ones who had objected to these searches received visiting bans ranging from three to six months during the state of emergency.”
MP Tanrikulu, pointing to these harassments, spoke on an online broadcast describing the situation, “The women who visit their detained relatives in prisons are being sexually harassed for hours Regardless of their political identity they are being harassed perpetually. It has become an administrative practice.”
Other allegations of abuse emerge
Following the publishing of these allegations from the anonymous source, a separate harassment claim came from the prison facility in Bafra district of the Black Sea province of Samsun.
Ç.Ş., a female visitor of a detainee held in Bafra prison, also spoke on the condition of anonymity due to security reasons, and alleged that the prison guards ordered a woman to remove her pad, shouting, “Remove it! Leave it on the floor!”
She said: “They ordered all of us to remove our pads and leave it on the floor and put on the new ones. I couldn’t speak with my husband out of constantly shedding tears afterward,”
UN Report on Human Rights violations in Turkey
According to a 2018 report by Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, conducts such as severe beatings, punches, and kicks, blows with objects, threats and verbal abuse, being forced to strip naked, rape with objects and other sexual violence or threats thereof, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and extended blindfolding and/or handcuffing for several days were widespread in Turkey’s prisons.
Turkish authorities have detained 160 000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants since the failed coup, according to the United Nations’ human rights office.
The crackdown is severely criticized by Turkey’s Western allies. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s critics accuse him of using the failed coup as a pretext to suppress dissent.