Speaking on Saturday, the justice minister also said that "135 of these have faced lawsuits resulting from claims [of torture]." Sahin’s remarks came as response to a parliamentary inquiry recently submitted by pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputy from Diyarbakir Aysel Tugluk. Sahin also said 318 other investigations are pending. "In the 135 lawsuits filed, 67 civil servants have so far been acquitted of charges," he added.
The Turkish government has made progress in recent years in stamping out torture and abuse of detainees within the scope of its ongoing EU reforms. It also adopted a "zero tolerance for torture" policy, but after changes to a law in June 1997 that gave police broad powers to use lethal force and encouraged arbitrary searches, the use of violence by security forces increased.
Turkey became the focus of harsh criticism last year following the death of Engin Çeber, an activist who was allegedly beaten to death in Istanbul’s Metris Prison after he was taken into custody during a demonstration.
Çeber and three of his friends — Özgür Akkaya, Cihan Gün and Aysu Baykal – were detained in Istanbul in early October for reportedly selling the leftist magazine Yürüyüs. They were later arrested and sent to Metris Prison. The four inmates were allegedly subjected to torture and disproportionate use of force by policemen and prison guards. Çeber was taken to a hospital and was pronounced dead after suffering a brain hemorrhage as a result of head trauma.
Human rights violations and torture of individuals made it into the latest annual report put out by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said in late December that reported cases of torture and police violence have risen in EU-candidate Turkey since 2007. The same report stressed that there was also an increase in the disproportionate use of police force against demonstrators, including a readiness to fire at demonstrators and excessive force during identity checks. "Incidents of police torture or ill-treatment are now often reported as happening outside places of detention, such as the street, during apprehension, in police cars or out of the sight of cameras or witnesses," read the report.
Justice Minister Sahin also said a project that aims to train judges to take torture cases seriously, prosecutors to prosecute such cases and doctors to be on the lookout for signs of torture is expected to be completed before the end of 2009. A total of 1,500 judges and prosecutors and around 4,000 doctors will be trained as part of the project.
"We’ve allocated 2.7 million euros for the project. We plan to complete the project by November of this year. Our objective is to raise consciousness among prosecutors, judges and doctors to contribute to our fight against torture," Sahin remarked. Sahin also noted that the EU fiscally supports projects to stamp out ill-treatment of individuals.