Turkish officials convicted over activist’s death

2 June 2010

Amnesty International has welcomed the conviction of 19 Turkish officials found guilty of causing the death of a political activist in a landmark torture case.

The 19 officials, including police officers and prison guards, were sentenced on Tuesday for their part in the torture that led to the death of Engin Çeber in October 2008.

Engin Çeber, who was arrested after taking part in a protest against a police shooting of another activist, died after being beaten in police custody and in prison.

The verdict is the first time in Turkish legal history that state officials have been jailed for life for causing death through torture.

“This is an important step in the struggle against impunity in Turkey,” said Halya Gowan, director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at Amnesty International.

“However, it must be the rule, not the exception that state officials are brought to justice for torture and other ill-treatment.”

The officials, who also included prison managers and a doctor, were convicted of offences ranging from causing death through torture to dereliction of duty. Three prison guards and a prison manager were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Engin Çeber’s father, Ali Tekin, told Amnesty international: “Although we are not completely satisfied with the judgment and nothing can bring Engin back, this is a first in Turkey. Maybe it will be important for the future. Let there be no more deaths like Engin’s, let there be no more torture.”

The prosecution was conducted quickly by Turkish legal standards, where cases of this kind have been known to take over 10 years to conclude. However, it is expected that the judgment will be appealed, leading to further delay before the sentences are confirmed.

Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal for action on the day of Engin Çeber’s death and has been campaigning ever since for those responsible to be brought to justice.

He was arrested along with two other men, Özgür Karakaya and Cihan Gün, and a woman, Aysu Baykal, on 28 September 2008 in the Sarıyer area of Istanbul. They had assembled with others to call for police officers to be brought to justice for the 2007 shooting of Ferhat Gerçek, of the Rights and Freedoms Association, a group of which they were also members.

The court heard that Engin Çeber had trouble speaking as a result of the beatings he had suffered in police custody in İstinye police station. A lawyer who was present at the police station also testified to seeing Aysu Baykal lying unconscious on the floor after being beaten by police officers.

The court also heard evidence that Engin Çeber, Özgür Karakaya and Cihan Gün were beaten with a metal pitcher, wooden truncheon, iron bar and a chair in addition to being doused with cold water while in Metris Prison in Istanbul.

On 7 October 2008, Engin Çeber was transferred to Bayrampaşa State Hospital and then to Şişli Etfal Hospital in Istanbul, where he was pronounced dead three days later.

The autopsy report concluded that Engin Çeber’s death was due to cerebral bleeding as a result of blunt trauma injuries consistent with being caused by blows to the head.

Ill-treatment by state officials continues to be reported across Turkey. In many cases, effective investigations are not conducted and criminal cases are not opened. Even when prosecutions are brought, state officials are rarely convicted.