ISTANBUL, TURKEY — While most countries in the world have a telephone number to call police in an emergency, an emergency telephone line has been launched in Istanbul for victims of police violence. The European Union had praised Turkey's government for cracking down on torture by police, but concerns are now growing that those reforms are sliding.
Istanbul lawyer Taylan Tanay is taking the latest call of the city's police-violence hotline. The Imdat Polis, or "Help, Police," initiative offers a 24-hour free legal service to any victim of police violence.
In emergencies, a lawyer is immediately dispatched to the scene. Tanay said the hotline was set up by the Progressive Lawyers Association in response to a string of highly publicized incidents of police violence in the city.
He said lawyers in Turkey are aware of widespread violence by the security forces. He said they always knew about abuse in the prisons and police precincts, but now there is an increase of attacks against people in the streets.
A video recording on a mobile phone in June shows policemen beating a man in Istanbul in front of his family. It graphically highlights the problem of police violence and gave birth to the hotline.
Tanay said more people increasingly are coming forward. He said people are recording such violence with phone cameras, and witnesses are prepared to speak out. Along with media reports highlighting police violence, he said they can successfully bring cases against the police.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed the claims of growing police violence as "black propaganda." He points to the Turkish government having won plaudits from the European Union for its policy of zero tolerance on torture and introduction of reforms, including cameras in police stations, as part of its membership bid to the 27-nation bloc.
With Ankara's bid currently stalled, however, analysts say claims of rising police violence could be an indication that progress on this front may be waning.
The hotline has been busy since its launch last month. In the first week it received 80 calls, four of which were deemed emergencies.
One of them was taxi driver Serkis Yogurtcu, who explained what happened.
He said the police were called to his house because of a domestic dispute with his wife. He was standing outside the house and police immediately handcuffed him from behind and then beat him. He said he then was taken to a side street near the police station where they again beat him, kicking, punching and using batons.
It was Yogurtcu's wife who called the hotline. On receiving the call, a lawyer immediately went to the police station. The hotline lawyers say a fast response is necessary in such cases, not only to prevent any further mistreatment, but to ensure doctor and forensic reports are compiled correctly. They claim in many cases that the reports can sometimes disappear.
It is not, however, only individual cases of police violence with which the hotline deals.
Last month, protesting textile workers called the hotline. For Suke Erdem, it was a painful lesson that lawyers are not exempt from violence.
She said she arrived and identified herself to the police. Many knew her already from meeting her at various police stations. But, she said, within minutes of arriving they attacked the workers using gas and batons. Then police beat her to the ground and kept hitting her, breaking her arm and two fingers.
Edam said the incident has not discouraged her from working for the hotline and that she has opened a case against the police.
Hotline lawyer Tanay said the group has received threats from people claiming to be police officers, but he added the police are cooperative and polite when they visit the stations.
While talking with Tanay, the hotline rang again, and this time it was from police. Rather than a threat, it was congratulations for the service and a question about whether the lawyers could help with legal problems regarding their superiors. Tanay answered "of course."