ISTANBUL, TURKEY - In a new report, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch accused Turkish police of engaging in severe ill-treatment and abuse of detainees in the battle against the Kurdish PKK rebel group. The report, citing a series of case studies, was compiled in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, the center of the conflict.
Emma Sinclair Webb, HRW's chief researcher on Turkey, said their findings indicated civilians were facing the brunt of the abuse.
"What we’ve managed to document is an extremely alarming return to police ill treatment and torture in the southeast of Turkey. People who brought injured individuals to hospital were themselves arrested by the police and severely beaten with chains, batons, rifle butts, made to kneel for hours on end and threatened with death," she said.
The report detailed one case of a 17-year-old boy who was shot but denied medical attention, which the boy’s doctor claimed resulted in him losing nearly all his sight in one eye.
Failed peace process
The Turkish police crackdown follows a collapse in July of a government-backed peace process and cease-fire with the PKK. Since then, hundreds have been reportedly killed in nearly daily clashes. Sinclair Webb said her group's work was hampered by an atmosphere of intimidation.
"This may be the tip of the iceberg. It's very difficult to get people in towns in the southeast to speak openly about the abuses that are going on, including alleged extrajudicial execution type killings. People who complain about abuses by the police are themselves targeted with prosecutions or investigations," she said.
Observers say the lack of accountability will add to fears the abuses are part of a systematic policy of intimidation. That will rekindle memories of the peak of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK during the 1990’s, when gross human rights violations were reported.
Turkish authorities have, so far, given no response to the accusations by Human Rights Watch and have refused to cooperate with its investigation. But the interior minister, Selami Altinok, Wednesday promised an uncompromising response to the PKK and its supporters, saying the government will "severely crush their heads if necessary."