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Cablegate: Turkish Justice Minister Issues Unprecedented

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DE RUEHIT #0532/01 2911222
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P 171222Z OCT 08 ZDK
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8513
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK PRIORITY
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UNCLAS ISTANBUL 000532

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C O R R E C T E D COPY CAPTION

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OSCE PHUM PREL TU PGOV
SUBJECT: TURKISH JUSTICE MINISTER ISSUES UNPRECEDENTED
APOLOGY FOR TORTURE

1. (U) Summary and comment: Turkish Minister of Justice
Mehmet Ali Sahin publicly apologized October 15 for the death
of a detainee caused by the disproportionate use of force.
Human rights contacts welcomed the unprecedented step by a
public official and hope the statement will lead to concrete
improvements in an area where Turkey has made great strides
in the past decade but has backslid recently. Sahin's
recognition was an important acknowledgement that much work
still needs to be done to modernize Turkey's justice system
and is just the sort of plea needed to spur action at a time
when Turkey needs to jump-start a stalled reform process.
Given the positive domestic reaction, the odds seem improved
that the GOT will follow through with its words by taking
significant actions to reduce the cases of torture in the
future. End Summary and Comment.

Detainee Allegedly Killed by Disproportionate Use of Force
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (U) On September 28, Istanbul police in Istinye detained
Engin Ceber, Ozgur Karakaya, Aysu Baykal, and Cihan Gun for
disturbing the peace by distributing copies of the leftist
weekly "Yuruyus" (March). The men were distributing the paper
in protest of the 2007 police shooting and subsequent
paralysis of Ferhat Gercek, another activist who was
distributing the same paper at the time of the shooting.
Police initially detained the four suspects at Istanbul's
Istinye Police Station and later transferred them to
Istanbul's Metris Prison. That week, the defendants' attorney
filed a criminal complaint against Istinye Police Station
officers alleging they had beaten the defendants. On October
6, Ceber was transferred from the Metris Prison to a hospital
for treatment of serious injuries he allegedly sustained
during the police beatings. Ceber died of a brain hemorrhage
on October 11. Justice Ministry inspectors confirmed Ceber
was tortured and suspended 19 prison personnel for their
suspected involvement in the abuse.

Justice Minister Apologizes
--------------------------------------

3. (SBU) On October 13, Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin
privately apologized to the family of Engin Ceber. Speaking
to reporters later, Sahin said, "I called Ceber's father and
commiserated. He has just one expectation - that those
responsible should be judged immediately and penalized with
the most severe punishments." Sahin said he had assigned two
officers to investigate the incident and that, "If this is
proven, those responsible will be sentenced to life
imprisonment." Emphasizing the importance of education for
penal officers in eliminating the problem, Sahin said the
government will increase the training of penal officers to
prevent torture in the future. "I do not think that a new
legal framework is necessary, but the staff is suffering from
a lack of education," he said.

Human Rights Groups Welcome GOT Acknowledgement of Torture
--------------------------------------------- --------------

4. (SBU) Human rights organizations and government offices
have documented a rise in cases of torture during the past
two years. According to an October 2008 report by the Prime
Ministry's Human Rights Commission, the level of torture and
mistreatment in the first half of 2008 surpassed that in the
first half of 2007. The Presidency found that 178 people
reported cruel treatment and 26 reported torture in the first
six months of 2008, compared to 79 reports of mistreatment
and 17 reports of torture during the first half of 2007. The
Human Rights Foundation in Turkey reports 29 detainee deaths
this year, including the death of Ceber. HRF Izmir Chairman
Coskun Usterci told us he attributes the rise to amendment to
the Law of the Powers and Duties of the Police that does not
clearly delineate appropriate situations to use lethal force.
Usterci also noted that the HRF has documented a disturbing
trend where police try to avoid legal responsibility for
beatings by taking detainees to rural fields, beating them,
and then during booking claim the suspects had resisted
arrest. Such a tactic is one way police are circumventing
the increased EU scrutiny on police methods, according to
Usterci.

5. (SBU) HR contacts told us MOJ Sahin's recognition of
torture sent an important message at a time Turkey has been
backsliding on the issue. According to Amnesty International
Izmir Chair Tanel Kilic, "this is a first in Turkish
political history that the justice minister directly
apologized in the name of the State and his government." The
Human Rights Agenda Association's Izmir Chair Orcun Ulusoy

told us he hopes the unprecedented action would lead to
concrete action by state officials to prevent such
"systematic violence - from the police station to the prison"
in the future.

6. (U) This is a joint ConGen Istanbul-Embassy Ankara cable.
WIENER

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