On July 5th, 2007, Amnesty International published a report on Turkey and the continuing use of torture, ill-treatment, killings, and enforced disappearances practiced with impunity by the security forces that include gendarmerie and the police in Turkey. Having experienced one of the many military coups only about three decades ago in 1980, Turkey has shown to the international community that it is a highly militarized country relying heavily on police violence and lacking freedoms that a democratic country’s citizens should supposedly be entrusted with.
Birsen Kaya talks about her arrest in 1997 to Bianet newspaper in an interview in 2012: “I am a woman of struggle and I am aware that what I have gone through is not a personal thing; my experience is a brutal attack and violence towards women who have been extremely objectified. I will continue my struggle against such torture…” Kaya, highlights a single figure in her remarks on torture and sexual harassment that she was subjected to during her arrest: Sedat Selim Ay. And, she goes on to say, “He was not just one of the torturers, he was the head of the whole process.”
After being prosecuted in 1998 for allegations of torture and rape, Sedat Selim Ay was sentenced to 11 months and 20 days of jail time by the European Court of Human Rights. And yet, Sedat Selim Ay, in July 2012 was promoted to the position of Deputy Director of the Anti-Terror Division of the Istanbul Police Forces - a position he still holds. This promotion not only raised skepticism in the national media, but also attracted attention of many international associations like the Human Rights Watch. Emma Sinclair-Webb, who specializes in research on Turkey at HRW, expresses her concern in an interview published in the daily newspaper Taraf: “This is a serious situation. The AKP government at one point, advocates for zero tolerance towards torture and mistreatment, and at another point, completely disregards not only national court cases, but also the very court decisions of the European Court of Human Rights against Sedat Selim Ay. There are so many cases of this torture matter today in Turkey. Mistreatment of demonstrators at any rally in Turkey is so widespread. The promotion of Ay is a massive ignorance of his criminal record. His appointment to the position should immediately be reconsidered by the Minister of Interior Affairs.”
The AKP government and, in fact, especially Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, do not ignore Sedat Selim Ay’s criminal record; they refute it. Right after Ay’s appointment to Deputy Director, the Press and Public Relations Department of the Turkish Police Headquarters issued a statement disclaiming that his criminal record is not considered an obstacle for his promotion. PM Erdogan not only refutes, but also comments that such allegations are part of a ‘game’ being played against Ay: “You cannot call a man guilty without any evidence. Sedat Selim Ay serves his country against terrorism. The woman, who is supposedly his victim, is a member of a terrorist group. We won’t let her untrue claims have our Deputy Director of Anti-Terror Bureau be disgraced. It has been 14 years since the court case; I looked at the documents, there is no prosecution. This is where the real torture begins. We won’t let some journalists condemn Sedat Selim Ay for nothing.”
Today, with a still ongoing protest at Gezi Park, the police forces continue to exert violence and treat the protesters with utmost brutality. It has also been clear how PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Governor of Istanbul, Hüseyin Avni Mutlu have reacted to the protests: with nothing more than ignorance towards the demands of the Gezi Park protesters and by exerting authoritarian attitudes. Having been seen as a democratic country in the Middle East and as a model for the region, Turkey and its current government, with such repreated brutal attacks against pecaeful protest, have shown the international community that the so-called democracy, high economic growth and supposed freedoms of Turkey actually shield the very brutality and its police-state mentality that still goes on today.
PM Erdoğan backs up people like Sedat Selim Ay (as a policeman, who supposedly serves for justice), who have committed crimes against people’s livelihoods, which have been recognized by the ECHR and many other international non-governmental organizations. Moreover, the very person who is responsible for the excessive use of force by the police, governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu was also one of the dauntless defenders of rapist and torturer Sedat Selim Ay. After the ministry of interior disclaimed that Sedat Selim Ay was appointed by itself, governor Mutlu said: “As we appoint someone we look at professional measures. What were his past services? Can he carry out the mission adequately? We appointed Sedat Selim Ay by looking at these criteria. His past services and professional register convinced us that he can adequately fulfill this function. In fact, Sedat Selim Ay performed very well in the past, for example in Diyarbakır. Thus, we appointed him.” Mutlu himself has served as the governor of Diyarbakir in times of brutal police repression against the Kurdish movement and, in fact, everything Kurdish.
If one wonders about the excessive use of violence by the Turkish Police over the course of the last few weeks one should take into account the history and the structural implementation of torture in the Turkish police forces. People like Sedat Selim Ay are not an exception - the very fact that he was promoted despite all these well known accusations against him proves that there is a structral acceptance of such practices by the government and by the police.