Kurdish politician Aysel Tuğluk being forced to testify in court despite her dementia diagnosis and deteriorating health constitutes psychological torture, said Eren Keskin, one of Turkey’s most prolific human rights lawyers.
Tuğluk was arrested in December 2016, and was diagnosed with dementia in February 2021 while serving time for several terrorism convictions.
Evidence against the veteran politician and human rights lawyer stems from speeches she gave on various occasions as part of her duties as chairwoman of the now-shuttered Democratic Society Party (DTP) and MP for the DTP and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Her family believes that the dementia was triggered by a traumatic incident at Tuğluk’s mother’s funeral.
The mother’s funeral procession and burial ceremony were attacked by Turkish nationalists in Ankara where she lost her life in September 2017. Tuğluk was in attendance upon special permission from the prison, and witnessed the attack on her mother’s remains. Mother Hatun Tuğluk’s body was unearthed soon after, and buried again in the family’s hometown of Tunceli (Dersim) when it became clear that attacks would continue if she was left in the Turkish capital.
“The racist attacks on her mother affected Aysel deeply,” Keskin told Mezopotamya Agency. “Aysel was imprisoned unjustly and then her mother was disrespected so. This triggered her condition. The dementia started then, and has been advancing since.”
Keskin regularly visits Tuğluk in prison, and said her co-founder for the Society and Law Studies Foundation (TOHAV) had started to forget her words mid-sentence.
While the more than 10 MPs, dozens of mayors and hundreds of local officials of the HDP who have been behind bars for years have suffered injustice, “what Aysel has been put through is so much greater”, Keskin said. “She is sick, but her condition is not taken into consideration. On top of that, she is forced to testify. This is unacceptable.”
The most recent hearing of the current case against Tuğluk, where she faces charges of incitement to violence and disrupting the unity of the state among others, was held on 1 August. In the hearing Tuğluk said she could not remember enough to defend herself, but the court pushed forward with her testimony. Throughout the hearing, Tuğluk frequently told the court she did not understand the questions.
Tuğluk had been forced to testify in the earlier hearing on 28 June as well.
The court was able to demand testimony from Tuğluk due to a report by the Forensic Medicine Institute (ATK) that said she could “do a partial defence”. The lawyers objected, saying partial defence was not defined in Turkish law, but the objections were not sustained.
“Aysel has reports by the Kocaeli Public Hospital that says she cannot stay in prison,” Keskin said. “But the only reports that are accepted as official evidence are issued by the ATK, which is entirely subjugated by the government.”
According to Keskin, the Kocaeli hospital’s report was much more detailed and included visits to several doctors that lasted for hours, while the ATK “spends five minutes” to issue its report.
Turkey has already been convicted by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for not accepting into evidence reports issued by independent doctors and public hospitals, Keskin said.
“This is the treatment all sick prisoners receive. Especially Kurdish prisoners, even if they are dying, the ATK says they could remain behind bars. This is why we see many deaths in prisons,” Keskin said.
“They know Aysel is not a member of the organisation they accuse her of being. Still, they force questions on her about that. This did not even happen under courts of the 12 September Junta,” Keskin said, referencing the coup of September 1980 and the military rule that followed.
“Our time is one that weaponises the law in favour of politics,” Keskin said. “And, the continued arrest of Aysel constitutes torture.”
The treatment of Tuğluk is meant as “intimidation for the whole of the Kurdish political movement”, Keskin continued. “The courts are saying they do not see Kurds as people. There is no other explanation. These injustices are carried out to hinder democratic politics.”
Keskin called for more solidarity with Tuğluk and all sick prisoners.