November 11, 2015

Reactions mount after police handcuffed people detained on ’reasonable suspicion’

Several political figures along with the Freedom and Democracy Platform, a representative body of 876 civil society organizations, have reacted against a government-backed operation in Manisa on Monday in which the police handcuffed people who were being detained based on “reasonable suspicion.”

Police officers on Monday handcuffed 26 people including lawyers, educators and headscarved women and paraded them on the street until they were escorted to police cars in an operation carried out against the faith-based Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement and inspired by the teachings of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The operation was performed on the charges of providing financial support to alleged members of the “parallel structure,” a pretext invented by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Hizmet movement.

Speaking to the Cihan news agency on Wednesday, former İzmir Mayor Burhan Özfatura criticized the government for allowing police officers to place handcuffs on people, especially headscarved women, detained based on reasonable suspicion. “[The government] is using unbelievable pressure and tyranny [against a segment of society]. This is not specific to [the operation in] Manisa, they are carrying out operations across Turkey to terrorize people and take revenge. [The operation in Manisa] has nothing to do with the law or conscience. Philanthropists are declared as enemies [of the state]. These operations aim to terrorize those who don't obey [the Justice and Development Party] AK Party. It's impossible to condone these actions,” Özfatura said.

Referring to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's balcony speech on Nov. 1 that underlined the AK Party will embrace everyone and will continue to serve all without discrimination as well as denounce hatred, violence and hostility, Özfatura added: “The prime minister says ‘I will embrace everyone' but he is discriminating against people. … There's also no need to place handcuffs on either the male detainees or the female ones. These people are good, honest and are law-abiding. Why are you placing handcuffs on them? Are they going to run away? How and where can a woman [detained by the police] run to?”

Republican People's Party (CHP) Manisa deputy Özgür Özel told Cihan it is unacceptable to turn the law into a tool of vengeance by handcuffing people during detention. “Even if we hold very different opinions, these people [detained] should have received the courtesy that we people of Manisa always show each other. However, these people were detained by force with handcuffs. It's obvious that if they had been summoned to testify, they would have gone to do so. It's very clear they will not flee abroad. … Police officers carrying out simultaneous raids on houses and offices early in the morning, scaring children and attempting to defame people by cuffing their hands are not actions that are legal, but ones that are an act of revenge.”

Vedat Öztürk, the president of the Freedom and Democracy Platform, issued a written statement on Tuesday, saying it is a crime against humanity to place handcuffs on those detained based on reasonable suspicion. “We harshly condemn the practice of placing handcuffs -- which were not even used for members of terrorist organization who killed thousands of people -- on women who showed no resistance [to police officers] during the detention process although they didn't even know the charges being brought against them. … No matter male or female, no citizen should be handcuffed arbitrarily just because he or she is a detainee. Those who gave the instructions for this, along with those who carried out the order, have committed a hate crime,” Öztürk said in the statement.

Erdoğan and his political associates have for some time accused the Gülen movement of being a terrorist organization, despite the absence of any concrete evidence. Gülen is a critic of the government, accusing it of being corrupt, engaging in favoritism and abusing religion for political and personal gain. Erdoğan has relentlessly targeted Gülen following a graft scandal that erupted in December 2013 and implicated members of his family and senior government officials.

An amendment passed in December 2014 makes it possible for the authorities to detain anyone on “reasonable suspicion” without any need for firm evidence. With the law, the threshold for the burden of proof required for obtaining a search warrant was reduced from strong and credible evidence to mere reasonable suspicion. The police are not only able to easily search any individual, home or vehicle, but can also easily seize the property of all suspects on the grounds of having committed a crime against the government.

Published on Today's Zaman, 11 November 2015, Wednesday