The Turkish police don’t hold back in prosecuting their own punishment mechanisms while intervening in the protests which have spread nationwide. With the aim of being the security force, the prosecutor and the judge all at the same time, the police not only torture but also sexually harasses the protesters they have detained or taken into custody.
Eylem Karadağ, who was one of the protesters in one of Ankara’s neighborhoods, Dikmen, was detained by the police on the night of 26th of June. She has revealed to ‘Stories of Violence in Turkey’ her experiences while under arrest that is a story of systematic sexual harassment by the police, starting from the very beginning inside the police vehicle and continuing at the police station.
“After the 31st of May, with the increasing police intervention in the Gezi protests and as it spread nationwide, we the people living in Dikmen neighborhood rightfully decided to gather every night at 21.00 to protest and march. Since that day, almost every night we have marched aiming to reach Kızılay or Kuğulu Park. When we could pass the police barricades we did; but other nights we resisted the police who entered our neighborhood. Latterly, there was an increase in the numbers of Akrep’s, TOMA’s and anti-riot forces in Dikmen and the police were acting aggressively towards the people.
How did the people of Dikmen respond to the aggressiveness by the forces such as the Akrep and TOMA that they have never experienced before?
The police thought that by getting more and more aggressive they could scare the people off and prevent them from going into the streets, but the people living in Dikmen are strong people. Maybe it was the first time for most of the people that they had seen a TOMA, Akrep or the Press in their neighborhood, but the truth is, ten thousand people gathered the next night and experienced the most aggressive intervention by the police force. This was how the people expressed their thoughts: “You can have all the power you want, we are not afraid. Sorry, Tayyip Erdoğan but we will not surrender our neighborhood.” The AKP fascism can be seen through the police actions, in their tear gas, their batons, in the machetes of the civilian fascists, their sticks and in the unjustified detentions and arrests in neighborhoods, but the people are no longer passive about these.
With the determined stance of the Dikmen people, the police have become more violent. What happened on 26 of June, the night of your detention?
Imagine the streets of Diyarbakır full of TOMA’s and Akrep’s; Dikmen was exactly like that. In this fight we didn’t get tired but apparently the police were exhausted because that night they attacked with the aim of finishing us off. Different than the other nights where they normally deployed on the Polis Evi intersection; on this night, without any warning, they attacked from both sides of Keklik. You see, they didn’t aim to scatter the people because they didn’t leave any room to exit the fray. The police even entered the narrow streets, they shot gas bombs into the houses, they broke the store windows and they even broke all the watermelons, one by one, of our beloved greengrocery.
What were you doing during the police attack?
At that time we didn’t realize as the running away and regrouping repetition took so long… It was around 1pm when we were arrested. Our 17 year old neighbor was with me and together we entered a narrow street to look for a place to hide. We saw that someone was entering a coffeehouse nearby and thought that they would let us in to shelter, so we asked. Meanwhile, the gas bomb noises were drawing near and we knew that the police were inside the narrow streets very close to us. Unfortunately the people in the coffeehouse didn’t let us in, instead they locked the door and mocked at us from behind the window. This was what they understood of humanity, what can I say….
How did the police approach you when they realized you were on the street?
Seven or eight civil police with vests came towards us. Their chief said “Take these away! Who are you running from? Who are you hiding from?” and right in front of the eyes of the people in the coffeehouse, they started to beat us as they dragged us to the police vehicle. They grabbed my arms in such a way, my feet couldn’t touch the ground. Experiencing something like this in the middle of the night, naturally one panics and I couldn’t figure out what would happen next. After all, these were the ones who had killed Ethem Sarısülük and were later released without charge. They were armed and prone to crime. They were squeezing our necks constantly and while pushing our heads on the ground, screaming “Don’t look up! Where are you looking?”. They were very professional and doing everything deliberately. First they put my neighbor into the Akrep vehicle while beating him up. I could hear his voice from inside screaming, “Don’t hit me, don’t beat me!” I mean there was no resistance from us. You have us already, why beat us up? Just take us to the station and do your procedure!
When your 17 year old friend was being beaten up, what kind of method of violence did they apply to you?
Violence is not just the physical act of beating. They thought “How can we hurt a women the most?” and they decided to sexually harass me instead. This was something planned and a conscious choice. When they put me into the vehicle it got worse. In this tiny vehicle we were with one chief in front and six police right next to us. As soon as the chief got into the car he told them: “Why do you let them sit? Do…. !(a curse word)Squeeze them under you!” With this command the police sat on us. With the huddle, one of them who wasn’t comfortable started to touch my neck and my chest. He was saying to me, “Don’t be afraid, girl, we won’t do anything” but actually that meant, “Don’t make any noise, we’ll do whatever we want.” They were making me feel like I was going to be raped and while I was experiencing that fear they kept hitting my friend next to me.
What were his feelings after what happened that night?
While he was being beaten up he could hear the questions directed to me by the police and he was aware that there was something wrong. The policeman was touching my body and constantly saying stuff like: “Girl, how old are you? Are you studying? Don’t be scared, we won’t do anything. Reach your hand…” and of course he thought, “They must be doing something to say things like these.” When we reached the police station they sent him to the child’s department and as soon as he saw his mother the first thing he said was “Mom, I am all right but Eylem was really bad, go see her.”
How were you responding to what the police were saying to you?
Women experience the same fascism also on the streets, but there, you can respond to the persons who harass you. That day I thought that I might be raped, and beaten up and thrown away like it had happened to other friends so I kept silent. I still can not bring myself to accept that I kept silent while I was sexually harassed. I didn’t scream because I was afraid and this is normal because they don’t act accordingly with the law. Everything is in their hands…
What happened to me is not unique to the resistance of this month, before this time as well, women are targets to sexual harassment in a systematical way. Of course the police harass men too but it is the women they consider as weak and try to hurt them through their gender. What they can not understand is this: we are not weak. Those who sexually harass women who are handcuffed from behind are the ones who are weak. What they did shows clearly who they are in reality.
Did the verbal or physical harassment continue when you arrived to the TEM police station?
They took me out of the Akrep and put me in a police bus to wait for my testimony and there was a women sitting next to me with her hair messed up. I immediately asked to her; “ Look I was harassed and I am in a really bad condition. Did something like this happen to you, too? Don’t keep silent about this, you should tell.” The women said that they only hit her face but she hadn’t been harassed and honestly I was happy for her. Then somebody came and asked me to turn my face towards the window so they could take a picture of me. When I refused he slapped my face and threatened me; “I can also take a picture in the station, I can find you everywhere, don’t make this more difficult.” I was still wearing my hat of Halkevleri and he took it off, throwing it away. These, along with others, are just little details, aimed at making us feel humiliated. Later some police man opened the door of the bus to ask whether we wanted some water or a smoke. Some accepted, but I told them; “Just a while ago you were beating us, you are torturing us, of course I don’t want your drink or smoke.” They replied with stuff like “These are all traitors. You can not leave her alone without a man.” One of them turned to his co-worker and asked him whether he was single, implying that he would be fit for me and they continued talking and making jokes similar to that. The humiliation and verbal harassment continued…
When you were taken to the medical jurisprudence could you get the report on your physical condition, documenting the experienced harassment?
The doctors don’t take you seriously if you don’t have a mark of the abuse. I told the doctors that even if I didn’t have a mark I was hit several times on my head and that possibly I could be traumatized, but the doctor said that, “If you don’t have a scar or a mark I can not write a report.” The next day they didn’t transfer us to the prosecutorial court and we were released after we went to the medical jurisprudence. The doctor there said the same as well. I think this is something left to the hands of the doctor’s own insight.
Did you start a legal process about what happened to you?
In my detention report, the names of the police officers are written and I laid a criminal complaint about them. The day before I went to court, the Ankara Police Department published a written statement about me and stated that; “The person Eylem Karadağ has been detained three times before and it is very suspicious that she accused the police of sexual harassment in every one of them.”
It is true that I was detained before but as my lawyer also declared before, I never laid a complaint of sexual harassment before. If I had done so, I would have told everyone about it already everywhere, as I do now. The attempt by the police to stain my reputation shows clearly why we women have not lost our courage and continue to shout and be on the streets.
What these people only do is to try to intimidate women, beating them and throwing them down in the streets, protecting the husband who has abused his wife, moreover finding the wife guilty, labeling her impure if she wore white pants, or taking the right to rape her if she wore a mini skirt… We won’t leave the streets because of the hostile and misogynistic politics of the AKP government. We shouldn’t be afraid. They can publish our photos or our names, it doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t keep silent. They should be ashamed and scared by us, because if we keep silent they will continue this behavior.
Do you think that the statements by politicians, especially the Prime Minister’s speeches and the court’s protective judgments siding with the police, encourages the police’s actions and the intimidation of the protesting people?
The fact that the police were praised and even declared as ‘heroes’ of course increased their confidence. One concrete example happened to our friend Sıla Uzunpınar from Halkevleri. During daylight, in Ahmet Arif Park, some civil police tried to arrest her without showing their IDs. The people of the neighborhood stopped them when she was dragged forcefully to the police vehicle. The people objected to the police, saying; “How dare you beat up a girl from our neighborhood? How dare you try to take her away?” and tried to pull Sıla away from the police. At that moment a female police officer took out her weapon. As you see, it is that easy… With taking out her gun she was saying; “Even my prime minister doesn’t hold me responsible of my actions, who do you think you are?” but when the people didn’t get scared by her gun and told her to put it away while walking towards her; she became afraid and had to show them her ID. The people who took me were also civil police. Whenever I go out to the street I get nervous wondering whether I am being followed by them or not. I couldn’t see their faces so how can I recognize them?
The fact that the Police Department has made a written statement concerning you signifies that the state is aware of you. Have any other institutions also tried to contact you?
Just yesterday someone from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies called me and asked: “We want to provide you with psychological and legal support, do you accept? You have said that the police who took you were civilians, do you need protection?” Sure, I am scared when I leave my house but I am most scared of the possibility of being detained again and of what would happen if they find out that I am “Eylem”. I am concerned as to whether they would they treat me differently? I told them on the phone that I have already laid a criminal complaint and that I have lots of support from lawyers, friends and my psychological support from the Turkish Human Rights Foundation. I especially asked them to deliver a message to their Minister, Fatma Şahin, saying that until today many women have been sexually harassed and been raped in police detention, but she as the minister has never stated that she supported these women. I told them; “If she wants to support me, she can do that by supporting all of us publicly and prove her sincerity by declaring that we will overcome this male violence.” In response they told me that they would deliver my message to her but I doubt she will do anything like that, remembering her attitude in the past when she didn’t say anything about the abortion issue.
Unfortunately you are neither the first nor the last women who has faced sexual harassment under police detention. How can you interpret the fact that both Minister Şahin and the Police Department have taken a special interest in you?
The Ministry of Family and Social Policies already knows us, we the women of Halkevleri. When the prohibition to abortion and c-section were first put on the agenda we were in front of the ministry building to protest. That day, a friend of ours lost her life because her c-section was forbidden. What we wanted was not to enter the building or to cause a scene, we just wanted the Minister, Fatma Şahin to come and at least to apologize. Later we wanted a park to be named after Zülfü Öztürk who was killed by her husband. For these reasons the statement of the Police Department was intended to isolate us from the people and to tell them: “Look, these people are obviously trying to raise the tension, they are always on the streets.”
We should go out into the streets with open hearts. We should expose everything that is happening. We shouldn’t hide what we are experiencing because what they do is showing their weakness and their loss. When the government supporters try to hush us we should be fearless and continue! All women should be on the streets for their freedom!
Interview: Cankız Çevik
17 July 2013
This post is also available in: Turkish