A woman detained for managing a dormitory affiliated with the Gülen movement described in an interview with the Kronos news website the torture she endured during her detention in the counterterrorism department of Turkey’s western Afyon province.
Aysun Işınkaralar, a 35-year-old metallurgical engineer who was arrested on May 7, 2018 for running a girls’ dormitory affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement that has since been closed, spent 56 months in prison before being released on December 22, 2022.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.
Işınkara’s ordeal was documented in a report by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV), which shed light on the cruel treatment of detainees and prisoners following the failed coup in July 2016.
While she was in police custody, Işınkaralar says she was subjected to electric shocks, strangulation attempts, sexual harassment and a mock execution. “They gave me electric shocks on my ankles, first on the right, then on the left, then both. I felt the electricity in my whole body, from my teeth to the roots of my hair. I thought I was going to die,” she was quoted by Kronos as saying.
Işınkaralar’s account also describes how police officers threatened to strip her naked and held a gun to her ear. This treatment only stopped when opposition deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu drew attention to allegations of torture on social media. However, Işınkaralar’s physical and mental scars remain, and she continues to receive psychological treatment and antidepressants to cope with the trauma.
Medical examinations conducted three days after the detention and subsequently at Afyon E Type Closed Prison, where Işınkaralar was later imprisoned, confirmed the presence of torture marks, including scars on both ankles. These findings, however, were not included in the official files, to conceal evidence of torture.
TİHV’s report emphasizes the severe psychological impact of the torture on Işınkaralar and notes that her symptoms persist despite some improvement with treatment. TİHV says her account is credible and consistent with her medical and psychological reports.
Since her release, Işınkaralar has struggled to reintegrate into society. She is unemployed due to her criminal record and the stigma of her alleged links to the Gülen movement. Her attempts to find employment have failed even after successful job interviews due to her previous imprisonment.
After the abortive putsch in 2016, ill-treatment and torture became widespread and systematic in Turkish detention centers. Lack of condemnation from higher officials and a readiness to cover up allegations rather than investigate them have resulted in widespread impunity for the security forces.