By the AIUSA Cogroup Writers
June 26 is observed each year as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Amnesty International is campaigning to abolish torture wherever it occurs. Torture is barbaric and inhumane. It can never be justified. In this blog post, we’ll describe some of the countries where torture is practiced and provide you with ways to join our fight against it. Make no mistake — this has been and will be a long, hard fight. But it is the right thing to do. For the victims of torture and their families, yes, even for all of us, we must continue this fight until we finally achieve the end of torture and justice for its victims.
In Syria, Amnesty International has documented for decades how Syrians arrested for political reasons have disappeared into a horrific prison system, many never to come out alive. Those who have emerged have told Amnesty of being repeatedly tortured and systematically deprived of food, water, medicine and medical care.
They reported being beaten with plastic hose pipes, silicone bars and wooden sticks. Some had been scalded with hot water and burnt with cigarettes. Others were forced to stand in water and given electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body. Some of the techniques used are so commonplace they have their own nicknames. There’s the ‘flying carpet’, where people are strapped face-up on a foldable board, and one end is brought up to the other. Or the “tire” (dulab), where people are forced into a vehicle tire, with their foreheads pressed onto their knees or ankles, and beaten.
Likewise, in Egypt, torture is systematic and connected to other human rights violations, particularly unfair trials, enforced disappearances and prolonged administrative detention. Prisoners of conscience and other political detainees are regular targets for beatings and electric shocks, Amnesty believes in an effort to silence their criticism or serve as a warning to other opponents. Torture is also used to gather evidence that has been used even in death penalty cases.
Egypt also has a dismal record of independent and public investigation of reports of torture. One recent example is the case of Ahmed Samir Santawy, an Egyptian master’s student at Central European University who was arrested while in Egypt doing research on abortion and women’s rights. He was scheduled to graduate from CEU this month. Instead, he’s in jail facing two different cases, both involving absurd charges of being part of a terrorist group and spreading “false news endangering national security and social order” about Egypt. He has made repeated accusations about beatings and torture during his detention, but Egyptian officials have refused any public investigation. Instead, they deny the charges, blame the Muslim Brotherhood, which has no connection with Santawy, and haven’t conducted any investigation.
In Turkey, although both international and Turkish laws prohibit torture and other ill-treatment in any circumstances, in the last five years there has been an alarming increase in documented cases of torture and abuse at the hands of Turkish authorities. Amnesty International and many other international organizations including the Council of Europe have investigated and raised the issue of torture multiple times with Turkish officials to no avail.
A quick snapshot of cases from the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 illustrates the frequency and brutality of government-sanctioned torture in Turkey. On September 11, 2020, two villagers, Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut, were arrested in Van and allegedly tortured by soldiers, including being thrown from a hovering helicopter. Amnesty wrote to the Interior Minister twice, and two political parties brought up the case in parliamentary sessions, but the Turkish judiciary has yet to investigate the allegations. On December 1, 2020, an inmate in Diyarbakir prison, Mehmet Sıddık Meşe, was allegedly subjected to a severe beating by guards and denied access to urgent medical care. In January 2021, in response to student protests against the appointment of a new rector at Bogazici University, at least thirty students were arrested. Some of them were allegedly subjected to torture and ill treatment.
On May 21, Amnesty submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee citing these cases and others as documenting the “failure of the state party to comply with its obligations under Articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]” which cover “prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and combating impunity.”
In Sri Lanka, a report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment found that a “culture of torture” of detainees persists in Sri Lanka, both in regular criminal investigations and in investigations under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The Special Rapporteur found that the use of torture to obtain confessions from detainees held under the PTA is a “routine practice.” Amnesty continues to call for the Sri Lankan government to repeal the PTA.
How can you help with Amnesty’s fight against torture? We have many current Urgent Action appeals in which torture is one of our concerns. Please write on as many of those cases as you can. Together, with all of us working together, we can and must prevail to end this atrocious practice and restore justice to the victims. Please join us.
The AIUSA Cogroup Writers are the following Amnesty International USA country specialists: Jim McDonald, Geoffrey Mock, Claire Sadar and Deniz Solmaz.