Almost four years to the day since Turkish activist Engin Çeber died in custody, a court will rule whether police and prison guards had a role in the torture that allegedly killed him.
On 1 October the Bakırköy Court of First Instance will determine the involvement of 60 state officials in his death from severe head injuries in custody on 10 October 2008.
The trial opened in February this year, several months after the Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara overturned an earlier judgment which had convicted 19 police officers and prison guards over Engin Çeber’s death.
“With this ruling the Turkish justice system is again facing a key test – the choice is between allowing the injustice of the past to persist or dealing a blow to impunity for torture and providing justice for Engin Çeber,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
Death in custody
Police in Istanbul arrested Engin Çeber on 28 September 2008 after he took part in a protest against a police shooting of another activist the year before.
Police officers and prison guards allegedly ill-treated him in custody, resulting in his death from head injuries on 10 October 2008, three days after being transferred to hospital from Istanbul’s Metris Prison.
The first trial in the case concluded in June 2010 when a court found four of the officials guilty of causing death through torture, and handed down life sentences. It was a historic trial in Turkey, where no public official had been convicted of causing death through torture..
But in late 2011, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals used legal technicalities as a basis for overturning the ruling and ordering a re-trial which began in February this year.
“Following this re-trial, the Turkish authorities must ensure that Engin Çeber’s family not only see justice delivered but also receive reparation for his death,” said John Dalhuisen.
“A full resolution to this case will send a strong message that Turkey is taking steps to deal once and for all with an appalling legacy of torture in custody.”
‘Zero tolerance for torture’
The Turkish government’s declared commitment to end torture in Turkey remains unachieved. Engin Çeber’s case is emblematic of the persistent allegations of ill-treatment against law enforcement officials. Acts of torture have very seldom been brought to justice.
Amnesty International is joining Engin Çeber’s family to call on Turkish authorities to bring an end not just to the torture itself, but also the rampant impunity that allows those responsible for the ill-treatment to remain at large.
Through an online video and action on social media, the organization is calling on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to ensure justice for Engin Çeber and to bring an end to the impunity for torture by state officials.
“We are not just pursuing this case as a family – we are doing it because we don’t want others to die as a result of ill-treatment,” Engin Çeber’s sister Şerife Çeber told Amnesty International.