Posts Tagged Turkey

Looking back at 2013

With New Year approaching, we at World Without Torture reflect on a selection of the stories which we have covered over the past year.

The last year has seen many tragedies, obstacles and difficulties in the human rights field. But coupled with this has come tremendous success, concrete change, and real participation in the fight to ensure human rights are respected across the globe.

Click any picture in the gallery below for more information and links to some of the most memorable stories this year. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to add your additions in the comments. We look forward to seeing you in 2014 and wish you a very happy New Year.

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Voices of torture: Survivors tell their stories

A picture of the new wall

A picture of the new wall

To enact our vision of a world without torture, the torture rehabilitation movement is led by the human rights defenders on the front lines – figures who may hail from the medical field, the legal field, and right through to activists and anti-torture advocates.

But the core voice from all this work comes from the survivors of torture and the families of the victims. Guided by their experiences – and by providing a space for their experiences — the IRCT methodology of holistic rehabilitation can flourish.

So today we are launching a new space to share their stories and amplify their voices. A new Testimonies Wall will serve as a platform for survivors of torture, their families, and the global torture fighters to speak out against torture with the ultimate aim of ending torture across the globe.

Fourteen stories launch the wall, including two new in-depth features with two survivors of torture from very different locations.

The first is Veli Sacilik whose harrowing story of a prison siege in Turkey is still very much in the European spotlight today. After losing an arm in the siege and subsequent torture, Veli and his fellow inmates have gone on to campaign to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for compensation and justice in their disturbing, shocking case. Sadly, now over a decade later, the case for compensation and justice is still being deliberated, but Veli’s continual campaigning is not only yielding results but is demonstrating the violence that exists in the Turkish prison network.

The second story comes from Carmen Kcomt, a former judge in Peru who was met with violent harassment and intimidation when trying to rightly expose the paternity of a young girl revealed to be the secret daughter of the future president of Peru. Carmen boldly applied the law and listened to her legal training at all times, despite sustained intimidation and torture both physically and mentally from a variety of sources. It is a story of exposing the truth, escaping fear and rebuilding a life in a new country.

The testimonies page will be updated with new stories over time so check back for these unique and insightful insights into torture, rehabilitation and justice.

Simply click the link to read the stories.

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The experiences of Somali refugees: Maltreatment on their route to Europe

Editor’s Note: The following blog post is contributed by visAvis, a Copenhagen-based magazine on asylum and migration. Please visit their website for more information on visAvis. We are grateful for this contribution to World Without Torture. This post was originally published here.

The refugee route from Somalia to Europe is paved with cynical traffickers, risky voyages, confiscations, humiliations and torture. It is a scary space, and difficult to understand for one who has not experienced it. Liban Abdi Abanur writes here, drawing on his own experiences, on these issues.

BY LIBAN ABDI ABANUR · ILLUSTRATION: MATHIAS MALLING MORTENSEN

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SOMALIA AND YEMEN

The capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, has become a place with militants, fundamentalists, chaos and anarchy, where innocent people flee from violence although they sometimes cannot reach a place far enough from the battle zone because of lack of finances.

Some of the 18 provinces of Somalia have stabilityand have harbors, like Bosaso, near the neighboring countries like Yemen where most of the Somali refugees immigrate to. The desperate person arriving in Bosaso asks people near the harbor about boats to Yemen. There are a lot of smugglers who cheat the people and keep the refugees under the rocky cliffs for days until they have collected the number of people they need to load the boat. The smugglers patrol near the cliffs and bring new people every hour; suddenly you ask yourself how many people this small boat can take? But everyone will be forced to climb the boat, otherwise they will be beaten with sticks. They pay money for this gamble of life and death.

If the boat starts rocking heavily from side to side in the sea, the smugglers will decide who they will throw into the sea or shoot. The boat is a narrow place where you don’t feel your own body. Some people vomit and the people beside the vomiting person even sometimes try to survive from the vomit. But he/she can lose his/her life because of the movement in the boat. The smugglers have difficulties because of the huge waves, and to survive they most likely continue to reduce the passengers.

At last, if you are one of the 150 lucky gamblers, the boat will reach a shore, and the smugglers will disembark the passengers hundreds of meters away from it. They do not care if you can’t swim. From the shore the refugees start walking to the refugee camps far away without food, water and shoes in the long warm desert without shade or a place to rest. Sometimes a group from an international organization brings biscuits and the water you were deprived of on the way. The estimated number of killed and drowned people during the crossing to Yemen was more than 1,000 in 2007 and nearly 400 by mid-2008.

Yemen is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has traditionally adopted an open-door policy towards Somalis, granting them refugee status. It is estimated that 150,000 Somalis currently live in the country. But the destinations of the refugees appear to be changing; they now include more self-made refugee huts in the entire country. These ‘invisible camps’ are composed of different people: extremely vulnerable families that fled from major cities because of the rocketing house prices, people that lost relatives in ideological skirmishes at home, former military or police officers that have defected after being threatened by armed groups, and many others.

They did not respect us as humans, I don’t know why. The police there are like in Africa, they only know violence, nothing else. It really hit me. But in the meantime I met many really good people.

SYRIA

I and seven other people, three men, two women and two children, found smugglers in Syria who took us from Damascus to Halab and from Halab to Afrin. Before we reached Afrin some soldiers closed the road, parking their car across it. It was a narrow and curved road on the mountain. The driver told us to run, they would kill us if they caught us. He drove the car very fast towards them, and the armed men fired at us till he turned the car into a jungle.
The soldiers wounded the mother of the two children sitting in the back. Everybody was scared and shocked, at that moment nobody looked back. Hence I moved as fast as I could for at least six hours in the jungle not aware of the directions. At last I fell to the ground because of thirst. I couldn’t walk, talk or shout. I was even too paralyzed to cry.

Fortunately I was found by a farmer who owned the ground. I could see him but had no voice to talk. The farmer took me to his home and gave me water and some food. However, in the village I was the only black person. I also had rough dirty clothes. Then one from the village took me to the border near Turkey called Antakya where he confiscated all my money. Near the border I found other people sitting on the ground, and I felt happy to see them. But we were kept in a farm without water and food and not allowed to speak or move.

At the time of crossing the border, they moved us like animals from one place to another. They collected a lot of people in different places and then loaded us in a lorry with a motorcycle in front and behind us. They let us out in a jungle. I found two other Somalis who asked me if I was still alive.

The smugglers started gesturing and fighting both saying: “Liban belongs to me” (“you lost him in the jungle and I found him”). My first smuggler said: ”We can’t quarrel any more, I will kill him.” But we were somehow already killed – as some refugees are somehow killed in Denmark since they are sentenced to prison from their arrival.

With one hand he tightened the bag around my neck. I couldn’t breathe anymore. They repeated the process of the plastic bag three times – every time they asked the same question.

GREECE

We used one of those small inflatable dinghies. We had wrapped all our things in plastic bags. We left at about two in the morning. After six hours at sea we finally reached the Greek coast. We were discovered by the Greek coast guard about 300 meters away from the island of Lesbos. It was a fast white boat circling around us with high speed. The police threw a rope to us and we were taken on board. We were exhausted and only wanted to sleep. We put ourselves down on the floor, but the police shouted: ”Don’t sleep, sit up!”, and they kicked us forcing us to sit up.

Another boat was called. They were rough with us as they put us on this one shouting “Malaka” at us and other swear words we couldn’t understand. We pleaded them: “We are humans, please help us!” The first little boat drove off and the men from the larger boat searched us. They were looking for our money. As they were searching one of the policemen laughed and said: “I am a doctor!” He found 50 Euros on me which he confiscated.

The police threw the bread and water and what else was left in our dinghy into the water. The dinghy was put over our heads. The police boat took us back into international waters. About two kilometers in from the Turkish coast they threw the dinghy out. Then we were violently forced back onto it. They had made a small hole in the rubber dinghy and only gave us one oar. We paddled desperately to reach the coast, but we were so exhausted we gave up after an hour. We thought we were going to die. The water was very still. After a while we fell asleep. Then a big boat came and rescued us.

We arrived in Greece on May 1. We were first taken to the coast guards building, then to the hospital and back again to the coast guards building for identification. We were even beaten inside the building of the coast guard. They brought four men and asked us which one was the captain. I told them that none of them were the captain. Then all were beaten. I was also hit above my right eyebrow, the whole area was swollen. In the camp no one asked me where the injury came from, neither the police nor the doctor. I was in the camp for three months. It’s not nice there, but I was satisfied because I had survived! We were so scared!

When I arrived in Greece and the police beat me I thought that the police are the same everywhere. They did not respect us as humans, I don’t know why. The police there are like in Africa, they only know violence, nothing else. It really hit me. But in the meantime I met many really good people.

To illustrate the violence let me tell you in details about an interrogation I experienced. Several times I was beaten. I had to kneel down. One policeman stood behind me while two stood in front of me. The one behind me hit me hard with a stick on the head. He hit me on the crown of my head repeatedly. I tried to protect myself with my arms. Then he hit my arms. I tried to look behind me, and then he started hitting me again. The two policemen in front of me were armed and showed me their weapons while I was being beaten. They looked at me very seriously. They said: “We are going to kill you.” The expression on their faces was terrifying. I was very scared. The other policeman came up to me and whispered in my ear: “Tell the truth. These two policemen are very dangerous. They will kill you.”

Then they brought a plastic bucket full of water. I was kneeling the whole time. “Do you see the water?” My arms were pressed together behind my back by one of the policemen. The other policeman put his hand on my neck and pushed my head down into the water. I couldn’t breathe anymore. I was pulled up after some time. “Do you now know the color and name of the boat?” I said no. He punched me twice in the face. The policeman behind me grabbed my arms again. I wanted to take a deep breath of air. The policeman in front of me asked: ”Do you remember now, or not?” I said no again. He grabbed my head and pushed it into the water. I was absolutely terrified. I thought I would not survive. When I came up again the policeman asked again: “So you don’t remember?” I repeated that I did not. Then the policeman took a plastic bag and put it over my head. With one hand he tightened the bag around my neck. I couldn’t breathe anymore. They repeated the process of the plastic bag three times – every time they asked the same question. Then a policeman signaled with his hand: That’s enough.

The long rough way I have passed some times still makes me out of my mind. When you are escaping from the borders with the smugglers together with women,children and weak people who can’t run and the smugglers signal that there is problem on the way, it means that it is time for running. Some of the people can’t escape in the critical situation. And they are on the verge of death if they are caught by the border guard or the local police in a country. So the only words the smugglers teach you is: “Run, don’t stop!”

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Turkey continues arrests, detentions and convictions of human rights defenders

Looking at the front page at the website of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, two news items on the top feature the same word – Turkey.

Pınar Selek, a sociologist and writer, was convicted on specious charges in Turkey after three previous acquittals.

Pınar Selek, a sociologist and writer, was convicted on specious charges in Turkey after three previous acquittals.

On Friday of last week, a Turkish court convicted Pınar Selek, a sociologist and writer, on charges arising from an explosion at a market in Istanbul in 1998. Yes, 1998. Fifteen years ago, Turkish authorities arrested the researcher, who was conducting ongoing interviews with the Kurdish minority, tortured her to find out the names of those she had interviewed, and charged her for the explosion at the market. For 15 years, authorities have been trying to convict Selek. During that time she has been acquitted three times, but the judicial harassment continued.

Selek’s work focused on the Kurdish minority and women. And after the explosion, prosecutors claimed that Selek had something to do with a terrorist organisation that planted a bomb. But experts even disagreed if there was a bomb in the first place – many experts said it was instead a gas leak that caused the explosion. Witnesses for the prosecution withdrew testimony as well, claiming that it had been coerced under torture. The through the IRCT project on forensic evidence, experts corroborated that Selek had in fact been tortured in detention.

Today, Selek remains in Strasbourg, France, but a visit to her home country could result in an arrest and life imprisonment. The IRCT is calling for the charges to be dismissed and the harassment to end.

But use of Turkey’s extremely broad and easily abused anti-terrorism legislation, these arrests are not uncommon. Just earlier this month, police arrested 15 lawyers, all of whom belong to Progressive Lawyers Association (Cagdas Hukukçular Dernegi – ÇHD) – an extremely important non-profit organisation that provides legal assistance for victims of human rights violations, including torture.

Engin Çeber, a human rights activist, was arrested and tortured, cause his death in 2008. The lawyers pursuing the case were arrested in January this year.

Engin Çeber, a human rights activist, was arrested and tortured, cause his death in 2008. The lawyers pursuing the case were arrested in January this year.

One such case of theirs was on behalf of Engin Çeber, a human rights activist that was also arrested and tortured in detention in 2008. He died from his injuries. Only after independent forensic evidence confirmed that he had been tortured did Turkish authorities investigate the case. Three prison officials were sentenced to life; nine others were convicted and given prison terms ranging from 5 months to 12 1/2 years.

These two cases point to a long-term continuous abuse of the anti-terrorism legislation to target human rights defenders and critics of the Turkish state. In just October of law year, the UN Human Rights Committee criticized Turkey on this issue, writing in their final report that:

The Committee is concerned that several provisions of the 1991 Anti-Terrorism Law (Law 3713) are incompatible with the Covenant rights. The Committee is particularly concerned at: (a) the vagueness of the definition of a terrorist act; (b) the far-reaching restrictions imposed on the right to due process; (c) the high number of cases in which human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and even children are charged under the Anti-Terrorism Law for the free expression of their opinions and ideas, in particular in the context of non-violent discussions of the Kurdish issue. (arts. 2, 14 and 19) [DOC]

The IRCT and our partners are concerned for the safety of the lawyers that remain in custody. But further to that, what does this mean for human rights defenders in Turkey and their continuous fight against torture and other human rights violations?

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2012 – A Year in Human Rights

Happy New Year! We have just returned from the year-end holiday. But before we look forward to 2013, let’s take a look back at 2012 and the events, successes, tragedies and changes in human rights around the world. This list is of course not exhaustive, so please feel free to add your own suggestions and story links in the comments section.

Click the first image to view in a slideshow.

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Tear gas: Is it a violation of human rights?

A recent European Court of Human Rights case finds that the excessive use of tear gas, especially when people are detained or deprived of their liberty, can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment

Police officers fire tear gas on Tahrir Square protesters in November 2011. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy, available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

The use of tear gas by law enforcement officials against demonstrators and detainees is widely documented as a method of crowd control.  However, examples of its excessive use are occurring with alarming frequency, for example recently in Bahrain, the West Bank, Turkey and Honduras where the use of tear gas has lead to civilian deaths.

A number of IRCT member centres have been campaigning against the use of tear gas in their countries and in particular its use against peaceful demonstrators and people deprived of liberty which many human rights organisations consider amounts to torture or ill treatment.

The Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT) in Honduras has also raised its concerns about the use of tear gas by security forces, particularly in places of detention and against those demonstrating, such as the demonstrations that took place against changes to education in March 2011. . The issue was raised by the CPTRT during the recent visit of the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to Honduras and the SPT confirmed that it would look into the issue.  The CPTRT also intends to ask the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for its view on the use of tear gas in prisons and against demonstrators.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has expressed its concerns over the use of such gases in law enforcement. The CPT considers that:

“… [P]epper spray [tear gas] is a potentially dangerous substance and should not be used in confined spaces. Even when used in open spaces the CPT has serious reservations; if exceptionally it needs to be used, there should be clearly defined safeguards in place. For example, persons exposed to pepper spray should be granted immediate access to a medical doctor and be offered an antidote. Pepper spray should never be deployed against a prisoner who has already been brought under control.” (CPT/Inf (2009) 25, paragraph 79)

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV/HRFT) has vast experience in treating people who have been exposed to tear gas in five of its treatment and rehabilitation centres for torture survivors in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Adana. The HRFT decided to conduct further scientific studies on the physical effects of tear gas as its wide use by security forces during demonstrations; it has caused severe injuries and in some cases deaths from exploding bomb canisters and the inhalation of toxic chemicals used in the gas.

The HRFT (Istanbul Centre) has studied 64 cases of people affected by tear gas and evaluated the early side-effects of these chemical agents in these cases based on age, gender, psychological findings as well as other injuries. The research shows that complaints and physical side effects caused as a result of exposure to the tear gas chemicals were highest during the first three days following exposure.

The HRFT considers that “tear gas is a weapon derived from chemical agents” and that “the use of these agents amounts to torture and ill-treatment when used against people whose liberty has been deprived.”

A tear gas canister and rubber bullets used in Egypt to quell protests in June 2011. Photo by Maggie Osama, available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Ali Güneş fully supports the HRFT’s position on this issue.

In the recent case of ALİ GÜNEŞ v. TURKEY (Application no. 9829/07), the ECtHR found for the first time that the use of tear gas against people whose liberty has been restricted can amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court stressed that there can be no justification for the use of tear gas against an individual who has already been taken under the control of the law enforcement authorities.  Ali Güneş, a high school teacher and member of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers (Eğitim-Sen), was in one of the thirteen allocated areas where demonstrations were allowed to take place during the 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul. He complained about having been sprayed with tear gas by police officers, even after being arrested. The incident was widely reported in the national press and Mr Güneş was able to produce as evidence a photograph published in the daily newspaper Sabah showing him between two police officers who were holding him by the arms, and one of whom was spraying his nose and mouth with gas at very close range.  He also relied on medical reports which showed that his eyes had been affected by the gas.

In its judgment, the Court referred to previous cases in which it had considered the use of tear gas for the purposes of law enforcement, and where it had recognised that its use can produce effects such as respiratory problems, nausea, vomiting, irritation of the respiratory tract, irritation of the tear ducts and eyes, spasms, chest pain, dermatitis and allergies.  Given the effects the gases cause and the potential health risks they entail, the Court considered that “the unwarranted spraying of [Mr Güneş’s] face in the circumstances described must have subjected him to intense physical and mental suffering and was such as to arouse in him feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him”. By spraying him in such circumstances the police officers subjected Mr Güneş to inhuman and degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention.

The IRCT welcomes the clear indication from the European Court of Human Rights that tear gas should not under any circumstance be used against persons whose liberty has been restricted and considers that this sends an important signal to countries in the region that the excessive use of tear gas by security forces should not be condoned.

The outcome of the Turkish case should be of vital interest to other regions, where the oppressive use of tear gas is being used with alarming frequency, such as in Bahrain and Honduras.  As the CPT has stated, clearly defined safeguards should be put in place where the use of tear gas is required.  In addition, further protection against the excessive use of tear gas should be supported by more scientific research on the long-term effects of exposure to it, in particular to build on previous studies, such as those carried out by the HRFT and the US-based organisation Physicians for Human Rights.

The decision of the European Court in the case against Turkey, supported by an increased understanding of the long-term health effects of tear gas exposure, will give civil society organisations the increased ammunition needed to campaign against the excessive use of tear gas by law enforcement authorities.

Lea aquí (.DOC) la versión española

Rachel is interning at the IRCT with the Advocacy and Legal Team after completing her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation; she is also a Qualified Solicitor.

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Forensic expert wins first International Medical Peace Prize

We are really thrilled to congratulation Prof. Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci on winning the first International Medical Peace Prize.

Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci (centre), of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, poses with the selecting jury of the International Medical Peace Award. Photo by Samantha Staudte/IPPNW, available via Flickr through Creative Commons license.

She was chosen for her courageous opposition to human rights abuses and torture and commitment to justice and medicine.

Dr. Fincanci heads the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, an IRCT member centre, and was instrumental in the creation of the UN-endorsed Istanbul Protocol, the international standard for investigating and documenting claims of torture. In addition, she was among the seven authors of Atlas of Torture, a medical atlas of documenting torture, in conjunction with IRCT’s Senior Forensic Advisor Dr. Önder Özkalipci. Dr. Fincanci also sits on the IRCT Council, our governing body.

Read our full statement here.

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Monday News Updates

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we will post updates on ongoing cases of torture, new opinion pieces in the media, or news stories or issues that emerge.

Pakistan faced a condemning report on abuse and torture within their vastly over-crowded prison and justice systems. Attributed to Omar Wezir, from Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Over the weekend, numerous claims of torture have merged from Pakistan. Firstly, last week international think-tank International Crisis Group (ISG) released a report on the state of prisons in Pakistan, saying torture, impunity, and corruption reign in prisons, which detains more than 78,000 people. The News International Pakistan wrote, in an editorial published Sunday, that, “Inmates are regularly tortured and maltreated and there is no system of checks and balances or accountability which would allow prisoners to protest legitimately at their treatment.” There is an urgent need for reform, the editors wrote.

Over the weekend, there were further cases of torture in Pakistan. Police in Lahore were accused of torturing a 60-year-old man to death. Fiza Gilani, Goodwill Ambassador for Women’s Empowerment and daughter of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, condemned police torture of Lady Health Workers (LHW). She also affirmed that was the responsibility of the Punjab government to pay them “dues”, however, I am unsure from this article if that is referring to reparations to torture victims, an obligation under the UN Convention against Torture that Pakistan has ratified. And on Friday, a Lahore court order legal actions taken against police in the torture of Ayesha Malik, daughter of PML-Q leader Abdul Ahad Malik. A medical report was submitted to the court that day that confirmed torture from beating with fists and wooden clubs.

In Turkey, a soldier died after being in a coma for 80 days due to alleged torture from his military superiors, just days before he was set to be discharged. The perpetrators are not yet known, but an investigation is under way. The Turkish Parliament’s Human Rights Commission previously had announced plans to investigate claims of mistreatment of conscripted soldiers in the military. A fellow soldier in the same military unit had also reported abuse and torture to the Turkish parliament, which included wading through a sewer, beatings, forced lack of sleep, being forced to sit in the sun, and having hot water poured on him.

Our member centre Balay Rehabilitation Centre from the Philippines is in the news. The centre, which has a prison monitoring programme, has found 16 of 26 inmates they examined had experienced torture and 2 had post-traumatic stress syndrome. Many inmates are also dying from lack of medical attention.

Four organisations have submitted an alternative report to the United Nations on the ongoing and systematic use of torture in Sri Lanka. The report is for consideration of the UN Convention against Torture, which is set to review the situation in Sri Lanka in November. The report remarks on “the failure of the government to comply with the CAT by its failure to provide for a credible and competent investigating mechanism for the investigation of torture allegations, the government’s failure to provide protection to victims by proper legislation relating to protection to the victims and also failures relating to the Attorney General’s Department and the judicial process itself.”

Torture, arbitrary detention, drug crimes: reform of the prison system is urgently needed (Agenzia Fides)
Reforming Pakistan’s Prison System (ICG)
Pakistan: Rotting Prisons (The News International Pakistan)
State brutality: Cops accused of torturing senior to death (The Express Tribune, Pakistan)
Fiza Gilani flays police torture on LHWs (The Nation, Pakistan)
Action against cops ordered after torture on Ayesha proved (The News International Pakistan)
Soldier tortured by superiors dies after 80 days in hospital (Today’s Zaman, Istanbul)
Soldier tortured in same military prison as Kantar sought deputies’ help (Today’s Zaman, Istanbul)
Inmates in Provincial Jails in Southern Philippines Need Medical Help (AllVoices)
An alternative report to the committee against torture (Sri Lanka Guardian)

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