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Turkish lawyers’ group says foreign ministry staff tortured in custody

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ANKARA (Reuters) – Five Turkish foreign ministry staff detained last week on suspicion of links to a failed coup three years ago have said they have been tortured and mistreated in custody, the Ankara Lawyers’ Bar Association said on Tuesday.

The five, who are still being held, were among 249 foreign ministry personnel ordered arrested last week by Turkish authorities for suspected links to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for the coup attempt. None of those involved have been identified.

Gulen denies involvement in the failed coup.

In a statement, the Ankara Lawyers’ Bar Association, the main lawyers’ group in the capital, said some 100 suspects had been detained so far and that lawyers from the bar had held meetings with six detainees after social media and opposition reports of alleged torture.

Turkish police denied the allegations, saying the detainees had hundreds of meetings with lawyers, and that daily medical reports had shown nothing wrong.

The foreign ministry referred Reuters to the interior ministry when asked for comment. An interior ministry spokesman said the ministry would not elaborate further on the police statement.

Earlier this month the foreign ministry said Turkey has had a “zero tolerance” policy towards torture since 2003, when President Tayyip Erdogan came to power.

The Bar Association said that five of the six suspects who met the lawyers had reported being taken out of their cells for interrogation and stripped, handcuffed and later tortured in a dark room. The sixth suspect denied having been tortured, but had heard of the mistreatment of others.

The allegations were first made public by Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a lawmaker from the Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and member of Turkey’s Human Rights Inquiry Committee, a cross-party parliamentary body. He said on Twitter on Sunday some of those detained had been tortured.  

In a statement on Tuesday denying the allegations, Ankara police said the suspects had a total of 545 meetings with 130 lawyers since their detention and that all of those meetings had been properly documented. It said medical reports on the detainees were also being updated every 24 hours and that no problems had been found.

“All actions and proceedings regarding the people detained as part of the investigation are being carried out in accordance with the law,” the statement said.

Since the July 15, 2016, abortive putsch, police have carried out regular operations against suspected members of Gulen’s network, jailing more than 77,000 people pending trial, and sacking or suspending some 150,000 from their jobs in the civil service, military and elsewhere.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have criticised the scope of the crackdown, saying Erdogan has used the abortive putsch as a pretext to quash dissent. The government has said the security measures were necessary due to the gravity of the threat Turkey faces.

(Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alison Williams)

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