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Turkey - Saturday Mothers

Mothers in Istanbul demand word of missing persons

1997 Reuter Information Service

ISTANBUL (April 12, 1997) - For the 100th week, Turkey's "Saturday Mothers" stood vigil in an Istanbul plaza, continuing their demand for an accounting of missing loved ones, a symbol of the country's record of human rights abuses.

About 200 people gathered on Saturday in the European heart of Istanbul, holding aloft black-and-white photographs of sons, daughters, fathers and brothers last seen in the hands of the security forces.

They have met there every Saturday since May of 1995, and vow to carry on until the disappearances stop and their relatives are accounted for.

"We will come here each week until the missing our found," said the father of Hasan Ocak, whose body was later found in a municipal grave.

"We must find the bones of all the 'disappeared."'

Turkey's Human Rights Association says it is investigating 792 reports of disappearances from 1992 through 1996. Amnesty International says it's investigators have solid documentation of at least 135 cases.

However, experts say many 'missing' go unreported altogether in nine restive eastern provinces, which remain under emergency rule restrictions.

Most are believed dead, either at the hands of the security forces or right-wing death squads. Rights workers say they have found some bodies that still bore the ink from police fingerprinting.

The authorities report they have no records of most of those said to be missing, suggesting many have joined outlawed guerrilla groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or are already in prison. Poor record-keeping complicates the search.

"Human dignity will defeat torture," chanted the Saturday Mothers. "If you stay silent, they'll come for you next."

Busloads of police waited around a corner but did not intervene. Plainclothes officers loitered on the edge of the crowd.

A special police "outreach" team set up to help families track down their relatives sat by idly, mistrusted and spurned by the families as another in a string of cosmetic measures on rights abuses.

"They are using up the petrol and salaries that we pay for," said one demonstrator, waving a hand at the police mini-bus. "They should save our money and just answer our questions.

To date reforms designed to clean up Turkey's human rights record, a sore spot in its relations with the West, have foundered amid what critics say is lax enforcement.

The period of detention during which prisoners can be held incommunicado -- a time, rights workers say, they are most vulnerable to torture or extrajudicial killing -- has been reduced but not eliminated.

Few police have ever been convicted in abuse cases, with those found guilty often given light sentences.

"It's our opinion that (the reform) is more of a farce, a theatre of the rule of law," said Bernd Marschang, a German attorney from the International Association of Democratic Lawyers on hand for the rally.

"There is no interest in punishing those responsible for political killings," Marschang told Reuters.

Nonetheless, the Saturday Mothers and other Turkish rights activists say they will return each weekend until they learn the truth, no matter how grim.

"We will turn out until the government accepts that these people were lost in custody," said Eren Keskin, a lawyer and deputy chair of the Human Rights Association.

"But we will never be able to find them because all are gone," she said.

Posted on 1999-01-01



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