Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] on Thursday lauded the Turkish government for its conviction of several prison and police officials [press release] for the torture and death of anti-government activist Engin Ceber while in police custody. Tuesday's conviction marks the first time a Turkish court has convicted a senior prison official for the conduct of guards under his command. Fuat Karaosmanoglu was sentenced to life imprisonment for knowingly allowing his guards to torture prisoners and failing to stop such conduct. The Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court also sentenced three guards to life imprisonment and two additional prison guards were also sentenced to more than seven years in prison for the torture of Ceber and two additional activists. All 19 defendants were convicted for their role in the activists' torture, including a prison doctor who was sentenced to more than three years for falsifying documents about the health of the inmates. HRW hopes the convictions are a turning point for Turkish government, which it says is well-known for absolving senior prison and police officials from criminal actions involving torture.
The authorities in Turkey have been notorious for protecting torturers. ... The Ceber case highlights the Turkish authorities' failure to protect detainees from torture in spite of improved procedural protections in recent years. ... Th[is] ... verdict should signal that the Turkish justice system will no longer turn a blind eye to torture and other ill-treatment. ... The convictions in the...case should signal a renewed commitment to end torture in Turkey, once and for all.Ceber and his fellow activists were taken into custody in September 2008 and were subsequently transferred to Metris Prison in Istanbul, where Ceber informed his lawyer he was beaten regularly by prison guards. Ceber was taken to the hospital a few weeks later and pronounced dead as a result of a brain hemorrhage caused by the trauma.
Following Ceber's death in 2008, Turkish Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin apologized on behalf of the Turkish government [JURIST report] and suspended the 19 defendants pending an investigation into Ceber's death. The landmark ruling comes during Turkey's struggle become a member-state of the EU. Turkish human rights and foreign relations are reportedly compromising the country's efforts toward EU accession, receiving mixed reviews [JURIST report] in October in the European Commission's annual reports on enlargement strategy and candidate progress [reports, PDF]. In May 2009, an EU advisory council said that Turkey should do more [JURIST report] in terms of judicial reform, protection of citizens' rights, and various other efforts in order to further its request for accession.