Reverse Handcuffing Is a Violation of the Prohibition of Torture and Ill-Treatment
15 August 2023
The persistent and deliberate refusal of the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office and the district Security Directorate to comply with the judgments of the Constitutional Court for weeks in the witness of the whole country, and even the persistent repetition of the same violations is a violation of the principles of separation of powers, independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and is indeed a criminal offense. At the same time, the practice of reverse handcuffing of Saturday Mothers/People, who have arbitrarily been taken in police custody, is a violation of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment in terms of both scientific studies on this subject along with domestic and universal law. Effective investigation processes must be initiated immediately against those who committed these offenses.
Saturday Mothers/People have been building public truth about enforced disappearances in detention, which is a gross violation of human rights, with the struggle for justice they have been waging for 28 years, demanding the fate of their relatives who were forcibly disappeared, the end of enforced disappearances and the punishment of those responsible in the process.
The peaceful vigils of the Saturday Mothers/People in Galatasaray Square, however, have been prevented for a long time by arbitrary/illegal decisions of local administrative authorities and violence of law enforcement officers.
As a matter of fact, the Constitutional Court ruled in two separate judgments in 2023 that the banning of the 700th-week assembly of the Saturday Mothers/People on 25 August 2018 by the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office and the intervention of law enforcement officers constituted a violation of the “right to freedom of peaceful assembly” guaranteed by Article 34 of the Constitution.
The Constitutional Court stated in its related judgments that “In the case of a peaceful demonstration, the administration – in accordance with its positive obligations to ensure the effective use of the right to organize assemblies and demonstrations according to the circumstances of the specific case – should take measures to ensure the realization of the assembly, but automatically banned it” and that “the group’s wish to hold a sit-in and press conference for the purpose of finding their disappeared relatives and raising public awareness should be respected in a democratic society.”
Moreover, the Constitutional Court also ruled that a copy of these judgments be sent to the Ministry of Justice and the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office to prevent new violations and that the necessary action be taken.
Based on the legal and public “legitimacy and sanctioning power” of these judgments delivered by the highest judicial body of the country, the press statements of the Saturday Mothers/People have been intervened by law enforcement officers on the grounds of the banning decision of the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office since their 941st-week assembly on 8 April 2023. Saturday Mothers/People are surrounded by law enforcement officers carrying shields at Galatasaray Square or even before they reach the square, and they are isolated and arbitrarily taken in police custody with practices that amount to the level of torture and ill-treatment such as reverse or straight handcuffs, beatings, being kept in extremely hot vehicles for long periods of time.
The persistent and deliberate refusal of the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office and the district Security Directorate to comply with the judgments of the Constitutional Court for weeks in the witness of the whole country, and even the persistent repetition of the same violations is a violation of the principles of separation of powers, independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and is indeed a collective criminal offense committed by the political power and the local authority at its service.
We, thus, once again remind all those who act on behalf of the public in the judiciary, legislative and executive bodies, especially the political power, of their responsibilities and call on them to unconditionally comply with the Constitution and the rule of law.
Further, we would like to emphasize that the practice of reverse handcuffing to which the Saturday Mothers/People, who have been arbitrarily taken in custody during their peaceful gatherings by not recognizing the Constitutional Court judgments, are subjected, is a violation of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in terms of both scientific studies on this subject along with domestic and universal law.
One of the most comprehensive scientific studies on this subject entitled “An Example of Torture and Degrading Treatment: Reverse Handcuffing” was conducted by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT). The study, which was presented at the 3rd International and 19th National Forensic Sciences Congress held on 3 – 6 November 2022, included the accounts of 1,830 applicants who applied to the HRFT Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers in Turkey due to torture.
The fact that 749 out of 1,830 applicants (40.9%) were subjected to reverse handcuffing clearly shows how common and ordinary, as well as systematic, reverse handcuffing has recently become in Turkey.
When the arms are pulled backwards/upwards and the shoulder joint remains in the internal rotation position for a long time in reverse handcuffing, damages may occur in the shoulder joint and arms as a result of compression of the vessels, nerves and tendons, and skin/soft tissue and nerve damage may occur due to friction under the contact and pressure of the handcuffs.
As stated in the study, pain and limitation in shoulder movements were the most common complaints and findings, and wrist (307), shoulder (204), and forearm (203) injuries were the most common physical diagnoses, followed by joint sprains and strains, tendon and nerve injuries. Rotator cuff syndrome and injuries were found in 76 applicants, and fractures were found in 4 applicants, namely in the shoulder, ulna, wrist and carpal bone. It was observed that 66.7% of the applicants who were subjected to reverse handcuffing and underwent psychological evaluation received at least one psychological diagnosis.
Therefore, in the concluding part of the study, it is clearly stated that “when evaluated together with the findings of the applicants, reverse handcuffing is a method of torture that causes physical and mental disorders, and that it is applied unlawfully even to children.”
As stated in paragraph 448 of the 2022 edition of the İstanbul Protocol, a very important United Nations (UN) document for the detection, effective investigation and documentation of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, handcuffing in all its forms “may cause superficial bruising, abrasions and lacerations, particularly over the bony parts of the wrist. They may also cause hand oedema, symptoms of tenosynovitis, fracture of the styloid process of the radius or ulna or neurological deficit of variable duration due to nerve compression, most commonly a superficial branch of the radial nerve.”
Moreover, the practice of reverse handcuffing has no legal basis. Although the circular of the General Directorate of Security dated 1 April 2004 (No. 2004/68) attempts to legitimize reverse handcuffing, Article 93 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is proof that this circular is null and void. Article 93 states that even handcuffing known as “straight,” let alone reverse handcuffing, can only be applied in cases of necessity, in other words, in cases where there are indications that people will escape or pose a danger to the life and physical integrity of themselves or others.
This issue, which is in fact very clear, is also reflected in the judgments of the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court held in many of its judgments that reverse handcuffing in particular, and all handcuffing in general, in circumstances where the limit of necessity is exceeded, constitutes a violation of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment guaranteed by the third paragraph of Article 17 of the Constitution. The Constitutional Court, especially in the Arif Haldun Soygür judgment, after characterizing handcuffing as a type of use of material force by law enforcement officers, clearly states that the power to use force is not a means of punishment and that if the mandatory limit is exceeded, this is a violation of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.
In short, as a result of all the scientific and legal grounds cited above, the practice of reverse handcuffing, which is a positional torture method, and furthermore, all handcuffing practices, except in cases of clear necessity, are a violation of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and must be stopped immediately.
Investigations should be initiated immediately, without waiting for any complaint, against all public officials who apply, order, or condone “reverse handcuffing” to detainees, especially to the Saturday Mothers/People, as a result of illegal and unlawful instructions, within the framework of the İstanbul Protocol.
Finally, we would like to state that we will closely follow the processes for the effective investigation of violations of freedom of assembly and violations of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, to which Saturday Mothers/People have been persistently and systematically subjected despite the Constitutional Court’s judgments, and to bring those responsible to justice.
On this occasion, we would like to reiterate once again that we will resolutely continue our active duty in the identification and documentation, reparation and legal processes of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and we would like to remind all that those who have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment can apply to our organizations.
Human Rights Association (İHD)
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT)
Turkish Medical Association (TMA) – Human Rights Branch
 Article 93 – (1) Persons who are arrested or detained and transferred from one place to another may be handcuffed if there are indications that they will escape or pose a danger to their own or others’ life or physical integrity.
 Constitutional Court judgment in the case of Süleyman Göksel Yerdut [GA], App. No: 2014/788, 16/11/2017 <https://kararlarbilgibankasi.anayasa.gov.tr/BB/2014/788>
 Constitutional Court judgment in the case of Arif Haldun Soygür, App. No: 2017/19418, 15/10/2015, paras. 53-54 <https://kararlarbilgibankasi.anayasa.gov.tr/BB/2013/2659>
 Ibid, para. 54.