Keeping Saturday Mothers/People in Closed Vehicles for Hours Violates the Prohibition of Torture and Ill-Treatment!
26 July 2023
For 28 years, the Saturday Mothers/People have been persistently continuing their extremely justified and legitimate efforts to ask the fate of their loved ones who were subjected to enforced disappearance, to demand an end to enforced disappearances and the punishment of all those responsible in the process.
However, their peaceful vigils in Galatasaray Square demanding truth and justice have been prevented by law enforcement brutality for five years following Turkey’s transition to the presidential government system.
The Constitutional Court delivered two separate judgments in 2023 regarding the vigils of the Saturday Mothers/People in Galatasaray Square holding that “the group’s wish to hold a sit-in and a press statement with the aim of finding their disappeared relatives and raising public awareness must be met with respect in a democratic society” and that “the right to organize assemblies and demonstrations guaranteed under Article 34 of the Constitution has been VIOLATED and a copy of the judgment should be SENT to the Beyoğlu District Governorate to prevent further violations.”
Despite these clear judgments of the Constitutional Court, Saturday Mothers/People are surrounded and isolated by law enforcement officers carrying shields every time they go to Galatasaray Square, and are arbitrarily taken into custody with acts that amount to torture and ill-treatment such as reverse or straight handcuffs, beatings, etc. The refusal of Beyoğlu District Governorship and District Security Directorate to comply with this judgment means insistence on the violation and, as reminded in the Constitutional Court’s judgment, infringes upon the essence of the right to assembly guaranteed under Article 34 of the Constitution.
Therefore, all these unlawful practices must be stopped immediately.
In addition, while all relevant institutions of the state should take urgent measures against extreme heat, which is also effective in Turkey and has become a public health problem at a time when global average temperatures have reached record highs, it is a violation of the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment to keep Saturday Mothers/People waiting in closed vehicles for hours in these climatic conditions, while extreme heat continues.
We would like to remind all that the air temperature at which people can live their lives comfortably is between 17°C and 31°C. Excessive temperature increase has serious negative effects on human health. Extreme temperatures can cause a number of diseases directly related to heat, such as heat stroke, heat syncope, and heat cramps. However, the main danger is that extreme heat can aggravate existing chronic diseases by making it difficult to control, thus increasing hospital admissions and even causing death. Older people, young children and infants, pregnant women, those with chronic diseases and those working outdoors are at greater risk. Even small differences in seasonal average temperatures are associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Extreme temperatures can also worsen chronic health problems, including conditions related to cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes.
On the other hand, the temperature inside vehicles reaches very high values in a very short time. This is because the short-wave energy caused by the sun’s rays heats the objects it touches. Similarly, the objects that make up the vehicle (e.g. dashboard, steering wheel, child seat, etc.) heat the surrounding air by conduction and heat radiation, and also emit long-wave radiation (red), which is very effective in heating the air trapped inside the vehicle. The temperature rise inside vehicles is directly proportional to the time spent inside the vehicle and the ambient temperatures. Related scientific studies reveal that after 2 to 4 hours, the temperature inside vehicles rises by approximately 50-55 °F (27.8 -30.6 °C) from the ambient temperature. In this case, it can be said that on 22 July 2023, the date of the last detention of the Saturday Mothers/People, under conditions where the ambient temperature in Istanbul was approximately 32.2 °C, the temperature inside the vehicle reached/can reach at least 60 °C after 2 to 4 hours.
Any living being (human, animal) left in the vehicle is, thus, at risk of serious heat-related illness and even death.
While no one should be kept/left in closed vehicles even if the windows are open, the unacceptable situation of Saturday Mothers/People, some of whom are elderly and have chronic health problems, being kept in the vehicle for approximately 3 hours (in some weeks this period is even longer), as it happened on 22 July 2023, clearly constitutes a crime of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. These vehicles belonging to law enforcement forces are used for the transfer of detainees to hospitals, detention centers, etc. and do not have the conditions and qualifications to assume the function of a detention center. Moreover, the conditions of detention centers cannot in any way harm human dignity and health.
In the meantime, law enforcement officers who are in the vehicle to supervise the detainees are exposed to the negative and risk-creating effects of the conditions in which the temperature inside the vehicle increases excessively, even though they have the freedom to enter and exit the vehicle.
We would like to remind all once again that no one can be subjected to torture and ill-treatment, and that it is absolutely prohibited in international conventions and documents to which Turkey is a signatory.
We would also like to state that we will closely follow the process to ensure that allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are effectively investigated immediately and those responsible are brought to justice.
In conclusion, we would like to reiterate once again that we will resolutely continue our active duty in the identification and documentation, repair and legal processes of torture and other 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.
Turkish Medical Association, Human Rights Branch
Human Rights Association
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey