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Video shows Turkish woman being slapped by police

By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
updated 4:31 PM EST, Tue December 13, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Minister calls for speedy punishment for officers
  • Video was shown last weekend on Turkish television
  • Her attorney says woman was arrested for not having identification

Istanbul (CNN) -- A high-ranking Turkish government minister is calling for the speedy punishment of several police officers who were caught on a police station camera, repeatedly slapping a detained woman in the face and pulling her hair even after she had been hand-cuffed.

The video showed an incident that took place nearly five months ago. But the case did not attract national outrage in Turkey until the silent police station camera footage was broadcast last weekend by Turkish television stations.

The video showed a heated argument in an office between two plain-clothed police officers and Fevziye Cengiz, a woman who had been arrested and brought to a police station in the western Turkish port city of Izmir last July.

Cengiz, who was dressed in shorts and a tank-top, yelled and backed away from the men. Suddenly, the officers started slapping Cengiz and yanking her hair. Later, the camera showed them wrestling Cengiz to the ground as a third man in police uniform occasionally stepped in to help restrain the woman and pick fallen items off the floor.

After handcuffing Cengiz, the plain-clothed officers held her against a wall and took turns delivering open-handed blows to her face.

"The incident in Izmir is unacceptable and we definitely consider this incident as one for which the perpetrators should be punished," said Fatma Sahin, Turkey's family and social policies minister, in a statement released on her ministry's web-site on Sunday. "There is political will and state authority to take the required action in a speedy way. Therefore, both legal and administrative investigations have been launched and those policemen are suspended."

Cengiz' lawyer told CNN police arrested her client during a raid at an Izmir night club on the night of July 16.

"The violence against my client, which started when she was taken with the excuse that she did not have her ID, continued at the police station," the lawyer, Hanife Yildirim, told CNN.

"When I met my client almost a week later, she still had a black eye and there were other marks on her."

Soon after her release on July 17, Cengiz filed a formal complaint against the police with the assistance of the Izmir Bar Association's human rights department.

In the meantime, authorities pressed criminal charges against Cengiz for resisting arrest and "reckless behavior."

"She is facing up to six years imprisonment," said Yildirim. "The charge against the policemen is 'cause of injury through excessive force' with up to 1.5 years' punishment."

Police in Izmir have not responded to requests from CNN to comment on the case.

Cengiz' case sparked outrage throughout the media and among human rights groups in Turkey.

Legal experts with the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TIHV), which has been providing medical and legal support to Cengiz, told CNN that the number of complaints of torture and ill-treatment has grown in 2011 compared to the previous year.

"Although laws ban such behavior, there is a lack of punishment for the security forces that commit these abuses, which means that security forces are not deterred," said Coskun Usterci, an executive board member in the TIHV's Izmir branch.

Usterci argued that Cengiz' case was a rarity, because the in-house police station video camera was not tampered with after the victim's complaint was formally lodged.

"During judicial or investigative processes of such situations, the camera recordings in the police stations (often) turn out to be either deleted or recorded over or the camera turns out to be broken," Usterci said in a phone interview with CNN. "To give a rough percentage, in 80% of the situations, this happens. Therefore it is very important that in this case the prosecutor got hold of those videos and included them in the case file."

In its annual report on Turkey in 2011, Amnesty International concluded "investigations of alleged human rights abuses by state officials remained flawed ... the losing of evidence by state officials and counter-charges being issued against those who alleged human rights abuses contributed to the perpetuation of impunity."

Human rights activists argued Cengiz' case also high-lighted the persistent problem of violence against women in Turkey.

"Turkey continues to be a country where discrimination and violence against women is high. In 2011, an average of three women a day were killed," announced the Turkish Human Rights Foundation and the Human Rights Association, in a joint press release this month.

The two police officers shown beating Cengiz are expected to appear in court in February 2012.

In her statement, Family and Social Policies Minister Sahin called Cengiz's case "an individual mistake," and suggested it could not be attributed to all Turkish police officers.

"We will also be following up on this," she concluded. "Violence in a police station, especially against a woman, is unacceptable."

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