Romani Woman Killed in Police Custody in Turkey

10 April 1997

In December 1995, a 51-year-old Romani woman named Zehala Baysal was tortured in police custody and later died in hospital as a result of her wounds.

On December 1, 1995, Ms. Baysal was detained by the Istanbul police on suspicion of dealing drugs. When several male policemen tried to take the bag that she, like many Roma women in Turkey, wore under her skirt, she resisted. Witnesses claim that she was then pushed into a car, already bleeding from a head wound.

In Turkey, narcotics trafficking is a crime which falls under the National Security Law; suspects can be kept in police custody without being charged for fifteen days. Turkish human rights organisations claim that during such periods of detention, torture and ill-treatment are common. Statements obtained under torture are accepted as evidence in national security cases.

The Baysal family learned from a neighbour, who had just been released by the police, that Zehala was at the police station and that she had been tortured. On December 2, Ms. Baysal's son Saadettin Baysal went to the police station, but police officers allegedly denied she was there and kicked and beat Mr. Baysal.

Five days later, on December 6, Saadettin Baysal received a phone call from the police, who told him that Zehala Baysal was in hospital in a coma. Saadettin Baysal claims that he was only admitted once to see his mother. On the December 21, he was informed of his mother's death by one of his neighbours who had been visiting her daughter at the police station. She had evidently died on December 15. The autopsy report states that Ms Baysal had died from a drug overdose.

Despite the legitimate fear that he might suffer a fate similar to that of his mother, Saadettin Baysal asked for help from the Human Rights Association in Istanbul. Saban Dayanan, a member of the Human Rights Association, accompanied Saadettin Baysal to the mosque where Ms. Baysal had been brought. According to Dayanan, her body was heavily bruised. Nevertheless, a lawyer contacted by the Human Rights Association decided the evidence was not strong enough to take legal action. According to the lawyer, the autopsy report, the hegemony of the police in Turkey and societal attitudes toward Roma made a favourable outcome in the case extremely unlikely. (ERRC)

Past Abuses was compiled by Claude Cahn and Veronika Leila Szente with the assistance of Altin Hazizaj, Olga Nagush, Niko Rergo and Marcia Rooker.

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