How I was tortured on May Day – Umur Ozan

I am one of many who got detained on May Day in Beşiktaş, Istanbul. I wrote this text because I think everyone (and not only my family and friends) should know that what we experienced was unlawful.

May Day was not a holiday in the advertising agency I work. Early in the morning I left my house for work, but I was not able to catch the bus because police would not let me go to the main avenue.

mayday 2014

I took another street but all streets leading to the main avenue were blocked by the police. I encountered two taxis, they were available but they said they were also not allowed to the avenue. So I started walking in the opposite direction. My idea was to walk around the police barricades and reach my workplace.

I had to walk all the way until the headquarters of the trade union, DISK. I passed the crowd in front of the union, and finally managed to cross to the other side of the avenue. Then I tried to make another detour to reach the crossroads that would take me to my destination. It was also not possible.

I realized it was past 10 am. I quickened my steps and went down a street to reach another crossroads. There, I decided to go up the hill but a group of protesters told me that police wouldn’t let anyone pass. Even so, I gave it a try and after 200 meters I saw the police sending people back. There was nothing to do, so I also walked back. When I reached downtown, I noticed some conflicts.

I went to a shop to get tobacco and, to avoid the conflicts, decided to walk up a street. All of a sudden, I heard a bunch of people running up the street towards me. As they approached I started running with them, but we saw another group in front of us running down the street. We were trapped. Some 200 people were trying to hide in a building. Cops were approaching. I tried to enter the same building but as we were so many I gave up and hid myself behind the wall between the building and its yard. There were two more people with me. The cops were really close. We told each other to keep silent and waited. Near the entrance of the yard, 20-25 officers of riot police were standing. We were able to see them, but they couldn’t see us. They were discussing how to get the people who entered the building. Just then, one of them shouted “They are here, in the yard.” There was nothing we could do. First we didn’t show ourselves, but they shot rubber bullets and we had to come out. I left my hiding place and headed towards the door, and the torture started.mayday besiktas

One cop opened the gate, pulled me, and kicked me in my testicles. While falling down, another seized me and dragged me out. My sunglasses fell down, a cop deliberately stepped on it and broke it into pieces. They joined my hands on my back, put plastic handcuffs, and forced me to walk. When I was walking a cop asked another protesters “Are you a faggot?” When he said “No”, the response was “Fine, you’ll be a faggot soon! You are a faggot now!”

The cop who seized my arm had a stick in his hand. We paused for a moment and an undercover police officer asked him what it was, he answered “We found it in this guy, my chief” and tried to give it to my hands. To avoid leaving fingerprints on it, I clenched my hands. He was slyly hitting my hands to open them but, realizing that his efforts were in vain, he later threw the stick away. They could walk us down to Beşiktaş Square very easily in this position. However, “to make an example” they made several detours through smallar streets. They would constantly insult us and trap us to make us fall.

mayday detention

Finally we reached the traffic lights next the square. There, Mahmut Tanal (I later learned he was a CHP deputy, he never left us alone afterwards) tried to take us from the police. Cops hit him, and me too… They sprayed pepper gas from a very short distance to get rid of him, then put me inside a police vehicle. I was surrounded by 15 cops. They bent my head so I couldn’t see anything.

My head down, one cop pulled my beard, another pulled my earrings to hurt my ears, yet another one put his hands under my sleeves to bleed my shoulders, and yet another one hit me on the head. I realized that I was being lynched there. Determined that I must resist physically, I started to flutter and kick around. I shouted the one who was pinching my shoulders “Why do you pinch me? Hit me like a man!” and they sprayed pepper gas to my right eye from 1-2 cm distance. When I raised my head, I saw a police officer in phosphorous green uniform (I can identify him very easily, I don’t think I can forget this ugly character) stretching to hit me with a thick pipe in his hand. Just when he charged to hit, I jumped towards him so that he couldn’t hit me in the face. So, he only managed to hit my back.

Two cops took me away from there and put me inside a civilian car. They sat to my sides and took me to the police station. In the police station, my eye was hurting like hell, tears were still flowing and I couldn’t see anything.

mayday detentions sisli

Seated, they gave me gas masks and helmets, and asked if they were mine. I did not touch anything and told them they weren’t mine.

They handed me a document stating things like “opposition to the law on meetings and demonstrations, destroying public property and insulting the police”. There was nothing I could do, so I signed it. (Later we invalidated the document because my lawyer was not with me at the moment.)

I was taken to Istinye Public Hospital to get a medical report. The medic wrote “redness” for the damage in my eye. I was still in shock, I didn’t say anything. I later learned that the cornea was torn and my already existing astigmatism increased by 300%.

They kept us in Beşiktaş Police Department until 8 pm. Meanwhile, Progressive Lawyers Association as well as CHP deputy Kadir Öğüt was always with us. They helped us a lot, and provided food and drinks. We were questioned in the presence of our lawyers. We were then informed that we would be transferred to Istanbul Police Headquarters. The lawyers told us that they were doing their best for our release but that we might have to spend the night there. We were already demoralized enough.

They put us in police buses and took us to the Headquarters. Our mobile phones (which, until then, were on and with us) were taken away. They searched us, and took away everything including shoelaces. Due to lack of space, they put us into the jails of the anti-terrorism section. My right eye was red and swelled, tears still flowing. When we entered the jail, they told us they will make a “detailed search”. They undressed us, until we were left with our underpants. We were already guessing that they would abuse the female protesters that came with us.

I told them that I must go to a hospital because of my eye. One of them said he could take me to the toilet so I wash my face. I said “This cannot be washed away, don’t you see?” They told me they’d take to a hospital, and put us into a cell for three people. Inside the cells, the lights were always on and there were no mirrors nor clocks. The cops would give us wrong answers when we asked the time. I demanded to visit a hospital at 12 am but was taken only at 4 am. They took me to Haseki Hospital. I asked for a cigarette but the cops didn’t give me even though they themselves were smoking. Seeing that I was accompanied by cops, the doctor briefly looked at my eye, told me that I was fine, and wrote a prescription. The prescription had no stamps, no signatures, no names on it… As I didn’t see my lawyer yet, I still keep it with me.

The next day when we were taken to the hospital for medical report, we were handcuffed and treated badly. The doctors did their best to understate the bruises. After we took the reports, one girl refused to be handcuffed. A police officer pulled her hair and swore at her.

Our breakfast in jail consisted of a expired 20 gram pack of cream cheese, one pack of jam, and one pack of butter. Together with it, expired bottled water and some stale bread. The first day we lacked the necessary consciousness and ate what they gave us. But in the following 48 hours we didn’t eat anything. They asked if we were on hunger strike. Those who declared they were on hunger strike received only water and sugar from then on.

Lawyers protesting the long detentions. May 4th.

Lawyers protesting the long detentions. May 4th.

To go to toilet, we had to wave our hands to the camera in the cell. When we shouted, they either wouldn’t hear or ignore us. So, we would force them to come by covering the camera with our blankets.

When the prosecutor requested to extend the detention period, they tried to make us sign a document, on which accusations including “throwing Molotov cocktails” and “carrying bomb equipment” were stated. We declined to sign. Of course, police treated us in a ridiculously violent way. As if we were guilty, they tried to take photos of us and get our fingerprints.

There was one thing in their daily routine, which was that they had to ask us if we want to make a phone call and inform our family. Everybody said yes and gave a phone number to be called. Only when we got out did we learn that none of those numbers were called and no one was informed.

After 6 days without law, regulation, sleep and food, we were taken to Çağlayan Courthouse at 6.30 am. They made us wait there until late at night. We were very bored while waiting. We made a ball from tinfoil, the package material for the food our lawyers brought us. Of course this was until the ball went a little too far and a cop shot it even further away. Fortunately, we managed to make another one.

While waiting to be brought before the prosecutor, police deliberately gave us incorrect information. A police officer said we would be released right away. He pretended to talk on the phone and said out loud stuff like “Let them free”, so that we would be disappointed later on. Yet, as days went by, we became conscious of these tricks. We danced, played games, even organized a forum.

When brought before the prosecutor, he stated “The person detained due to suspicion is in fact a victim” and declared not to proceed further.

It was a bad experience, but I am glad to have witnessed the unlawful behavior of the state of Turkish Republic. I already detested it, now I have solid evidence for my dislike: what I went through…

Life goes on, as it does. The bruises in my body are getting better. But the real problem is my eye. They told me it would take 3-4 months to recover. In any case, I will collect all my medical reports and seek my rights. I intend to appeal to the Court of Human Rights. And I am confident that there are hundreds, even thousands of courageous lawyers who believe in justice. I am sure that the righteous people are on my side.

Yet, after all that I told you, do you want to know my final words?

I am ashamed and disgusted to be a citizen of the Turkish Republic.

mayday taksim


Note: The Turkish original of this testimony (1 Mayıs’ta nasıl işkence gördüm?) was published in on May 7th, 2014. We decided to translate it as part of our Why Revolt in Turkey series.

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