Dozens of injured civilians from the Cudi neighbourhood of Cizre have been trapped in a basement for five days, unable to gain access to medical care.
People’s Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız told Independent Turkey by phone that security forces have deliberately prevented ambulances from reaching wounded civilians in Cizre, despite an interim measure ordered by the European Court of Human Rights to allow medical care into the area. Four died from their wounds during this period, with the death toll reaching five this morning according to reports.
Cizre has been one of the main sites of conflict between Kurdish youth groups affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and the Turkish state, and has been under sporadic round the clock curfews since September 2015, as security forces attempt to dismantle barricades and fill in ditches.
The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) has released a statement detailing 52 curfews across seven different provinces, accordingly affecting nearly 1.3 million civilians. Hundreds of civilians have become casualties of state-militant violence in the worst escalation of the Kurdish conflict since the 1990s.
Affected citizens have told of being under constant shelling by security forces for days, unable to reach medical care or water resources and being forced to use contaminated water and home-made bandages to treat the wounded.
HDP deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız, who was also involved in last week’s attack in Cizre which left two dead and 10 injured – including award winning journalist Refik Tekin – has claimed that security forces continued to fire on the building after being told that civilians were trapped inside. Sarıyıldız also claimed that these acts constitute a “crime against humanity”.
Criticizing the Turkish media’s depiction of civilians and cameramen as terrorists, Sarıyıldız argued that “People think that the military is targeting people who are terrorists or with ties to terrorism but they are intentionally targeting civilians.”
“The government was intentionally preventing ambulances from reaching the area where the civilians were injured. There were all kinds of people, 13 years old kids, university students, husbands and wives”, Sarıyıldız stated. “This is part of an intimidation operation, an operation to kill. The state is clearly committing a human rights crime, ignoring the European councils demand that civilians receive medical attention” he added.
Kurdish news agency ANF News also reported that Şırnak Governor Ali İhsan Su prevented ambulances from accessing the scene, instead requesting that the civilians break curfew and leave the area to receive care.
Faysal Sarıyıldız entered negotiations with the Governor in order to facilitate the retrieval of causalities, finally reaching an agreement today; however 28 people remain trapped in the building according to his Twitter account.
HDP representatives struck a deal with the Ministry of Interior to allow emergency medical and humanitarian aid to reach these civilians. Despite this agreement; ambulances arriving at the scene were confronted by armoured vehicles and according to Sarıyıldız, were sent to police headquarters in Konak while security forces continued to attack the building.
Sarıyıldız also described in detail to us last week’s attack when an armoured vehicle open-fired at a group of people, including Sarıyıldız and Refik Tekin, as well as a city council member, who were attempting to transport two dead bodies and reach injured civilians in the area. The group carried white flags and were filmed by Tekin even after he was wounded in the leg.
The graphic video clearly shows the attack, as well as a subsequent attack on ambulances attempting to pick up the wounded. Ambulances were reportedly unable to arrive at the scene until hours after. Two people died during and after the attack, including a city council member, and 10 were injured.
The release of this video and the deteriorating situation for civilians in Cizre adds to growing concerns from the European Court of Human Rights regarding treatment of injured and dead civilians, however human rights lawyer and activist Filiz Ölmez described the ECHRs reaction to these events as “disappointing”, calling upon international organizations such as the UN to visit the region and intervene in the curfews.
Ölmez further criticized the ECHRs inaction in previous legal cases involving security forces inhibiting medical care to injured people; citing the case of 16-year-old Hüseyin Paksoy who reportedly lost his life while waiting for assistance. Ölmez told us during a phone interview that ECHR was not familiar with intervening in issues they deemed to be domestic affairs; that they did not declare the curfews as violating human rights and only stated that the right to health cannot be violated. Ölmez argued that these “precautions were not enough, nor were they persuasive.”
Press Freedom and Refik Tekin
Ölmez raised the issue of medics, lawyers and journalists reaching the area; arguing that “because of the arrests, torture and killings, lawyers and journalist are afraid to intervene anymore.”
Both the International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists have condemned the recent attack on Tekin, who is currently in Mardin State Hospital following surgery.
IMC TV has stated that there are police officers stationed outside Tekin’s hospital room and there is an order by Şırnak Provincial Security Directorate for his arrest on the charges of being a “separatist terrorist organization member”.
Tekin may well become the latest in a string of state attacks on press freedom in Turkey: the most famous of which was the arrest of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül who it was reported today face life in prison due to their story on trucks owned by the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) allegedly transporting weapons to Syria in 2014.
International and domestic press organizations have demanded the order be revoked and Tekin’s employer IMC TV have also issued a formal objection. IMC TV further asserted that there were instances of police abuse while Tekin was transported to hospital. The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) has called for an “end to the attacks against the people’s right to demand information.”
Refik Tekin remains in hospital, continuing treatment. He won the Metin Göktepe Journalism Award alongside his colleague Saadet Yıldız for his coverage of ISIS members crossing into Turkey.
Turkey was ranked 149 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index in 2015 and there are currently 30 journalist imprisoned; the highest number in the world.
Journalists detailing human rights violations in the south-east have increasingly been detained. Hundreds of academics who signed a petition demanding an end to the “deliberate massacre and deportation” of civilians; calling upon the AKP to allow independent observers into the region and an end curfews during the army’s military operations against Kurdish rebels in southeast, also face prosecution.
**Additional reporting by Deniz Umutlu and Merve Aydın