The Author

Leighann Spencer

Leighann Spencer is a PhD student in Justice Studies at Charles Sturt University. Her focus is on identity, vigilantism and state accountability. Currently residing in Australia, she previously worked on police accountability and anti-vigilantism initiatives in South Africa.

Since the July 15th 2016 coup-attempt in Turkey, those deemed to have links to the Gulenist movement have faced countless human rights abuses. Since then, 131,995 people have been detained, and many more dismissed from their jobs. Moreover, abductions, thought to be enforced disappearances orchestrated by government agents, have proliferated.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom has logged 17 cases over 2016 to 2017. Turkey’s Human Rights Association documented 12 enforced disappearances in 2017. There have even been abductions of alleged Gulenists overseas, such as in Malaysia. Many have expressed concern about this increase in abductions, including the European Union. However, these crimes appear unlikely to cease, with another incident occurring just weeks ago.

The Case of Ümit Horzum

The most recent abduction case is that of Ümit Horzum, a 39-year-old who worked at the Turkey Accreditation Agency. He lived a normal life with his wife Aynur and their two children. Then after 15th July 2016, that all changed. Ümit was dismissed from his job, and shortly after a neighbour reported to the police that he had ties to the Gulen movement. Aynur was also dismissed. In August 2016, the police appeared at the family’s home to arrest Ümit. Thankfully, he was not home at the time. However, his wife and children were to never see him again – knowing his fate as an alleged Gulenist, he became a fugitive.

The Horzum Family.

Fast forward to the 7th of December 2017, almost a year and a half later. Aynur Horzum, Ümit’s wife, received a visit from a man she did not recognise. He asked whether Ümit was home, to which Aynur replied that no, he was not. The man said “I know. Somebody with a black transporter abducted Ümit”. He continued to relay the abduction, which he had witnessed the day before on the 6th of December. At approximately 6PM, Ümit had been driving around Ankara Acity Shopping Center when the black transporter van cut him off. After getting out of his vehicle, Ümit was forced into the black transporter. His own car has since disappeared too.

Aynur’s mysterious visitor told her all this tentatively, then said she must go to the police. She requested that he accompany her, but he said that he could not. That is when she realised the man must also be a fugitive; she believes he was living with Ümit at one point. Of course, being in shock from the news of her husband’s abduction, Aynur did not ask many questions. The above is all the information she has. However, as the incident occurred in broad daylight in a public place, she knows there is surveillance (MoBESe/CCTV) footage and witnesses. Yet in the current climate, obtaining such evidence is near impossible.

An Attempt at Justice

Aynur spent the following weeks visiting numerous police, gendarmeries and prosecutors. They consistently refused the case, saying that they did not believe her or that Ümit must have fled abroad. Aynur did not believe this; on top of Ümit’s friend witnessing the abduction, she knew he would not flee without telling his mother, a widow who is sick with cancer. He would often call his mother to cheer her up. One gendarmerie commander even warned her against looking for Ümit. Finally, on the 19th of December, she found a prosecutor willing to take on the case. Aynur is hoping the prosecutor will have more luck obtaining the video footage from the shopping centre. He is also looking into Ümit’s phone records, to track his whereabouts or at least see where the signal was cut.

The facts of the case show that the abduction was highly organised and professional. A crowded place with CCTV and witnesses, but no evidence has been bought forward. No attention has been paid by the state to this missing man and his vehicle. It appears that several high-profile individuals were involved, with a very good chance that government agents played a role. Indeed, Human Rights Watch investigated four similar cases and concluded that there was credible evidence to believe that the Turkish government was behind them. All four cases were also men who had been dismissed from their jobs and accused of Gulen links, subsequently forced into black or dark-coloured transporter vans. Yet if Aynur’s prosecutor pushes the case too much, a more obedient one may be assigned to the case. Since the coup-attempt, pro-Erdogan officials hold a monopoly over Turkey’s judicial system.

Ümit’s Family are Left Behind

Aynur and Ümit were married in 2006. Aynur stresses that in those eleven years, she has never witnessed a connection between her husband and an illegal group or fraction. Ümit was a social man, and of course greeted and talked to people with various political views. But she is confident that he has committed no crime. It is likely he has been abducted in order to draw out a fabricated confession, a common occurrence in post-coup Turkey despite such confessions being inadmissible under the rule of law. Aynur worries that he is being tortured and threatened with death.

The couple have two children, a 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. Their daughter always cries for her father, and the son is too young to understand what has happened. But he does say that “it is very bad that we don’t know where my father is and when he will return”. The family has been stigmatised, labelled as traitors to Turkey. Although Aynur is a skilled electronic engineer, she has been unable to find work since the coup attempt.  Employers either agree that the family are traitors due to the alleged Gulen ties, or they are straight up afraid of being associated with them. Considering what has happened to Ümit, they have a reason to be worried.

Despite being labelled as Gulen supporters, Aynur loves her country very much. She says that “until December 6th [2017] I did not want to leave… but now I do not think the same things. We are afraid. My dad and mum are always crying. They worry about me and the children. My husband is very tall and able-bodied… if someone can abduct him in a very crowded place… how can I be safe?”. She pleas that if anyone has any knowledge about the abduction, or know of Ümit’s whereabouts since, to please make contact. His car, which is also missing, was a Skoda Fabia 2004 model with the number plate 20H1931. You can contact the Vocal Europe with any information about this horrible crime.

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