A 22-year-old Turk was found dead in a detention cell at a Dutch police station last Sunday. His family and friends say his death was caused by police brutality, while Dutch officials claim the young man died of a heart attack.
İhsan Gürz, the 22-year-old victim of alleged police brutality, was detained by Dutch police on July 2, Saturday after he got into a fight with an owner of a bistro in the Dutch city of Beverwijk. Gürz and the bistro owner, according to witness accounts, got into an argument when Gürz, who was waiting for his order of French fries, insisted on using the bathroom on the top floor of the two-story bistro, which the managers didn't want over a reason that is not yet clear.
The argument began to get heated after Gürz reportedly kicked a chair out of anger. The bistro owner called the police, who detained the young man using physical force after he attempted to resist, according to witnesses. Gürz was found dead 12 hours after he was taken to custody in his cell at the police station he'd been taken to.
İhsan Gürz was killed on July 2 at a Dutch police station.
It wasn't clear whether an autopsy had been carried out before Gürz's funeral. A Dutch police official from the Kennemerland police station in Beverwijk told Today's Zaman over the phone that he wasn't authorized to speak about the matter, noting that the case had been referred to the Ministry of Interior Office. Another officer from the Dutch Police Department said the case had been referred to the Ministry of Justice. Dutch officials declined to comment further. The incident was covered only by a single local newspaper -- the Noordhollands Dagblad. The newspaper claimed that police had to use force when detaining Gürz because he resisted. They also claimed Gürz was under the influence of illegal drugs when the incident happened.
Dutch television station RTV Noord-Holland also put up a brief story on the young man’s death on its website.
Diederik de Bruijn, an unauthorized spokesperson for Amnesty International (AI) Holland, said he hadn’t heard of the details of case until Today’s Zaman made an inquiry. Bruijn said although they had received a report of a death that occurred in detention, he couldn’t be sure if it was the same case. He said AI Holland did not take up cases until official investigations into them are completed.
Hilal Doruk, a member of the city council of Heemskerk, where Gürz’s family lives, told Today’s Zaman that she was troubled that the Dutch press hadn’t covered the incident. She said she had heard of the incident because Heemskerk has a sizable Turkish community. “I can’t help but ask myself whether the reaction would have been the same had this been a Dutch man who had died in detention.”
Gürz has not been the first Turk to die under suspicious circumstances at a European police station. A 23-year-old Turkish man was beaten to death by prison guards in Denmark earlier this year. Another Turkish man was reported dead in February 2008, after he was taken into custody by German police in Dortmund. There have also been reports of other foreigners dying in various Western European countries, but there haven’t been reports from international rights groups such as the AI and the Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In response to a question posed by Today’s Zaman on whether such incidents of maltreatment and torture in Western Europe are being underreported by rights groups, Murat Çekiç, a representative of AI Turkey, said he didn’t agree. He said AI was extremely concerned about the rise in the number of similar incidents against foreigners and immigrants in Europe. “The AI is preparing to release a special and comprehensive report regarding this issue this autumn.” He said the report will also mark the beginning of an AI campaign targeting European governments. “Amnesty International intensively reports on violations of human rights in Western countries. Although we might not be able to include every case, we follow these cases and raise this issue on various international platforms such as the UN and in our contacts with different governments.”
Öztürk Türkdoğan, head of the Turkey-based Human Rights Association (İHD), agreed that there seemed to be a tendency of increasing police violence toward migrants from Eastern countries in Europe, particularly those of Muslim origin. “The number of immigrants to these countries has also been rising, due to social unrest in the East. Right wing parties, as we have seen in Holland, are gaining strength in Europe.”
Türkdoğan said he believed that the death of Gürz and similar incidents with other foreigners in various European countries were isolated incidents, but he warned that if European authorities continued to cover up or failed to thoroughly investigate such cases, they could turn into a form of systematic abuse.
“There are xenophobic officers in every police force in these countries that have [anti-immigrant] security policies. So they might use their position for that, but these cases remain isolated. We can’t yet say they have reached a systematic level, but they run the risk of getting there. There is such a tendency and it needs to be stopped.”
He said European governments had to be warned about the possible consequences of covering up such incidents. “They should develop social programs to handle such cases in Europe. They should identify security force members with [xenophobic] tendencies early on.”
Gürz’s mother, Ayten Gürz, and father, Cengiz Gürz, accuse the Dutch police over their son’s death. Cengiz Gürz, who emphasized that his son was subject to police violence even when he was being detained in front of witnesses, said:
“They detained him alive and they gave us back his dead body. There are bruises and sores all over his body. There are cracks on his skull and ribs. Security cameras on the street recorded the police beating him. The security camera of the bistro where he was detained has them all. It is clear as day that the police used violence there.” Cengiz Gürz has filed a criminal complaint against the police officers involved in Gürz’s detention.
About 500 people attended a memorial ceremony for Gürz held at the Beverwijk Alevi Bektaşi Culture Association. The crowed marched to the Beverwijk Police Station after the ceremony, and protested with applause. Police didn’t intervene in the peaceful protest.
Beverwijk Mayor Han Van Leeuwen, who spoke to the bereaved parents after the peaceful protest, promised that he will do anything in his power to shed light on the young man’s death.
Turks killed in European prisons
Gürz has not been the first Turk to die under suspicious circumstances at a European police station. Yet, no satisfactory results have come out of investigations into suspected police officers connected with other incidents where Turkish or other immigrants have died after being detained or arrested by police.
Ekrem Şahin, a 23-year-old Turkish inmate, who was serving a two-year sentence in Denmark’s Kolding Prison, died earlier this year after he was severely beaten by prison guards and went into a coma.
Şahin, who was sentenced to two years on charges of robbery, was beaten by nearly 10 prison guards after he refused to be transferred to another prison in January 2011. His heart stopped after the incident and he was taken to the Odense University Hospital, where he died, despite doctors being able to resuscitate him briefly.
The Danish police, called the event resulting in Şahin’s coma, “an ordinary, everyday event.”
In February 2008, a Turkish man, who was reportedly subjected to physical abuse at the hands of German police in Hagen, near Dortmund, died from injuries he received whilst he was in police custody. His name was Adem Özdamar.
His family claim he had suffered strong blows to the head, but after under going emergency surgery doctors were unable to save him.