Turkish families seek answers over relatives’ disappearances

Sumeyye Yilmaz explains how her husband, Mustafa Yilmaz, was taken by men outside the family home in Ankara. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2019

Turkish families seek answers over relatives’ disappearances

  • Cases of missing people have been rare in Turkey since the 1990s, and activists are concerned by the rising number since 2016

After 100 days behind bars over accusations of belonging to a Turkish “terrorist organization,” Mustafa Yilmaz was relieved to be back with his wife and daughter and allowed to return to work. But his problems were far from over. On Feb. 19, six weeks after his release, he disappeared.
His wife, Sumeyye Yilmaz, says CCTV footage shows him being confronted outside their home after leaving for work and taken by two men before a black van passes by.
She fears he is now being held by “deep state” operatives and possibly tortured.
Yilmaz is one of 28 men that rights activists and lawmakers say have been disappeared by security forces since a failed coup in July 2016.
Twenty-five of them have since reappeared — either they turned up in the custody of the authorities or near a mountain somewhere in Turkey — but Yilmaz and two others are still missing.
The activists and MPs say that many of the 28 were tortured — the government says it has a zero-tolerance policy toward torture.
“Why is my partner not being released? What do they want to do? Is he still alive?” Sumeyye, 27, said in an interview with AFP, as their two-year-old daughter played nearby.
“In the first few days he was taken, my daughter would ask ‘Where is he?’ But now she has stopped. She’s a child, she’s forgetting,” she said, through tears.
Yilmaz, 33, was one of six men who disappeared within a few days of each other in Ankara, Istanbul, the southern city of Antalya and the northwestern province of Edirne in February.
All of them had been accused of ties to an Islamic organization run by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara claims ordered the 2016 attempted coup.
On July 28, the families were told that four of the missing were being held by Ankara police. Yilmaz and another man, Gokhan Turkmen, were not among them, which hit Sumeyye particularly hard.
“The period after July 28 was like hell for me,” she said. Both Mustafa and Sumeyye were accused of ties to the Gulen group — a charge that has seen tens of thousands of people arrested or stripped of their jobs since the coup bid. The couple denies the claims.

SPEEDREAD

Yilmaz is one of 28 men that rights activists and lawmakers say have been disappeared by security forces since a failed coup in July 2016.

However, Mustafa, a physiotherapist, was arrested last October and sentenced to six years in prison. He was out pending an appeal when he disappeared.
The nightmare began for Sumeyye when she received a call from her husband’s employer at around 11:00 a.m. to say he had not shown up for work.
First, she called hospitals, and even at one point feared he could have run off.
But she became suspicious when the authorities showed little interest, and she says the police are still not doing enough to find her husband.
“No effective investigation ... or procedure has been started,” Sumeyye said, adding it was “still not too late” to find him.
Human Rights Watch says the six men taken in February were “forcibly disappeared” and the four who re-emerged have been denied lawyers.
It said their wives had described them as traumatized.
Lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, of the pro-Kurdish leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party who spearheaded a social media campaign to try to find the six, said he believed they had been tortured. “They were in a wretched state. When the families asked where they had been, the men said: ‘Close this issue, leave it alone’,” said Gergerlioglu.
Those who took them wanted “to interrogate them for a long time,” he added. The four men have since been formally charged over suspected Gulen links.
“I assume that the goal here is to spread terror” among suspected Gulen supporters, said Ozturk Turkdogan, head of the Turkish Human Rights Association.
“Obviously our main suspect is the state,” he added.
Turkdogan said the disappearances often followed a similar pattern, particularly the use of black VW Transporters, according to CCTV images or witnesses.
Contacted by AFP, no comment was provided by the Ankara public prosecutor’s office and police, while the Interior Ministry did not respond to requests.
Cases of missing people have been rare in Turkey since the 1990s, and activists are concerned by the rising number since 2016.
Since the four men’s reappearance, another case has come to light. The family of father-of-three Yusuf Bilge Tunc, 35, have said he was taken by unknown individuals on Aug. 6.
Tunc was accused of Gulen ties — claims which he denied — and fired from his job at the state agency overseeing the defense industry.
His family says police claim to have no information on his whereabouts, but that one officer suggested he had run off.
“For the sake of argument, let’s say that there was a problem between us ... why would he not say anything to his parents?” asked Tunc’s wife, who did not wish to be named.
“The most painful thing in the world is not knowing what has happened to him.” Like Sumeyye, they have appealed for help from the European Court of Human Rights and the UN.
Tunc’s wife also claimed police had not bothered to search his car when it was found four days after he went missing. “I never thought this kind of thing could happen to us,” she said.


Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2020

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.