The Man in the Nothing Chamber

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Their meals consisted of two pieces of bread for breakfast and another two pieces, with two spoonfuls of rice and two spoons of vegetables, for dinner. The heating was turned up during the warm days, while the air conditioning was turned on during the cold nights. There were no spare clothes and the inmates rarely showered. When they did, they were given a napkin for a towel, then forced to sign that they had been provided with adequate washing facilities. No one had shoes. Five pairs of dirty slippers were provided to use in one of the three toilets that they shared.

At night, while bright spotlights glared, inmates tried to sleep on thin, blood-stained mattresses scattered on the ground. The police were violent and quick to anger. They were constantly shouting threats, swearing, and beating inmates. Every day, a medical team would come to check on the detainees, but the guards always stood within earshot. One of these concerned two Turkish medical professors from the Bahrain Royal Hospital in Manama, who had been forcefully deported and then detained at the gymnasium. They were invaluable to the other inmates, giving them advice on how to stay healthy during their ordeal.

He had been tortured: shaken, beaten, and then forced to lie on the ground while a guard put a gun in his mouth. They then told him to run down the corridor. He ran for his life, thinking that they would shoot him in the back and pretend that he had tried to escape. In another case, an army colonel had already spent three months in prison before being returned to the gymnasium for interrogation. When an attorney visited him, he threatened that they would also imprison his wife if he did not confess.

The couple had two young daughters. The attorney stressed that the girls would be left without their parents. The colonel was, naturally, distressed, but he did not want to give false testimony, which would, he feared, be used as 'evidence' to unjustly imprison other innocent people. The broker's business had been thriving, drawing the attention of a neighbour who frequently asked to buy him out.

After the coup attempt, the broker was arrested when the neighbour tipped off the authorities on his alleged "Feto affiliation". The neighbour then took over his business. Such manipulation of the current climate in Turkey is common, fomenting distrust between neighbours, friends, colleagues, and even family members. Prior to the coup attempt, the maximum period of detention without a court hearing was four days, but under the state of emergency this went up to 30 days. Some of Cafer's fellow inmates endured the full month.

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He was told he had insulted Erdogan on Twitter - a serious crime in Turkey and an accusation specifically endorsed by Yayci, the naval commander, according to court documents. When it was shown, it emerged that some of the 'incriminating' tweets had been posted while Cafer was an inmate at the gymnasium. He was also accused of having used ByLock, an encrypted smartphone application - a go-to charge in the post-coup purge, which requires no substantial evidence of actual coup involvement to establish guilt. He was taken to the Sincan High Security Prison outside Ankara, still in the same summer clothes he had been wearing 13 days earlier for his meeting at the military HQ.

He realised that he was weak and emaciated, having lost about 7kg in weight in that short space of time. He was put into a three-person cell, which already held four others. There were three beds and a thin mattress on the floor. When the United Nations special rapporteur on torture visited Sincan, they were given an extra mattress, prompting jokes that it was "like a Hilton [hotel] suite now". Cafer heard of other cells being given fresh coats of paint for the occasion, but he and his fellow inmates never met the rapporteur. He could not phone her and found it very hard to handle the isolation, but he said that three alleged members of Isis, an Islamist extremist group, in an adjoining cell, with whom he and his cellmates spoke through the wall, were allowed to call their families.

One army major who was being held there, Cafer said, had previously been taken to the Turkish special forces HQ, handcuffed, and tortured for three days with electric shocks. He told the judge during his trial that it had been extracted under torture, but he was still sentenced to life in prison. The major was later released on parole, after 27 months of detention, but his sentence remains in force pending further hearings.

Erdogan's special forces HQ was used as a torture facility for at least one other Sincan inmate, Cafer reported. He was forced to lie on the ground with his hands tied with plastic cords. He broke the wires three times in desperate efforts to cover his mouth, giving him severe scars. He twice saw an inmate who looked as though he had lost his mind - he would sporadically laugh, cry, and talk to invisible people.

It later transpired that the fellow prisoner was a lawyer from Konya in central Turkey who had stood up to Erdogan's ruling clan in a corruption affair. The lawyer was arrested after the coup and tortured into insanity, but still has 10 years left to serve in prison despite his mental incapacity. The page document went on at length about Fethullah Gulen's biography before accusing Cafer of being a member of his purported conspiracy.

In October last year, the prosecution failed to present evidence at his defence hearing in court. They dropped the initial Twitter insult charge, but they kept the ByLock accusation, and put forward new Twitter charges. In February this year, they failed again to present evidence, and Cafer was freed on bail - 16 months after he had first returned to Ankara.

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But Cafer still had his normal passport and upon hearing that Yayci, the admiral, wanted him re-arrested, he fled the country. The escape route was "dangerous", he said. It involved a Turkish airport and passage through Greece, he added, but he gave no further details in order not to cause problems for other regime victims who were still trying to get out. They comforted me and the other refugees. It was a great relief", Cafer said. Belgian authorities also helped by granting him refugee status and paying him welfare to replace his lost Nato income, he said.


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Life in Brussels was different now compared to when he used to be a Nato official in the city, he noted. Cafer's wife sent several letters to senior Nato officials asking for help during his month detention, but few of them replied, and those who did offered only their commiserations. They knew he was innocent, but no member of any international institution or agency ever spoke out in his defence. All my life, I stood for morals and democracy.


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When I most needed help, I did not receive it. It's discouraging," Cafer said. The Nato Parliamentary Assembly's 'scathing' report on human rights in Turkey was also disappointing, he said. The assembly's papers are non-binding, but even so, this one said nothing to hold Turkey to account for its crimes against political prisoners, such as Cafer and the others whom he met in Erdogan's dungeons, he told EUobserver.

He has a right to be concerned because his family and friends back in Turkey continue to face harassment. He got it back in return for publicly denouncing Cafer as a "traitor" and for changing his family name. Police pay regular visits to his parents and siblings. Some friends and neighbours have also urged them to disavow Cafer, in a sign of the raw nerves in Turkish society.

Erdogan has boasted about snatching "traitors" from overseas, and there have been instances of abductions and forced deportations.

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Cafer spoke to EUobserver despite the risk of further reprisals because, he said, it was his moral duty. There are so many still in prison on baseless accusations," he said. It's the least we can do. It's the moral thing to do," he said. Surrounded by graffiti and chaos, they insisted on waiting until the police came to arrest them. Emotions have been running high in Hong Kong over the past month during its biggest political crisis in decades.

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Millions have thronged the streets to protest against a proposed law allowing for the extradition of individuals to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist party. The protests forced the government to suspend the bill and its leader, Carrie Lam, apologised for the crisis that had engulfed the city, but protesters said they wanted more. Police fired teargas after midnight to disperse them. After police cleared the site, they immediately began to collect evidence against protesters in the early hours of Tuesday.


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A number of young protesters said the storming of parliament was a symbolic act of defiance against a government and political system they had little say in. Only half of the seat legislature is directly elected, while the other 35 seats are occupied by mostly pro-establishment figures from corporate and special interest groups. Young people also said it was a sense of hopelessness that had driven them to desperation, as the government continued to fail to respond to their political demands.

He did not want to identified. The protests were triggered by a controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China , where the Communist party controls the courts, but have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement. Public anger — fuelled by the aggressive tactics used by the police against demonstrators — has collided with years of frustration over worsening inequality and the cost of living in one of the world's most expensive, densely populated cities.

The protest movement was given fresh impetus on 21 July when gangs of men attacked protesters and commuters at a mass transit station — while authorities seemingly did little to intervene. Underlying the movement is a push for full democracy in the city, whose leader is chosen by a committee dominated by a pro-Beijing establishment rather than by direct elections. Lam announced on 4 September that she was withdrawing the bill.