Despite evidence and eyewitness statements on police brutality over unintentional border intrusion, Greek Cypriot authorities have kept Turkish national Mehmet Sapmaz in detention since Aug. 31, citing an ongoing probe over his complaint
A Turkish national who was beaten by Greek Cypriot police for a brief and unintentional intrusion at a Nicosia border gate has entered the 13th day in his illegal detention as Greek Cypriot authorities have inexplicably prolonged his complaint process in a possible move to force him to retract his complaint.
60-year-old Mehmet Sapmaz, who resides in Gazimağusa (Famagusta) in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), briefly crossed into Greek Cypriot territory on his bike at the famous Ledra Palace crossing without noticing the checkpoint on August 31.
Although Sapmaz returned to the border soon after a police vehicle started chasing him, a police officer attacked him at the border gate and continued to assault the 60-year-old at the station.
The inhumane, violent and degrading treatment by the Greek Cypriot police was uncovered through the application of Greek Cypriot NGO the Movement for Equality, Support and Anti-Racism (KISA), which has since been backed by eyewitnesses' statements.
After filing an application, Greek Cypriot watchdog the Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints against the Police (AADIPA) launched an investigation into the matter.
Although Greek Cypriot authorities have not charged him, Sapmaz has entered day 13 of detention through the administrative order of the Director of the Civil Registry and Migration Department, forced to spend the entire Qurban Bayram (Feast of the Sacrifice, also known as Eid al-Adha) away from his family.
Lawyer Özge Uğraşın, who represents Sapmaz, told Daily Sabah that the biggest problem remains the fact that Sapmaz is being kept in custody while Greek Cypriot authorities investigate the complaint.
"As there are no legal proceedings against Sapmaz, there is no legal basis for his detention," said Uğraşın, who also represents the Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation, adding that a habeas corpus application would be submitted before Greek Cypriot courts if Sapmaz's detention did not end shortly.
The independent researcher previously assigned to the case said that the report over his complaint would be ended by September 8, but when that day came, the period was extended for another week, Uğraşın explained.
"If the report is concluded positively for the victim and backs his claims against the police officer, then he could be set free even if he does not carry a passport," Uğraşın said and added that it would allow the victim to launch a lawsuit against maltreatment and illegal detention in local courts. The verdict could be also be appealed at the European Court of Human Rights, as Greek Cyprus is a member of the European Union.
"The detention of the victim until the complaint is examined puts pressure on the victim to retract his complaint," she added, noting that Greek Cypriot authorities were trying to force Sapmaz to give up on his complaint by prolonging his detention period.
She added that it was very important that the Turkish Embassy in TRNC acts quickly and sends his travel documents, as the Greek Cypriot Administration may use the lack of documents as an excuse to prolong his detention.
Uğraşın said that she interviewed Sapmaz on September 8 and saw that he accepted the issue in a very calm and mature manner, and said that he wanted the police officer to receive the appropriate punishment for the violent treatment. He also said that he hoped to return to his country immediately, Uğraşın said, adding that his health condition was improving, although the scars and bruises from the beating are still visible.
A diplomatic source from the Turkish Embassy in Nicosia, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that embassy officials are closely following Sapmaz's case but their impact on the issue is limited since Turkey and the Greek Cypriot Administration – internationally recognized as the Republic of Cyprus – do not maintain diplomatic ties. The embassy relies on information coming from TRNC and U.N. authorities as well as technical committees established among the two Cypriot communities, the source noted.
TRNC authorities will seek to visit Sapmaz tomorrow at the migration facility where he is being held in Greek Cypriot territory through U.N. channels, the source added.
In addition to his lengthy detention, authorities intend to deport Sapmaz to Turkey through Greece, instead of facilitating his return to his family in the TRNC through cooperation with authorities at the U.N., as it is applied in special cases.
Turkish nationals who cross into the south from the TRNC, only internationally recognized by Turkey, are subject to lengthy deportation procedures via Greece when apprehended by security forces in a process that usually takes five to seven days.
The north-south border dividing the island and capital Nicosia, a U.N. buffer zone known as the "Green Line," has been calm over the last decade with only minor scuffles involving security forces and immigrants. Cypriots, both from the Turkish and Greek parts, are able to cross the line freely and tourists are also subject to lax requirements.
However, due to occasional tensions, the U.N. has maintained the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) at the buffer zone since 1974, when Turkey used its guarantor rights and conducted a military intervention to the island to protect the long-persecuted Turkish Cypriot community against a right-wing Greek Cypriot junta aiming to unite the island with Greece.