OWEN BOWCOTT reports
[37 column inches total]
ISTANBUL has always enjoyed a reputation for sexual intrigue and the latest affair may yet be the most bizarre. On the streets of the city which straddles Europe and Asia, an unlikely trial of strength has pitted a sizeable transvestite community against a police force whose affection for torture has earnt it international notoriety.
Houses have been torched, dancers and street-walkers beaten up, while court cases brought against officers have had to be abandoned in the face of threats. Despite the intervention of international human rights groups, the conflict has escalated.
Police officers use laws against indecency and regulations governing the formation of associations to crack down on both the transsexual and wider homosexual community. The first explicity gay group was only formed in 1992 but broken up by the police within a few years.
The crackdown intensified this month when thousands of international delegates flooded into Istanbul to attend the United Nations' Habitat II conference on the future of large cities. Transvestites were warned to disappear by the local police and several of their flats allegedly set on fire.
Other treatments to which transvestites claim they have been subjected include being beaten with cables. "One of the policemen has a handful of different coloured cables and asks you to pick one," Hande says. "If you choose a colour he whips you with that one, if you don't you are hit with all of them."
There have also been complaints of detainees being tied at the hands and legs and hung upside down; of people being stripped, spat on and left in cold rooms; of being slammed into walls while being held by their hair; and of being kicked in their sexual organs.
For a country in which Amnesty International last year recorded 15 deaths in custody due to torture and 35 people having been "disappeared" by the security forces, these may be relatively mild measures.
IHD, Turkey's Human Rights Association, has supported attempts by transvestities to sue police officers for the torture they have endured. None have been successful so far. In 1991, the courts dismissed one case on the flimsy grounds that the officer had been transferred to another station and therefore another legal district.
"The laws are set up to protect the police," said Hande. "We plan to take another case over the burning of the flats. Even if they put more pressure on us, the facts must come out."
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