International Day Against Torture

Victims of Torture

On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the ISHR draws attention to the fate of those who campaign for democracy, freedom and human rights under difficult, often life-threatening conditions, and who are tortured and killed for this by autocratic regimes.

1,000 hours of interrogation, solitary confinement and oven torture 

On the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26: ISHR denounces the brutal methods of Belarus, China, Iran, Cuba and Turkey 

Frankfurt am Main, June 25th, 2021 – They will use any means to achieve their goal: Although Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibits the use of torture, it is still used in many states. Brutal interrogations, denial of medical assistance and terrible mistreatment are used to extort information, force confessions or punish regime critics. On the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26th, the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) shows the methods Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran and Turkey use to torture prisoners – sometimes to the point of death.

“Torture is not a relic of the Middle Ages, but also present in the 21st century. The cruelty with which states like Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran or Turkey violate human rights is unimaginable for many in Germany, but still a sad reality for the people living there. Therefore, the support of torture victims and education remain important tasks of human rights work,” explains Martin Lessenthin, spokesman of the board of the ISHR.

The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture has been observed since 1997. It is intended to commemorate the UN Convention against Torture, which entered into force on June 26, 1987, after ratification by 20 states. It supplements the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the Geneva Convention of 1949. ISHR has been advocating for people who have been victims of torture in numerous countries for decades.

The following examples of torture from Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran and Turkey represent many states where torture is a sad reality:

Belarus – Inhumane treatment of political prisoners after anti-government protests

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Belarus for protesting against Lukashenko, and currently several hundred political prisoners remain in custody. For the past few months, some have been wearing a yellow badge that distinguishes them from criminals and leads to particularly harsh and inhumane treatment. Evgeny Shabalyuk had to experience this firsthand. He was arrested after taking part in a demonstration in August 2020 and brutally tortured for two days. Among other things, he was beaten on his genitals with a piece of wood. He was told to confess that he was paid to organize riots in Brest. On August 13, he was released, covered in bruises, covered in blood, and without shoes. Vitold Ashurak, however, did not survive his detention. The 50-year-old died of a heart attack in his cell on May 21, 2021, according to official figures. He had been serving a five-year prison sentence since January for participating in protests against the government. ISHR is calling for an official investigation into his death and suspects that he was denied life-saving medical assistance.

The injuries Evgeny Shabalyuk sustained while imprisoned in Belarus.

The injuries Evgeny Shabalyuk sustained while imprisoned in Belarus.

China – Long list of shocking torture methods

Beatings and kicks, twisting and over-twisting of limbs, forced persistence in painful positions, hanging, electric shocks, burning, starvation, sleep deprivation, sexual violence and isolation – the list of torture methods in the People’s Republic of China is as long as it is shocking. The Chinese authorities use torture systematically, even though it is officially banned and the country was even one of the first signatories of the Convention against Torture. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese have so far become victims of intolerable torture methods. One of them, according to ISHR information, was the Tibetan monk Tenzin Nyima. The 19-year-old had died on January 19, 2021 as a result of torture by Chinese officials. After peaceful independence demonstrations, he was arrested in November 2019 and tortured so severely in prison that he suffered severe injuries. He was also weakened by inadequate food supplies, making it impossible for him to move or speak. On October 6, 2020, his relatives were allowed to take him to a hospital. However, doctors there were unable to help him, so he eventually died at his family’s home.

Tenzin Nyima

19 year-old Tibetan monk Tenzin Nyima died as result of torture

Iran – Solitary confinement, thousands of hours of interrogation and regular abuse

In Iran political prisoners also suffer the full range of different torture methods: Again and again, ISHR receives reports of solitary confinement, sexual abuse, thousands of hours of interrogation to the point of complete exhaustion, denial of medical assistance and a free choice of lawyer. For example, the current situation of Vahid and Habib Afkari, the brothers of executed wrestler Navid Afkari, is particularly alarming. They had been arrested for their participation in nationwide protests in August 2018 and sentenced to a total of 81 years in prison and lashes. Vahid and Habib Afkari have now been in solitary confinement in Adel Abad prison in Shiraz for over eight months. They are regularly mistreated, are not allowed to make phone calls, and receive no medical care. Photography student Parisa Rafiei has also been threatened with beatings, torture and even execution during an interrogation. The political prisoner criticized the fact that women in solitary confinement have to endure virginity tests and torture.

Parisa Rafiei

Women’s rights activist Parisa Rafiei

Cuba – Without water and air supply for 17 hours under the scorching sun in the car

Cuba often imprisons political prisoners together with dangerous criminals. Prison authorities often prohibit them from receiving visits from their families, transfer them to detention centers far from their homes, and subject their family members to harassment. Political prisoners often spend months in solitary confinement. In addition, cell lights and ventilation are often blocked, beds and mattresses removed, clothing taken away, and food and water rations cut. Former political prisoners have told ISHR of cruel methods of torture, such as “La Shakira,” in which the person is hung by chains from the arms and waist. According to information from the ISHR, security officials are currently resorting to “patrulla horno” (oven torture) with particular frequency. This involves locking people in a police van for hours under the blazing sun – without water or air supply. They eventually lose consciousness and death can result from suffocation, vomiting or dehydration. This is how activists Alexis Pérez Lescailles and María Josefa were held in detention after their arrest on September 8, 2019, during the extremely hot time of day from 12 noon to 5 p.m. – for a total of 17 hours. In other cases, political prisoners are deliberately transferred to other prisons and placed in dangerous situations. Political activist Pablo Moya Delá was transferred to a prison with felons just a few days ago, and was abused and injured there by the inmates; despite his bleeding injury, the prison administration refused to provide him with medical care. In protest, Pablo Moya Delá launched a hunger strike on June 22.

Pablo Moya Dela

Political prisoner Pablo Moyá Dela has suffered mistreatment, severe health issues and has been denied medical treatment

Turkey – Torture in prisons and police custody

ISHR regularly hears about torture in Turkish prisons and in police custody. Particularly often in recent months, journalists critical of the government have been affected, such as the Kurdish editor Nedim Türfent. After the publication of a video on May 12, 2016, he had been arrested and sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison for “membership in an armed terrorist organization” on December 15, 2017. Nedim Türfent has now been in solitary confinement for four years and suffers from the aggravated prison conditions during the Corona crisis. His cell is tiny, he is not allowed to make eye contact with his cellmates, and only after pressure from his lawyer was he allowed to walk around the yard. The journalist is also only allowed to make a phone call every two weeks and receive visitors only every two months. In addition, he is regularly strip-searched.

Nedim Türfent

Kurdish and journalist political prisoner Nedim Türfent, imprisoned since 2016