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UN torture expert starts Turkey visit amid abuse claims

Nils Melzer, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, to investigate claims of abuse after post-coup crackdown
A Turkish gendarme stands outside Silivri prison in Istanbul (AFP)

The UN's expert on torture was Monday beginning a week-long visit to Turkey following claims prisoners have been ill-treated in the wake of the July failed coup.

Nils Melzer, the special rapporteur on torture, arrived in Turkey on Sunday and will speak with alleged victims and inspect prison facilities, the United Nations in Ankara said. 

His visit, the first by a UN torture expert to Turkey since 1998, comes a month after US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Turkish police of torturing prisoners.

The government has vehemently denied the claims, saying all those held over the 15 July coup are being treated fully in line with the law.

An estimated 37,000 people have been arrested since a rogue faction tried to topple the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 15 July.

The government has also imposed a state of emergency which has already been extended once.

The rapporteur will visit police stations, pre-trial facilities and prisons, the UN said last week, before preparing a final report for the Human Rights Council in March 2018.

His predecessor, Juan Mendez, was due to visit in October but the trip was put off by the Turkish authorities - a move which Mendez said at the time "sends the wrong message".

But the UN said the visit would be a chance to "identify and assess... challenges related to torture and ill-treatment".

"I look forward to engaging with the Turkish government on how to meet the challenges of upholding the rule of law, promoting accountability, and fulfilling the right of reparations for victims, in particular in the aftermath of the attempted coup," Melzer said on Friday.

HRW last month cited 13 cases of alleged abuse, including torture, sleep deprivation, severe beatings, sexual abuse and rape threats among people detained.

Just over a week after the coup bid, Amnesty International said it had "credible evidence" of the abuse and torture of people detained in the sweeping arrests.

Melzer started his independent role earlier this month and currently works at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

The former Red Cross and Swiss foreign affairs official will visit several Turkish provinces, the UN said without giving further details, and he will speak with victims and their families.

He will present his preliminary findings in Ankara on Friday.