Hundreds of Ill Prisoners Left To Die In Turkey’s Prisons

A fresh controversy broke out after the release of Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas‘s son-in-law who was previously jailed over links to Gulen movement.

When businessman Omer Faruk Kavurmaci was released pending trial over poor health conditions, it ignited a public storm among the opposition and families of prisoner patients.

It brought into question favoritism and privileged treatment of some prisoners targeted by post-coup crackdown since last summer. The issue is of vital importance given the worsening situation of hundreds of prisoners, some of whom are cancer patients and others suffer extreme health problems.

There are currently 841 prisoners who need urgent medical treatment but denied that across prisons in Turkey.

Take imprisoned Judge Mustafa Erdogan. He is receiving medical help in a cell at Akdeniz University’s Medical Faculty. Half of his body was paralyzed after a surgery on his brain, but authorities did not release Mr. Erdogan, one of the top judges at Supreme Court of Appeals before being purged and then arrested. What is more jarring about his situation is the fact that he is being kept in a cell behind iron bars since Dec. 30, 2016, in the presence of policemen who keep a watching eye on him to prevent his “escape.”

Despite the requirement by the law, the government has so far appeared to be unfazed and indifferent in the face of repeated calls from families and medical officials for release of cancer patients.

His daughter Buket Erdogan told Justice Held Hostage, a website tracking crackdown against members of the judiciary, that his father was denied the right to trial without arrest despite his paralysis.

The issue of prisoner patients with serious conditions came to public view when main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu spoke about the matter at a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday.

He questioned the negligence of the government, asking why 841 extremely sick patients in prisons are not released. Another senior lawmaker from his party, Sezgin Tanrikulu, submitted a parliamentary question on Wednesday, delving to one of the most underreported issues concerning hundreds of patient prisoners.

He urged a parliamentary inquiry into the issue, citing the cases of prisoners who are in critical conditions. He shared statistics of the Justice Ministry and said there are 1,086 prisoner patients in the throes of death. The government’s unwavering policy to limit prisoners’ access to medical aid is startling, the lawmaker said.

Medical rights groups report that there are at least 31 epilepsy patients in the prisons.

According to Institute Of Forensic Medicine (ATK) reports, there are at least 841 patients whose health are at a critical level and require urgent treatment. They must be released from prison, the report strongly recommends. Another no less sobering and gut-wrenching stat is that 451 prisoners have died in prisons over the past 5 years due to worsening health.

As of February 2017, the ATK put the number of critically ill prisoners at 841, including 31 female patients in prisons. Those whose health reports are still under consideration and examination are not included in these figures.

The institution, according to the law, has the authority to propose and decide which prisoner should be released on health concerns after a thorough review of his/her health condition. According to the latest reports by penitentiaries, there are 795 convicts and 46 detainees await to be released over poor health.

Another disturbing trend is the emergence of contradictions in reports prepared by university hospitals and the ATK who went through a sweeping purge in its experienced personnel. There are mounting concerns over politicization of the key institution amid a spike in claims of torture and mistreatment of detainees and the imprisoned in prisons since the failed coup attempt last July.

More than 1,500 personnel have been sacked within the ATK, fueling doubts over the impartiality of reports regarding torture claims. The government pressure has never been more palpable.

The not-so-obscure disparity between hospital and ATK reports has come to the fore recently over evaluation of prisoners’ health.

According to a long-held regulation and policy by the Justice Ministry, state or university hospital reports, which were signed by health boards comprising of at least 3 physicians, have been accepted for postponement of a sentence for a prisoner patient. But despite this mandate, the ATK, in a public break with its long-running tradition, have begun to ignore reports, and sharply reduced its recommendations for the release of seriously ill patients.

More and more prisoners, many of whom are cancer patients, have been regarded ineligible by the institution for release from prison.

In the past 5 years, that number is getting staggering despite detainees or convicted prisoners receive reports from fully-established state or university reports for postponement of their sentences.

Numbers of prisoners who died in prison due to illness and state of poor health in the past 5 years speak to the gravity of the situation exacerbated by often startling government policy. At least 451 detainees and convicts have died in prison since 2012. Only last year, 172 prisoners died while this number is 20 for first 2 months of this year.

According to the statistics released by independent news web portal Bianet, 51 died in 2013, 63 in 2014, 145 in 2015, 172 in 2016, and 20 as of February 2017.

The official explanation for not releasing patient prisoners is grounded on high-security risks for the community. But critics believe that it serves only as a cover for the authorities’ policy that functions as a punishment.

While the picture seems as bleak as it could be, sustained and institutional struggle sometimes pays off. Prosecutor Ibrahim Ethem Kuris whose body functions deteriorated due to cancer has been released last month after 9 months of detention. His family’s months-long battle finally persuaded Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office which successfully sought his release to get proper medical treatment. Another prisoner, Yavuz Bolek, who is suffering from cancer and underwent surgery for 3 times, was released after his wife waged a battle on the social media.

In the past 5 years, 832 prisoners have been released due to severe illness.

The courts or Justice Ministry decided to release 162 released in 2013; 130 in 2014; 282 in 2015; 224 in 2016 and 34 so far in 2017. Out of those numbers, 31 of them were female while 801 of male detainees and convicts.

CHP lawmaker Tanrikulu pointed out a danger that has roiled the Turkey’s malfunctioned penal system. “The problems in the penal execution system and the slowness of bureaucratic procedures threaten the lives of detainees and convicted prisoners who are seriously ill,” he wrote in his parliamentary question.

He underlined that their rights of access to medical aid, their health and life safety are guaranteed by both national and international laws and agreements regardless of the charges they face. “This is rule undoubtedly is one of the most basic human rights.”

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