300 inmates contract COVID-19 in northwestern Turkey as cases soar nationwide

As COVID-19 cases reach a daily average of 35,000 in Turkey, the virus is quickly spreading in prisons, and 300 inmates have allegedly contracted the virus in northwestern Kocaeli Prison, the Bold Medya news website reported.

According to their families, some inmates who were in critical condition were taken to the hospital. However, they were not given information on their loved ones’ condition either by the prison administration or the hospitals.

One woman who wished to remain anonymous said she had not heard from her husband since he tested positive. “I have tried to get some information from the families of his cellmates,” she said. “Apparently the whole ward is in quarantine, but the prison is not taking our calls. This is such great irresponsibility and disrespect towards the inmates and their families!”

Cases of COVID-19 in Turkish prisons have increased in the past months. Only last week nearly 30 men in the same ward were infected in Sakarya Ferizli Prison, and two were in critical condition. News of the outbreak came after five guards were diagnosed with the virus and passed it on to the inmates.

The rapidly spreading disease has presented greater concerns in Turkey’s prisons, which were already notorious for human rights abuses, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions before the pandemic.

During the previous wave last December, Züleyha Gülüm, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said Turkish prisons were turning into scenes of massacre  and that political prisoners were the most disadvantaged.

A purge of thousands of dissidents in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016 has filled Turkey’s prisons, which today are overcrowded with tens of thousands of political prisoners.

Last week jailed veteran journalist Ali Ahmet Böken tested positive for the virus. Mehmet Şükrü Eken (53), a former brigadier general who was jailed on coup charges died on April 19 due to COVID-19.

The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law on April 14 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation, which excludes political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws, prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.

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