50 have died of COVID-19 in Turkey’s jails since start of pandemic: prison authority

A top Turkish prison authority has said 50 inmates have died of COVID-19 in Turkey’s jails since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the country in March 2020, Turkish Minute reported.

Yunus Alkaç, director general of Prisons and Detention Centers, who spoke at a session of the Justice Committee in parliament on Thursday, said the number of deaths of inmates was low in comparison to the overall death toll caused by COVID-19.

“There have been 47,000 [coronavirus] deaths across Turkey. Only 50 inmates either in pre-trial detention or serving time have died of COVID. Some of these people were suffering from chronic disease or were elderly,” said Alkaç, adding that measures taken by the Justice Ministry had helped to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in prisons.

However, inmates’ families have been complaining that the pandemic is being used as a pretext to limit their visitation rights and that the inmates are not sufficiently able to protect themselves against the disease.

COVID-19, which has been rapidly spreading in the country, has presented greater concerns in Turkey’s prisons, which were already notorious for human rights abuses, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions before the pandemic.

The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law in April 2020 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the legislation excluded political prisoners, including opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws. The law prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.

The 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.

In the meantime, air force cadets serving time in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison on conviction of taking part in the abortive putsch are suffering from COVID-19, according to Melek Çetinkaya, the mother of one of the cadets who visited them on Thursday.

“All the children are very sick. My son could barely stand thanks to medication,” Çetinkaya said in a video posted on Twitter. “One of the cadets passed out during the visit. He was very weak, he couldn’t stand up. Another cadet vomited. Some had a fever.”

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