78-year-old ailing Kurdish villager dies after brief imprisonment

Emin Soyal

Emin Soyal, a 78-year-old Kurdish man who was briefly imprisoned on terrorism-related charges in late 2023, has died while receiving treatment at a hospital, the Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reported on Friday.

Suffering from a number of health issues including cardiac insufficiency, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), visual impairment and hearing loss, Soyal was described in a hospital report as being almost totally disabled.

He was nevertheless detained and arrested in southeast Turkey in October 2023 for alleged links to terrorism and released the next month upon requests filed by his lawyers and following widespread public condemnation.

Soyal has been treated in an intensive care unit for the last month due to a worsening of his health problems, the report said.

“I wasn’t upset about being arrested. Was I supposed to regret being a Kurd?” he had told MA upon his release. “I left prison feeling bittersweet for having left my friends behind.”

It is common for Turkish authorities to pursue local residents of the predominantly Kurdish provinces on accusations related to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for several decades.

The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies. Yet, Turkey’s counterterrorism laws are often criticized by human rights groups and legal experts as being overly broad, allowing too much room for interpretation.

Since the breakdown of peace talks between Ankara and the PKK in mid-2015, Turkish authorities have been carrying out widespread, terrorism-related investigations affecting the Kurdish minority, including politicians, media workers and local residents in the Kurdish-majority regions.

Turkish authorities have also been frequently criticized for their systematic disregard of the health problems of political prisoners.

In recent years, many inmates have died of their illnesses either behind bars or shortly after their belated release.

According to the Human Rights Association (İHD), there were 1,517 sick inmates in Turkish detention facilities as of December 2022, 651 of whom were critically ill. 

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