80-year-old critically ill inmate complains of lack of proper healthcare in prison

Gürbüz Dönmez, an 80-year-old inmate suffering from prostate cancer, said in a letter to Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu that he has no access to proper healthcare in prison despite being critically ill.

Dönmez said he has been waiting for surgery for a year despite doctors saying it was urgent. “My surgery has been delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and life has become unbearable,” he said. “I am always going back and forth between the toilet and my cell. I can barely move on my own and need the help of others.”

Dönmez added that he was afraid he would be spending the last days of his life in prison.

The elderly man was arrested on April 19, 2017 for alleged links to the Gülen movement. He was sentenced to 10 years, six months and sent to İzmir Şakran Prison in western Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

In June 2021 a university hospital in Izmir issued a medical report saying Gürbüz was fit to remain in prison.

However, Gürbüz said he suffered from other illnesses such as heart arrythmia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and was afraid his health would deteriorate to the point of no return in prison.

Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners so they can seek proper treatment.

According to the Human Rights Association (İHD), as of June 2020 there were more than 1,605 sick inmates in Turkish prisons, approximately 600 of whom were critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients had forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they were not released. Authorities refuse to free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society. In the first eight months of 2020, five critically ill prisoners passed away because they were not released in time to receive proper medical treatment.

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