82-year-old philanthropist with Alzheimer’s remains behind bars in Turkey

Eighty-two-year-old businessman and philanthropist Yusuf Bekmezci remains behind bars in Turkey despite serious health problems and advanced age.

Bekmezci suffers from Alzheimer’s and is unable to take care of himself. He also has high blood pressure, sleep apnea, prostate cancer and partial deafness. Bekmezci was tried on charges of terrorism, with the prosecutor demanding a life sentence.

The İzmir 2nd High Criminal Court handed down a sentence of 17 years, four months in April.

Speaking to Bold Medya earlier, his daughter Şeyma Bekmezci said her ailing father had been condemned to die in prison.

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.

According to Şeyma Bekmezci, her father could barely understand the court proceedings due to his advanced Alzheimer’s and was unable to defend himself. The lack of proper health care in prison has caused his mental state to deteriorate. “He completely forgets himself in court and is in a vulnerable position,” she said.

She said a hospital could easily issue a health report saying her father was not fit to be in prison, but the judge did not request one. “If the judge says there’s no need for a report, then he is not taken to the hospital,” she added.

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

According to a recent report by the Ankara-based Human Rights Association (İHD), there are at least 1,605 ailing inmates in the country’s prisons, 604 of whom are in critical condition. The İHD said it estimates the number of sick inmates to be higher and calls on the government to release them and delay their sentences as the coronavirus pandemic poses a further threat to their medical well-being.

Human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said critically ill political prisoners were not released from prison “until it reaches the point of no return.” He depicted the deaths of seriously ill prisoners in Turkey who are not released in time to receive proper medical treatment as acts of “murder” committed by the state.

According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the movement.

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