Activists call for release of ailing 76-year-old inmate

Ahmet Öztürk

Social media users on Thursday called on Turkish authorities to release Ahmet Öztürk, an ailing prisoner who is suffering from deteriorating health.

A retired banker, Öztürk was arrested and sent to prison in December 2023 to serve a six-year, three-month sentence on conviction of links to the Gülen movement.

He was accused of associating with people with ties to the movement, depositing money in the now-closed Bank Asya and donating money to organizations affiliated with the movement.

The Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, is accused by the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding a failed coup in 2016 and is labeled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The Turkish government accepted such daily activities as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen movement-affiliated bank, working at any institutions linked to the movement or subscribing to certain newspapers and magazines as benchmarks for identifying and arresting tens of thousands alleged members of the movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

A video of police escorting Öztürk to prison has been circulating on social media. The recording showed that the elderly man could barely stand and needed the help of two people to walk.

The video also showed police officers warning Öztürk’s relatives to stop recording.

According to his family, Öztürk recently recovered from prostate cancer and underwent a hernia operation. He can barely take care of himself and requires help with daily tasks like bathing.

Öztürk’s family urged the authorities to commute his prison sentence to house arrest. In an appeal to the prison administration, they emphasized that Öztürk required regular medical attention and that prison time could severely affect his health.

According to the most recent report by Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD), there are at least 1,517 sick inmates in Turkish prisons, 651 of whom are seriously ill. Furthermore, 39 of 76 inmates who died in prison in 2022 were critically ill.

Sick inmates face a number of difficulties such as overcrowded wards, heating problems, delayed admission to the infirmary, an insufficient number of doctors, delayed referrals to the hospital and a lack of nutritious food, clean water and adequate exercise, according to the report, which also noted that many ill prisoners who are unable to take care of themselves are put in one-person cells.

While relevant regulations favor ill inmates, political prisoners are excluded and have to remain in jail despite the severity of their illness.

According to the law, the sentence of a prisoner who, due to a serious illness or disability, is unable to manage life on their own under prison conditions and who is not considered a danger to society may be suspended until they recover.

However, the decision to suspend sentences is not implemented for many political prisoners.

Turkish authorities have denied political prisoners, even those with critical illnesses, release from prison so they can at least seek proper treatment. Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners.

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