Activists call for release of ailing 84-year-old inmate

Social media users on Wednesday called on Turkish authorities to release Halil Karakoç, an ailing prisoner who has been kept behind bars even after suffering a heart attack in his cell.

Karakoç, a retired imam, was arrested in December 2020 and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison due to his alleged affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement.

He was accused of having a bank account at the now-closed Banka Asya, which was linked to the movement. He was also accused of attending events organized by movement members.

The Turkish government accepted such daily activities as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen-linked 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.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of 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.

Karakoç is incarcerated in İzmir’s Menemen Prison despite suffering from multiple health problems such as heart and kidney disease, diabetes and prostate complications. He was previously taken to the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) to determine if he was fit to remain in prison. According to the council he could stay in the prison infirmary and was denied release.

The ATK frequently comes under criticism over its questionable reports that find ailing inmates fit to remain in prison. Rights advocates slam the agency over its lack of freedom from political influence and its role in compounding the persecution of political prisoners.

Every year, rights groups report the death of dozens of sick prisoners, either while behind bars or shortly after their belated release, which often comes at the end-stage of their illnesses.

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. 

The report noted that 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.

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

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