Ailing 83-year-old prisoner hospitalized after health deteriorates

Mehmet Emin Özkan, an 83-year-old inmate who was not released by authorities despite suffering from severe health problems, was hospitalized on Friday after his health deteriorated, the Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reported.

Özkan was admitted to the intensive care unit of a hospital in southeastern Diyarbakir province. Family members said they were not informed about why he was hospitalized or his current condition.

Özkan, who has been in prison for the past 25 years, has suffered four heart attacks. He has other health problems as well, such as high blood pressure, toxic goiter, osteoporosis, kidney disease, memory loss and loss of hearing and sight. Özkan is unable to see to his basic daily needs and is assisted by a cellmate.

In December 2021 he contracted COVID-19 in prison and was hospitalized for a brief period. Refusing to be handcuffed to a hospital bed, Özkan was brought back to a quarantine cell.

Turkish social media users have repeatedly called on Turkish authorities to release Özkan so he can receive proper care for his illnesses.

Özkan was sentenced to aggravated life for alleged membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He was found responsible for the death of Brig. Gen. Bahtiyar Aydın in October 1993.

Özkan denies any responsibility in the incident, and a court in May ruled for a retrial.

The charges against Özkan were based on two witness testimonies that were later recanted. In a 2014 indictment for what is known as the “Lice trial,” the Diyarbakır Public Prosecutor’s Office said there was no tangible evidence that Özkan had ever taken part in terrorist activities. The trial concerned the alleged illegal activities of gendarmerie intelligence units known as JİTEM.

The PKK has been waging an armed insurgency against Turkey’s security forces since the ’80s in a campaign that has claimed the lives of some 40,000 people. The group is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Bar associations and human rights activists have been calling for Özkan’s release. Images on social media of Özkan being taken to the hospital in handcuffs caused outrage among activists in June.

In the same month 21 bar associations and civil society organizations issued a joint statement calling on Turkish authorities to release him. The statement said Özkan is unable to look after himself and is being kept in prison despite medical reports saying he’s not fit to be incarcerated.

“Keeping M. Emin Özkan in prison instead of treating him as an inpatient, not sending him to a hospital until his condition has deteriorated … show that inhuman treatment has become systemic,” the organizations said.

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