Ailing 83-year-old prisoner tests positive for COVID-19

Mehmet Emin Özkan, an 83-year-old inmate who was not released by authorities despite suffering from severe health problems, has tested positive for COVID-19 in prison, Turkish media reported.

Despite his advanced age and chronic illnesses, authorities still have not released Özkan, sending him instead to a quarantine ward. After his health deteriorated, Özkan was taken to a hospital; however, Özkan refused to be handcuffed to the hospital bed and was brought back to his quarantine cell.

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 take of his basic daily needs, so a cellmate assists him.

Turkish social media users yesterday demanded Özkan’s release. Lawyer and human rights activist Eren Keskin demanded on Twitter that all sick inmates including Özkan be released.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergelioğlu said on Twitter that Özkan was not receiving proper care in prison and should immediately be released.

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, the European Union and the US.

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 systematic,” the organizations said.

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