Businessman Demirkale becomes latest suspicious death in a Turkish prison

Davut Demirkale, a Turkish businessman who was arrested over his alleged links to the Gülen movement on July 8, 2018 in southern city of Mersin, has been found dead in suspicious circumstances in prison.

Turkish media reported that Demirkale was found dead in a cell in Mersin Prison, having allegedly hung himself with a bed-sheet and left behind a note saying he could not endure the injustice.

However, Mersin Siyaset, a local news website, reported on Saturday that a prosecutor has launched an investigation on the grounds that Demirkale’s death in prison is suspicious. Some media outlets have also alleged that that Demirkale was found dead with his hands tied.

Demirkale was a relative of a prominent Mersin businessman Mahmut Aslan, who owns a company called Arbel Foods and who, in 2004, stood as a candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) candidate in mayoral elections in Mersin. Aslan was also detained by police last week, but soon released under judicial control.

The death of Demirkale is the latest in a string of prison deaths in Turkey to attract suspicion since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported in one of its studies titled “Suspicious Deaths and Suicides In Turkey” that there has been an increase in the number of suspicious deaths in Turkey, most in jails and detention centers, where torture and ill-treatment are being practiced. In the majority of cases, authorities concluded they were suicides without any effective, independent investigation.

Suspicious deaths have also taken place beyond prison walls amid psychological pressure and threats of imminent imprisonment and torture, sometimes following the release of suspects or just before their detention. SCF has compiled 117 cases of suspicious deaths and suicides in Turkey in a list in a searchable database format.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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