The Ministry of Justice has not released COVID-19 statistics for prisons since June 17, despite numerous inquiries, Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi has said, the Bianet new website reported.
According to İlgezdi the Ministry of Justice continues to hide the number of patients in prisons despite constant calls to transparently announce the data. “Right to information requests and parliamentary questions also go unanswered,” Ilgezdi said.
According to the latest statistics, published on June 17, six inmates had died of COVID-19. A total of 374 inmates had recovered from the disease, and there were seven active patients.
Turkish prisons have an acute overcrowding problem, causing worries that COVID-19 can easily spread among inmates and staff. It was mainly caused by a huge purge of dissidents in the aftermath of a failed coup on July 15, 2016 that filled the country’s prisons with tens of thousands of political prisoners.
In two reports published yesterday, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) highlighted the problem, saying: “The problem of prison overcrowding remained acute … A large number of inmates in these prisons did not have their own bed and had to sleep on mattresses placed on the floor. Moreover, in some living units, prisoners were even obliged to share mattresses, as no floor space was left for additional mattresses.”
According to the CPT, the problem can only be resolved by adopting a coherent strategy “covering both admission to and release from prison, to ensure that imprisonment – including pre-trial detention – really is the measure of last resort.”
The Turkish parliament passed a release bill in mid-April to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded prisons. Providing the possibility of early parole or house arrest to inmates, the law explicitly excluded tens of thousands of political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted counterterrorism laws. The government turned a deaf ear to calls from international organizations, NGOs and rights groups to include political prisoners within the scope of the release law.
İlgezdi said, “There is an increasing risk in prisons, but instead of fighting the coronavirus the ministry is busy hiding the statistics from the media and general public.” She called on the minister of justice to investigate the claims that inmates who were infected with the coronavirus were not treated and to ensure that all inmates are able to access health services.