A total of 1,572 appeals were submitted to the Civil Society in the Penal System (CISST) complaining of mistreatment, torture and neglect in Turkish prisons between 2021 and 2022, the Duvar news website reported.
The CISST is a civil society organization that monitors human rights violations in prisons in Turkey.
Among the complaints 140 concerned torture and mistreatment, while 181 were made by sick inmates who alleged neglect and a lack of proper healthcare. Many female inmates complained that they were forced to undergo examinations in the hospital in the presence of male security officers. No exceptions were made for gynecological examinations, and female inmates often felt their privacy was violated and refused further examinations.
Özge Aksoy from the CISST said it was essential that prison staff be given training on gender so they are better equipped to deal with female inmates.
She pointed out that many critically ill inmates were not released and therefore could not seek proper treatment. “Aysel Tuğluk is one of the first names that come to mind,” she said. “Unfortunately most sick inmates need a health report from the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) to prove they are not fit to remain in prison. But the ATK is not a reliable institution and many are not released in time to seek treatment.”
Doubts over the independence and credibility of the ATK, an institution that assesses the condition of sick inmates to decide if they are fit to remain in prison and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, have grown in recent years as more and more critically ill prisoners have died behind bars.
In a recent example the ATK issued a “fit to remain in prison” report for Kurdish politicians Aysel Tuğluk, who has been showing symptoms of cognitive impairment. According to her lawyers, Tuğluk is suffering from dementia and cannot take care of herself.
Aksoy said political prisoners were often discriminated against and had a lower chance of being released in the event they were critically ill. “Even if the ATK issues a report saying the inmate is too sick to be in prison, the prosecutor can refuse to release them, saying they constitute a threat to society,” she explained.
Those inmates who had to undergo treatment in prison complained of neglect. Many prisoners had to wait a long time to be seen by the prison doctor, and even longer to get transferred to a hospital.
Inmates are not allowed to wait for the doctor in hospital waiting rooms and instead sit for long hours in crowded prison transport vans.
“If it is a political prisoner, the doctor is informed of their crime, which completely violates their rights,” said Aksoy. “This is just another way of punishing inmates.”
Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners.
Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said ill prisoners were not released until they were at the point of no return. He claimed that prisoners did not have access to proper healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics.