Civil society organizations demand immediate release of critically ill prisoners

Civil society organizations in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakır province on Monday demanded the immediate release of critically ill people in prison, the Bianet news website reported.

The CSOs including the Diyarbakır Bar Association, the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Diyarbakır Chamber of Medicine drew attention to inmates’ right to proper healthcare.

According to the CSOs, prisons have been arbitrarily refusing to release critically ill inmates, saying they need good behavior reports. Prisoners have been required to disclose their political beliefs and repent for their “crimes.” According to lawyers, this contravenes the Turkish Constitution.

If political prisoners do not answer these questions according to prison administrations’ expectations, they are denied release on the grounds of “poor conduct.”

The delays in parole have resulted in a higher death toll among sick prisoners, the organizations said. Additionally, the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) has been criticized for issuing reports for some sick inmates, saying they were fit to remain in prison.

As the number of sick prisoners dying in prison has increased, doubts about the credibility and independence of the council have grown, as the institution is affiliated with the Ministry of Justice.

“Many inmates have lost their chance for release because of these reports and have died as a result,” said Elif Turan, chair of the Diyarbakir Chamber of Medicine. “As a doctor I find this completely unacceptable.”

The organizations criticized the overcrowding in prisons and the unhygienic conditions. “The cells are crowded and filthy,” they said. “To make matters worse, hospital visits are delayed, and there is a shortage of doctors and healthcare providers in prisons.”

In some cases inmates do not have access to clean water or are not provided with the food recommended by the doctor. Some sick prisoners who cannot take care of themselves and need another person’s help are made to stay in solitary cells.

The civil society organizations demanded that the authorities immediately improve these conditions and also reinstate certain privileges that were taken away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Inmates should be allowed to participate in sporting activities and have regular access to doctors,” they said. “Those inmates who are disabled, elderly or have special needs should be allowed to stay in cells that are appropriate for their needs.”

Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized the authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners so they can seek proper treatment. Human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said ill prisoners were not released until they were at the point of no return.

According to the Human Rights Association (İHD), as of June 2020 there were more than 1,605 sick inmates in Turkish prisons, approximately 600 of whom were critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients had forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they were not released. Authorities refuse to free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society. In the first eight months of 2020, five critically ill prisoners passed away because they were not released in time to receive proper medical treatment.

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