Despite official health reports seriously ill Turkish teacher kept in prison over alleged Gülen links

The Turkish government insists on keeping teacher Ömer Şamlı, who is reportedly seriously ill and unable to see to his personal needs, in prison despite official health reports saying the state of his health renders him unfit to stay in jail.

Şamlı’s health problems are said to be life threatening.

According to a report by online news outlet Aktif Haber, Şamlı was detained in Denizli province and arrested by a Turkish court on December 16, 2017 over his alleged links to the Gülen movement, despite the fact that his life was threatened because of his severe health problems. Immediately after his imprisonment he had to be referred to a hospital, where he stayed for six days. Şamlı, who is still being held in prison despite the report saying his poor health makes him unfit to be incarcerated, appeared in court on Monday.

Underlining the fact that the vast majority of the more than 50,000 people who have been arrested over alleged links to the Gülen movement are teachers, Aktif Haber reported that Şamlı is among that group. The report said that since Şamlı is seriously ill, he has been taken to the hospital twice.

Şamlı is married with five children. His wife, who made a brief statement in a video she shared on her social media account, has called on the relevant authorities to release her husband. Stating that her husband should not stay in prison due to his poor health, she requested that her husband be imminently released.

“My husband was detained one-and-a-half months ago. He has had various health problems for the last 18 years. There are wounds and scarring on his fingers and toes. My husband has also been suffering from lung problems. He becomes paralysed, especially when he is cold. The prison in İzmir is cold, so he has been referred to the infirmary three or four times. Also, an ambulance was reportedly sent to the prison two times. But they could not intervene because they could not understand his ailments. They took him to a public hospital, which provided a bit of relief,” she said.

She also stated that “it is very difficult for my husband to stay in prison because he cannot take care of his personal needs. He cannot do his laundry, wash his dishes or dress himself, and it is even difficult for him to hold a spoon now. I am a mother of five, and I am managing to struggle along alone. But prison conditions are not suitable for my husband.”

Sezgin Tarıkulu, a deputy of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), also called on authorities to release Şamlı from prison. Tanrıkulu asked authorities to try Şamlı while under house arrest so he can be treated at a hospital.

“There are [a number of] patients in prison at death’s door. There is a hearing today for Ömer Şamlı in Balıkesir province. He has numerous illnesses. His toes are amputated. He has official health reports. I would like to ask the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice: He has not been convicted of a crime. He is not a suicide bomber. He did not kill anyone. He does not have a gun. You can keep him under house arrest. Why do you not release him and take some other measures? Let him spend the last days of his life with his family and allow him to get some medical care.”

Bringing to mind the recent death of imprisoned academic Ahmet Turan Özcerit, Tanrıkulu also said: “As a matter of fact, there was an outcry recently on social media. The son of Associate Professor Ahmet Turan Özcerit was writing for days on social media. His father was a cancer patient. He used to be an associate professor at Sakarya University. Eventually, he was released from prison. But that release only happened when his cancer had reached the terminal phase. A diagnosis of his illness was not done on time, and he was not properly treated. And he lost his life. Detained patients should not die.”

Giving another example of sick prisoners Tanrıkulu said that “Sise Bingöl is a 70-year-old woman. Why is a woman of this age kept in custody? Whatever the crime she committed, she should not be kept in prison. She did not bomb anything, she did not kill anyone. I will continue to ask these things to the minister. I will continue to announce the sufferings as the spokesperson of the victims.”

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 107 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 autocratic 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 other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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