Former military officer jailed on coup charges dies of COVID-19

Erdal Kılınç, a former lieutenant colonel who was jailed on coup charges following an abortive putsch in Turkey in July 2016, died of COVID-19 Wednesday morning after suffering from the virus for a month, the Bold Medya news web site reported.

Kılınç was sentenced to aggravated life for alleged involvement in the raid of an İstanbul police station that resulted in the death of eight people on the night of the coup attempt. He was also charged with “seeking to overthrow the constitutional order” and was serving his sentence in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison.

Kılınç was confined to an overcrowded cell with more than 30 other inmates and tested positive for the virus at the beginning of April. After his condition took a turn for the worse, Kılınç was taken to the hospital and put in intensive care.

His health continued to deteriorate in the hospital, and Kılınç was put on a ventilator. Soon after, the doctors induced a coma and gave him a 5 to 10 percent chance of survival. Kılınç’s final words were reportedly, “I’m so very tired.”

According to the Turkish penal code inmates who are in intensive care are eligible for release; however, Kılınç was not released from prison and gendarmes stood guard during his treatment.

COVID-19, which has been rapidly spreading in the country, has presented greater concerns in Turkey’s prisons, which were already notorious for human rights abuses, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions before the pandemic. The death of political prisoners has revealed once again how the Turkish government puts their health in immediate danger.

The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law on April 14 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the legislation excluded political prisoners, including opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws. The law prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.

Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 20,610 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Some 500,000 people have been investigated, and nearly 97,000 including academics, judges, doctors, teachers, lawyers, students, policemen and others have been put in pretrial detention since the coup attempt.

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