Former police chief not released from prison until too late succumbs to cancer

Tevfik Birecik, a 49-year-old former police chief who was not released from prison until his colon cancer had spread to other parts of his body, died on Saturday, the Kronos news website reported.

Birecik was transferred from prison to a hospital after a court deferred his sentence for six months for treatment when his cancer reached stage four, according to a close family friend. He was a father of four including a child with a disability.

Birecik was removed from his job with a post-coup government decree in the aftermath of a July 2016 coup attempt and was sentenced to eight years in March 2018 over his alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fetullah Gülen.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in July 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

According to a recent report by Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD), there were at least 1,517 sick inmates in Turkish prisons, 651 of whom were seriously ill, as of December 2022. Moreover, since January 2022, 94 sick inmates died while incarcerated.

Sick inmates face a number of difficulties such as overcrowded wards, heating problems, delayed admission to the infirmary, an insufficient number of doctors, delayed referrals to the hospital and a lack of nutritious food, clean water and adequate exercise. 

According to the law, the sentence of a prisoner who, due to a serious illness or disability, is unable to manage life on their own under prison conditions and who is not considered a serious or concrete danger to society may be suspended until they recover. However, the decision to suspend sentences is not implemented for many political prisoners. 

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 29,444 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.

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