Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and an MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has depicted the deaths of critically ill prisoners in Turkey who are not released in time to receive proper medical treatment as acts of “murder” committed by the state.
“They refuse to release the prisoners until it comes to the point of no return. They only release the prisoners when they realize they will die soon, not wanting them to die in prison,” he said.
The violation of prison inmates’ basic rights in Turkey is one of the topics raised frequently by activists and human rights defenders. Only last week two prisoners, journalist Mevlüt Öztaş and TV director Fatih Terzioğlu, succumbed to cancer, which they developed in prison and for which they could not get proper treatment. Both were refused the postponement of their sentences they were entitled to and were belatedly released despite medical reports attesting to the fact that they were unfit to remain in prison.
According to the Human Rights Association (IHD), there are currently 1,605 sick prisoners in Turkish prisons, 604 of whom are critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients have forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they are not released. Authorities refuse to release 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.
In an interview with the Kronos news website, Gergerlioğlu, who frequently brings up the rights violations of prisoners on the floor of parliament, noted that these deaths are caused by belated release, adding: “These deaths are acts of murder. The ruling party is the murderer and state institutions along with the Ministry of Justice involved in this wickedness are accomplices to the crime.”
According to Gergerlioğlu, prison administrations, judicial bodies, deputies in parliament, the Ministry of Justice and some doctors treat prisoners according to their “type of crime.” “Even the doctors treat their patients according to the prisoners’ ideological leaning and affiliation. Their most basic rights are violated. They apply the so-called ‘enemy law.’ Doctors, hospitals, gendarmes, prison guards and lawyers all act as if they made a joint decision.”
Gergerlioğlu added that during and after a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a failed coup on July 15, 2016 human right abuses in prisons peaked. “People are dying before our eyes. This shows that human life has no value. Prisoners in critical condition are not released based on politically motivated decisions. They are left to the mercy of prison wardens, and nobody questions this. Courts fail to release them despite medical reports. We try to make their cases heard by reaching out to ministries, judges and prosecutors and also raise these issues in parliament, but it’s like talking to a wall. The state with all its institutions is the wall. It’s sheer cruelty.”
Referring to the deaths of Mevlüt Öztaş and Fatih Hilmioğlu due to their delayed treatment and belated release Gergerlioğlu said: “I called the hospital umpteen times for Öztaş’s report. I was unable to get them moving. The coronavirus outbreak has been used as a pretext. Every step needed to draft a report takes weeks or months. ‘The man is in critical condition,’ you tell them. ‘There’s nothing we can do,’ is the response you get.”
He claimed that that prisoners do not have proper access to healthcare facilities such as an infirmary or a hospital. “They have trouble being sent to a prison infirmary or arranging an appointment with a hospital, and when they do succeed in getting an appointment, they are left to the mercy of the gendarmes to take them to the hospital. Sometimes they don’t have a vehicle or personnel to transport inmates. Sometimes the patients need complicated tests and need to go to the hospital many times, which prolongs the whole process and make it much more complicated. The pandemic has made matters worse. They sometimes prefer not to go to the hospital to avoid a 14-day quarantine. When they at last manage to get a medical report deeming them unfit to remain in prison, this time the courts refuse to act on the report. Eventually, by the time the prisoner is released, they have lost a lot of weight and their illness has worsened considerably.”
According to Gergerlioğlu, sick prisoners are released when the authorities realize they will die soon. “They don’t want to be held responsible if an inmate dies in prison. So they release them in great haste when they realize the prisoner will die soon. And they do indeed die a short time after their release. When I ask the Justice Ministry for the number of deaths in prison, they give very low figures. Very low because they don’t want prisoners to die in prison. They keep them until the very last moment, and when they realize they are going to die, they release them immediately.”