HDP calls Turkish prisons ‘torture centers,’ urges EP, EU and UN to take action

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on Friday called on the United Nations, the European Parliament and the European Commission to “urgently” take action against alarming levels of torture and other ill-treatment in Turkish prisons.

In a press release given to reporters, the HDP accused autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration and its ultranationalist allies of using prisons and detention centers as “key areas for brutally oppressive government policies.”

“Prisoners are physically abused on a regular basis. [They] are beaten up and sometimes killed when they refuse to stand for roll call or give a military salute, reject strip searches or ask to see a doctor,” the HDP’s Commission on Prisons said on Friday according to a report by Kurdistan24.

“The most recent, dreadful example is that of Ulas Yurdakul, a Kurdish man who was sleeping on a mat under the stairs due to lack of space. Prisoners and prison guards beat him up regularly. Eventually, he was beaten to death,” the HDP statement read.

It also claimed the existence of audio recordings of the perpetrators bragging about having killed him, how the guards covered up their crime and that they had managed to kill “a terrorist” without having to do military service.

The statement noted that Turkey’s Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers puts the number of inmates held in prisons across the country as of February 2018 at 235,888, but added that the nation’s prisons, at full capacity, were large enough to hold only 208,830.

It also stated that 50,000 of those prisoners were incarcerated after having been charged with political crimes. Last month, claims of torture in several prisons made headlines in media outlets run by Kurdish and other opposition parties in Turkey

The HDP listed the prisons as those in Elazığ, Bursa, Rize, Mersin, Ankara, and Balıkesir provinces, where guards and officials responsible for torture had “total impunity.”

The HDP also charged that terminally-ill prisoners as well were victims of the “failing prison system” in Turkey. “Even though there is not a death sentence in Turkey,” many prisoners die as a result of poor treatment, or because they are denied much-needed medical treatment, the party said, and listed several examples.

Among them, Celal Şeker, an inmate, is said to have been ruled ‘unfit to stay in prison’ by multiple medical authorities, but later died in prison after a heart attack.

Another, Murat Saat, was serving a life sentence when he died after treatment was withheld, and Ahmet Bayar, arrested for attending a protest, died three months after his release. According to the statement, Bayar would have survived longer if he had received cancer treatment in prison, or was released earlier.

Friday’s statement also named prisoners it said were in need of urgent care, including Seyran Demir, a young female prisoner with leukemia, who had lost all of her teeth and currently weighs just 35 kilograms, as well as 78-year-old Sise Bingöl, jailed for ‘making terror propaganda.’

The HDP said its members and officials now detained were being singled out to be tortured and receive other forms of maltreatment.

Last month, claimed the statement, guards at Bursa Prison ordered a roll-call and told inmates to give a military salute. “When prisoners, most of whom are jailed HDP officials, refused to do so, they were first cuffed in the back and beaten up brutally, and then kept in solitary confinement with their hands cuffed behind them for eight hours,” it read.

The same practice had also been documented at Rize Prison, the statement continued, where HDP officials “with broken bones and fractures resulting from the beatings were denied hospital visits.

Authorities, including ministers, were not responsive to reports and allegations of torture, charged the statement, noting that “Not a single guard or prison staff has been removed from their position for using violence against prisoners, while many prisoners have received extra punishment for demanding to file a complaint on torture or ill-treatment they face.”

“As if prison conditions are not bad [enough],” it continued, “the government has decided to impose prison uniforms on those charged with ‘terrorism,’ a broad and ambiguous term in Turkey that includes almost any dissident voice.”

The HDP statement concluded by asserting that “Erdoğan and his allies are gradually building a dictatorial rule under conditions of the emergency rule, militarization, and populist nationalism,” and was using the mass arrests as a tool to squelch all opposition before upcoming elections.

The torture, ill-treatment, abusive, inhuman and degrading treatment of people who are deprived of their liberties in Turkey’s detention centers and prisons have become a norm rather than an exception under increased nationalistic euphoria and religious zealotry in the country in wake of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

In a report titled “Tortured to Death”, SCF investigators exposed on Nov. 21, 2017 the case of 42-year-old history teacher Gökhan Açıkkollu, who died after enduring 13 days of torture and abuse in police detention in İstanbul.

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 Turkish jails and detention centers where a torture and ill-treatment are being practiced. In most cases, authorities concluded these to have been as suicides without any effective, independent investigation.

Suspicious deaths have also taken place beyond the 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 death and suicides in Turkey in a list as of February 27, 2018 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 President 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 15. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. On December 13, 2017, 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, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu 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.”

Full text of the HDP’s statement on torture in Turkish prisons is as follows: 

Urgent Call: Turkish prisons have evolved into torture centers!

As President Erdoğan and his ultranationalist allies are gradually building a dictatorial rule under conditions of emergency rule, militarization and populist nationalism, prisons and detention centers have become key areas for brutally oppressive government policies. Since the ruling AKP came to power in 2002, prison population has dramatically increased in the country. Following the abortive coup in 2016, grave human rights violations have become even more rampant and massive arrests have filled Turkish prisons with countless political dissidents. According to Şaban Yılmaz, Turkey’s Director General of Prisons and Detention Houses, as of 7 February 2018, the population of Turkish prisons reached 235,888, while the capacity of prisons in Turkey is sufficient to host 208,830 prisoners. Around 50,000 of these prisoners are charged with political crimes. Various reports and observers have indicated that arrests by a judiciary that is under direct control of the executive serve as a political tool to paralyze or destroy the democratic opposition in the run up to the presidential elections.

Over-population is not the only problem in prisons.

Prisoners are physically abused on a regular basis. Prisoners are beaten up and sometimes killed, when they refuse to roll-call standing up, give military salute, reject strip searches, or ask to see a doctor.

The most recent dreadful death was that of Ulaş Yurdakul, a Kurdish man who was sleeping on a mat under the stairs due to lack of space. Prisoners and prison guards beat him up regularly. Eventually, he was beaten to death.

There are audio records of lynching prisoners who bragged about how the guards covered up their crime and how they managed to kill “a terrorist” without having to do military service.

Terminally-ill prisoners are other victims of the failing prison system in Turkey. Even though there is not death sentence in Turkey, many prisoners die in prisons as they are not treated properly or are denied hospital visits.

Celal Şeker, who was ruled to be ‘unfit to stay in prison’ by many medical authorities, died in prison after a heart attack. Murat Saat, sentenced to aggravated life sentence 21 years ago, also died due to lack of medical services.

Ahmet Bayar, arrested for attending a protest, died 3 months after his release. Bayar would have survived longer if he had received cancer treatment in prison or released earlier.

Seyran Demir, a young woman prisoner with leukemia, has lost all of her teeth and currently weighs 35 kilograms. If Demir is not treated in a proper hospital, she will most likely die in prison as well.

Sise Bingöl, 78, was jailed for ‘making terror propaganda.’ Bingöl, an elderly Kurdish woman with many diseases, may face the fate of many other sick prisoners. There are countless similar examples.

Prison guards and staff are encouraged with impunity.

In February 2018, alarming news about the torture of prisoners have come from many prisons across the country. In some prisons torture and ill treatment have peaked and become routinized. In particular, Elazığ Prison, Bursa H Type Prison, Rize Kalkandere L Type Prison, Tarsus Prison Complex, Sincan Prison and Balıkesir Kepsut Prison are centers where torture and ill treatment of prisoners by prison staff and guards is met with total impunity.

In an exemplary case in the last week of February 2018, prison guards ordered the prisoners in Bursa H Type to do a roll-call standing up and give a military salute beforehand. When prisoners, most of whom are jailed HDP officials, refused to do so, they were first cuffed in the back and then beaten up brutally, and then kept in solitary confinement with their hands cuffed in the back for eight hours. The same practice happened also in Rize Kalkandere L Type Prison and around the same time. Prisoners, including many HDP officials, were first beaten up and then received communication penalties (they will not be able to have phone calls and visits from family members for 2 weeks). Many prisoners with broken bones and fractures resulting from the beatings were denied hospital visits.

Government officials remain silent to any dialogue attempt.

As our deputies and officials receive allegations on human rights violations in prisons, they first attempt to talk to relevant ministers or officials. However, they are either left without a response or face complete disregard despite severe and shocking allegations. Not a single prison guard or staff has been removed from his/her position for using violence against prisoners, while many prisoners have received extra punishment for demanding to file a complaint on torture or ill treatment they face.

As if prison conditions are not already bad, the government has decided to impose prison uniforms on those charged with “terrorism,” a broad and ambiguous term in Turkey that includes almost any dissident voice – politicians, members of parliament, mayors, activists, human rights advocates, trade unionists, journalists, intellectuals, academics and the like. If the government implements this decision of imposing uniforms, it is most likely that Turkey’s prisons will become extremely tense spaces of violence, torture and death. Political prisoners have expressed strong commitment to resisting this decision.

We call upon all democratic and human rights institutions and relevant international entities to urgently take action against alarming levels of torture and ill treatment in Turkish prisons.”

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