‘I fear for my life in here,’ says disabled bomb expert imprisoned on terrorism conviction

“I fear for my life in here,” said disabled former bomb disposal expert Bilal Konakçı in a letter he wrote from his prison cell in Turkey’s western Izmir province.

The letter, published by Bold Medya, said life had become unbearable as he was unable to take care of himself due to his severe disabilities. “Prison conditions are endangering my life as I can’t walk, use the bathroom or eat on my own,” he said.

Konakçı was a decorated police officer whose life was upended in 2009 after a bomb left in front of a school detonated while he was trying to defuse it. Besides losing his eyesight and right hand, he also lost some of the fingers on his left hand. He has difficulty walking as well as hearing loss.

Konakçı was arrested after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 for alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

He was accused of terrorism for having an account at Bank Asya, a commercial bank founded by businessmen affiliated with the Gülen movement, and for using the ByLock messaging app. He was released and put under house arrest after remaining in police custody and jail for more than a month.

He was re-arrested in February after Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a conviction and sentence handed down on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement 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 the abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In his letter Konakçı mentions his vulnerability in prison and being dependent on his cell mates. “I am a victim of slander,” he said. “The court did not even stop to think about how I could have committed those crimes in the state I’m in.”

Kemal Karanfil, a former judge, said on Twitter that he could not understand how the Supreme Court of Appeals could uphold Konakçı’s sentence. He said a blind and partially amputated Konakçı could not possibly use a smartphone application. He added that the court did not provide any messaging content from the application and that the evidence suggesting he used the app was obtained illegally.

Former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and human rights activist Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said it was unbelievable that Konakçı could be imprisoned. “What kind of judge upholds a prison sentence for a [severely] disabled man,” he tweeted.

Konakçı added that there were not enough staff members in prison to take care of sick patients in need. He said some sick patients had been found dead in their beds and that these things were affecting his mental health. “I am helpless in here, and my family is helpless outside,” he said.

According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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