Inmate denied release despite 2 brain tumors and additional health problems

Lütfi Koç, who was arrested for alleged membership in the Gülen movement, has been denied release from prison despite developing two brain tumors and additional health problems, his wife Züleyha Koç said in an interview with Zeynep Kaya of the Tr724 news website.

Koç worked for an educational institution that was associated with the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. He was arrested in April, after which he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Züleyha Koç said her husband was also struggling with other health problems. “He lost nearly 20 kilos in prison, and there is a swelling in his abdomen. The doctors are testing him for cancer,” she said.

According to Koç her husband started having hallucinations. “He said he sees ants walking all over his body and weird men in his room who talk to him,” she said, adding that her husband could barely walk to the dining hall to eat.

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 locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

His wife says Koç is under immense psychological pressure in prison, which has increased since he was barred from going out to the yard for fresh air.  “He begged to be allowed to go outside for some air. But they claim he cannot go out to the yard because he’s visiting the hospital and it’s against quarantine rules,” she said. “This is just an excuse.”

The terrible conditions of quarantine cells were brought to the public’s attention by Vedat Ece from the Independent Lawyers’ Association (ÖHD), who claimed that major violations of prisoners’ rights have been occurring in quarantine cells, where inmates could end up staying for months.

He said he interviewed inmates in Silivri Prison, notorious for its large number of political prisoners, where he found that inmates were not allowed sports, cultural activities or any kind of socialization during the long months of quarantine.

According to his wife, Koç cannot get proper treatment. He was taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with the tumors but has not been treated for them. “There is no consistency in his treatment,” she said. “Each time a different doctor sees him, whoever is on call, and he is sent back to the prison, where the conditions are abysmal.”

In addition to his health problems, Koç has two disabled children who are completely dependent on their parents. Züleyha Koç said she was left alone to take care of both children, which required round-the-clock attention. She said her children were psychologically affected by their father’s absence.

“I ask the authorities to at least put him under house arrest,” she said. “My daughter has barely spoken since her father’s arrest and needs him. But my husband also needs proper treatment.”

The situation of sick prisoners has been repeatedly criticized by human rights activists, and opposition politicians.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and deputy 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 reaches 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.

Züleyha Gülüm, a deputy from the HDP, said prisons were used as a threat mechanism by the government, where political prisoners were unlawfully kept. She brought to mind the recent death of two Kurds, Takiyettin Özkahraman, 75, and Ali Boçnak, 80, who were both seriously ill and died in prison. Gülüm said political prisoners were not released if even if they were critically ill despite being at risk of contracting COVID-19.

“The justice system in Turkey is like the Middle Ages,” she said. “Many critically ill political prisoners are arbitrarily denied release despite the law.”

Gülüm agreed with Gergerlioğlu in that 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 had made a joint decision.”

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