Inmate with late stage cancer awaiting presidential pardon for 8 months

Yusuf Özmen, an ailing cancer patient who is serving a sentence on conviction of alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, has been awaiting a presidential decision on his release for eight months after medical authorities found him unfit to remain in prison.

Özmen’s wife, Aynur Özmen, has made a public appeal on social media, urging action from the president’s office: “My husband is suffering from stage four cancer. In 2023, a report from ATK acknowledged that his situation required constant supervision.

It has been eight months since we applied for a presidential pardon to have his remaining sentence lifted. There has been no result. My husband’s release depends only on a signature from the president.”

Despite a medical report signed by 40 doctors saying Özmen was not fit to stay in prison, Özmen was previously denied parole three times due to Turkey’s Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) saying he could remain incarcerated.

As the number of sick prisoners dying in prison has increased, doubts about the credibility and independence of the ATK have grown, as the institution is affiliated with the Ministry of Justice.

Özmen was arrested for alleged links to the Gülen movement. He was accused of using the ByLock smartphone application and sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, and he is currently in a prison in eastern Erzurum province.

Turkey has considered ByLock, once widely available online, a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement since a coup attempt in July 2016 despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch, leading to the arrest of thousands who were using it.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of Dec. 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 in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized the authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners so they can seek proper treatment. Human rights defender and opposition deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said ill prisoners were not released until they were at the point of no return.

Turkish authorities have denied political prisoners, even those with critical illnesses, release from prison so they can at least seek proper treatment. Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners.

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