Inmate with late stage cancer taken to emergency ward after condition worsens

Yusuf Özmen, a stage 4 cancer patient who remains in prison despite a medical report saying he is almost totally disabled, was taken to the emergency ward on Friday, the Bold Medya news website reported.

Özmen was taken to the emergency ward after his heart rate increased to 200 bpm. Doctors said he needed an angiography, but he is currently alone in a quarantine cell in prison due to COVID-19-related measures.

Özmen suffers from testicular cancer that quickly metastasized to his lungs. He was first arrested in 2018, when he had stage 3 cancer, and was in pretrial detention for 18 months. During his time in prison, he underwent major surgery and was sent back to prison six days later.

Özmen was released pending trial in 2019 but was re-arrested in March after the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld an eight year, nine month sentence on terrorism charges due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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 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.

A medical report signed by 40 doctors said Özmen was not fit to remain in prison. However, the İstanbul Institute of Forensic Medicine issued another health report in April saying he could stay in prison. The report added that the institute should be consulted if Özmen’s health continued to deteriorate.

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.

Human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said ill prisoners were not released until they were at the point of no return. He claimed that prisoners did not have access to proper healthcare facilities such as hospitals or infirmaries.

According to the most recent statistics published by the Human Rights Association (İHD), the number of sick prisoners is in the thousands, more than 600 of whom are critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients have medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they are not released. Authorities refuse to free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society.

A number of critically ill prisoners passed away in 2020 because they were not released in time to receive needed medical treatment.

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