Turkey’s İzmir F-type prison is restricting inmates’ visitation hours and preventing them from having contact visitation with their families despite a new regulation issued by the Justice Ministry in September aimed at improving the visitation rights of inmates, the Duvar news website reported.
According to inmates’ families, although six people are allowed to visit an inmate at one time, the prison administration has arbitrarily reduced the number to two. Additionally, while inmates are officially allowed a daily ration of 400g of bread, this has been reduced to 200g.
According to families many publications are not admitted into the prison for being “too political,” and a ban on possessing more than 15 books has recently been imposed. “It takes months for our packages to reach our imprisoned family members,” said some families.
“Many restrictions on prisoners were imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said one family member. “They are not allowed to socialize with one another, and sometimes families are turned away from the prison without being allowed to see their loved ones.”
Families of inmates in prisons all across the country have voiced protests as contact visitation in Turkish prisons has not been allowed since the beginning of the pandemic despite the elimination of restrictions even for such large gatherings as weddings and concerts.
Even if the inmates have been vaccinated, the families can only see their loved ones behind glass panels during non-contact visits.
In contact visitation, the inmate and visitor are permitted in the same area without a barrier between them, under close supervision.
Families have expressed their concern about the isolation imposed on inmates. F-type prisons are maximum security. They were created in 2000 by the Turkish government to house prisoners in cells alone or with only two fellow inmates.
Families said the further isolation of inmates due to pandemic regulations has created several problems. “Sometimes we have no information about our loved ones,” they said. “We are concerned about their health and general well-being. These regulations were supposed to be temporary, but now we wonder if they’re here to stay.”
Ahmet Çiçek from the Human Rights Association İzmir branch said they frequently received complaints about rights violations in the F-type prison. He said the new regulations had brought many problems and complaints from families. “The prison administration has not been responding to our phone calls,” he said. “But we will investigate these claims nevertheless.”
According to Mehmet Durakoğlu, chairperson of the İstanbul Bar Association, the pandemic is being abused by the government as a tool to legitimize rights restrictions and is especially true for prisons. “Precautions can be taken to save lives, but they should be done within the limits of the law,” Durakoğlu said.
The rapidly spreading COVID-19 presented great concerns in Turkey’s prisons, which were already notorious for human rights abuses, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions before the pandemic. The purge of thousands of dissidents in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016 has filled Turkey’s prisons, which today are overcrowded with tens of thousands of political prisoners.
The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law in April 2020 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the legislation excluded political prisoners, including opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws. The law prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.