Journalist Mevlüt Öztaş succumbs to cancer after belated release from prison

Journalist Mevlüt Öztaş, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer while in jail, died on Wednesday after his belated release from prison despite a medical report recommending it.

Öztaş was arrested in February 2018 as part of a post-coup purge of the faith-based Gülen movement conducted by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to crack down on its members, a crackdown that gained momentum after a failed coup in July 2016 for which Erdoğan held the movement responsible. The movement and its US-based leader Fethullah Gülen deny any involvement in the coup attempt.

Öztaş was sentenced to nine years, three months in prison in February 2019 for his eight years of work at the Gülen-affiliated Cihan news agency, which was seized by the government and closed down after with a decree-law after the coup attempt. His sentence was upheld by an appeals court.

Öztaş was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2020 in prison. He previously had a hernia and then gall bladder surgery during his detention. He developed kidney and liver failure and hypertension due to prison conditions. His asthma worsened. His repeated requests to be released on parole on health grounds were rejected.

A regional court also refused to release him despite a medical report from an Ankara hospital deeming him unfit to remain in prison. When he was at last released on June 23 upon appeal, the cancer had spread to his intestines, liver and lymph nodes.

He underwent chemotherapy at a hospital for about two months as an outpatient. He was hospitalized 10 days ago when his situation became critical. In this process, his kidneys completely failed. The doctors decided to discontinue the chemotherapy because his body could not withstand it.

Öztaş leaves behind a grieving wife and four children.

As part of the post-coup purge, the Turkish government dismissed more than 150,000 civil servants from state jobs and investigated almost 600,000 people, detaining or arresting half of them including hundreds of journalists on trumped-up terrorism-related charges.

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