Justice Ministry admits to overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons during pandemic

Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash

Turkey’s Justice Ministry has admitted in response to a petition submitted by an opposition deputy that overcrowding has occasionally occurred in some of Turkey’s prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic in provinces where unpredictably large numbers of people are detained at once, Turkish Minute reported on Saturday, citing the Gazete Duvar news website.

The reply came after Gülistan Kılıç Koçyiğit, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), submitted a petition to direct questions to the Justice Ministry regarding claims by some inmates in the Bandırma T Type Closed Prison in Turkey’s western Balıkesir province that 25 prisoners were confined in a ward designed to hold only eight people.

According to Duvar, the HDP deputy stated in the petition that the inmates were worried that overcrowding in the ward might lead to coronavirus infections since it creates hygiene problems and makes it impossible for them to abide by the measures adopted by the government to curb the spread of the pandemic.

“A temporary state of overcrowding arises in some provinces when an unpredictable number of detentions take place. However, such problems are solved by transfers to other facilities on short notice,” the ministry said in reply, adding that prisons in Turkey were built and are being managed in line with standards and criteria set by the Council of Europe (CoE)’s Committee of Ministers, the United Nations and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

The CoE’s recent annual report revealed that Turkey had the highest incarceration rate of the 47 member countries in 2020, with 357 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants.

According to the report, Turkey’s prison population rate has increased 115.3 percent in the last 10 years, and it had the most crowded prisons in Europe with 127 inmates per 100 available places on January 31, 2020. There are 297,019 inmates in the Turkish penal institutions despite the fact that their capacity is 233,194, the report said.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Abdüllatif Şener stated in a December report that there has been a record rise in the number of prisons constructed as well as the number of people who were put behind bars during the rule of Justice and Development Party (AKP). The government will have built a total of 180 prisons in the last eight years after they inaugurate 39 more prisons in 2021, Şener said, adding that there are currently 355 prisons in Turkey.

Mass detentions and arrests have been taking place in Turkey since a coup attempt in July 2016. The AKP government accuses the faith-based Gülen movement of masterminding the abortive putsch, although the movement strongly denies any involvement.

Human Rights Watch says people alleged to have links to the movement inspired by the ideas and activism of Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Muslim cleric, is the largest group targeted by Erdoğan.

According to the latest official figures, a total of 622,646 people have been investigated, 301,932 have been detained and 96,000 others have been imprisoned due to alleged links to the group, while there are currently 25,467 real and alleged members in Turkey’s prisons.

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