Kurdish prisoners in Turkey complain of restrictions on their language, culture

A prison administration in Ankara has refused to deliver Kurdish-language books sent to inmates and forbidden them from singing in Kurdish and performing folk dances, the Evrensel newspaper reported on Friday, citing a letter sent by 30 inmates.

In the letter, addressed to the Civil Society in the Penal System (CİSST), a Turkey-based NGO focused on prisoners’ rights, the inmates detailed several restrictions and problems they’ve been facing behind bars.

They said the prison administration refused to deliver Kurdish-language books sent to them unless they covered translation costs. Heval Zelal, a lawyer at CİSST, said the practice is discriminatory since the cost is not required in the delivery of publications in English or Arabic.

The inmates also reported that they were prohibited from singing in Kurdish and performing the halay, a folkloric dance popular among Kurds.

Other complaints included insufficient open-air time, unhygienic conditions and inadequate meals.

Turkey is by far the leader in the number of prisoners in Europe, according to the 2022 Council of Europe (CoE) Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations Report. The country’s prisons are also often criticized for being overcrowded and unhygienic.

Mistreatment by prison staff is also a common problem, which is exacerbated by the climate of impunity as authorities often fail to investigate complaints.

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