My husband was tortured multiple times and wanted to die, says wife of inmate who succumbed to COVID-19

Nazlı Vatansever, the wife of Şeref Vatansever, a former computer science teacher who died of COVID-19 on Sunday after contracting the disease in northwestern Kocaeli Prison, said her husband was tortured in prison on multiple occasions.

Speaking to Bold Medya, Vatansever said her husband was taken out of jail and sent to a police station on March 9, 2017 after he had already been arrested. He was allegedly there for five days. According to Yalova State Hospital records, Vatansever was treated for physical trauma every single day during those five days.

“My husband is a very quiet man, he did not mention what happened in detail. The only thing he said was he could not live with the memory of what they did to him and he wanted to die in prison,” said Nazlı Vatansever.

According to Nazlı Vatansever her husband had prepared a long defense for a court hearing but decided not to speak. “The judge never listened to him, so he decided to stay silent,” she said.

Vatansever was sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison for alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement 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.

Erdoğan 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.

According to a Twitter account reporting rights violations in Turkish prisons, all inmates in Vatansever’s ward suffered from COVID-19. An estimated 300 inmates contracted COVID-19 in Kocaeli Prison as cases reached a daily average of 35,000 in Turkey.

The rapidly spreading disease has presented greater concerns in Turkey’s prisons, which were already notorious for human rights abuses, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions before the pandemic.

Nazlı Vatansever said her husband’s condition deteriorated and that he was taken to a hospital on April 22, but she only found out about it on May 5. Upon calling the hospital for more information, she was told that her husband was fine and only had “flu-like symptoms.”

“We do not know what happened in prison after my husband was diagnosed,” said Nazlı Vatansever. “He did not have any underlying conditions and was a healthy man.”

Emphasizing that her husband may have been a victim of negligence in prison, Nazlı Vatansever said she had many unanswered questions.

During the previous COVID wave last December, Züleyha Gülüm, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said Turkish prisons were turning into scenes of massacre and that political prisoners were the most disadvantaged.

A purge of thousands of dissidents in the aftermath of the 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 on April 14, 2020 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation, which excludes political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws, prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.

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