NGO report on Turkey’s prisons highlights widespread mistreatment, rights violations

Turkish prisons are beset by persistent issues of torture, overcrowding and discriminatory practices, according to the annual report of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) covering the period from May 2023 to April 2024.

The report highlights instances of physical abuse, arbitrary disciplinary actions and degrading treatment at Turkish prisons, long notorious for torture and ill-treatment of inmates, which have seen a significant rise, particularly since a failed coup in 2016 and a subsequent state of emergency. The report details numerous cases of physical and psychological abuse, exacerbated by overcrowding.

Torture in custody and prisons is a systematic problem in Turkey about which local rights groups, parliamentarians and state authorities receive hundreds of complaints every year. Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution that expressed concern about an increase in alleged incidents reported from Turkey in past years.

The overcrowding crisis has been a growing issue since 2005, with prison populations swelling annually. As of April 1, 2024 the number of detainees and convicts stood at 322,780, significantly exceeding the capacity of 295,702 across 403 penal institutions. This includes 45,717 detainees and 277,063 convicts, with 13,561 women and 2,912 children among them. The report stresses that despite a release recently legislated by parliament that temporarily reduced numbers, the prison population rebounded sharply, increasing by 71,679 in just seven months.

Turkey is by far the leader in the number of prisoners in Europe, according to the 2023 Council of Europe (CoE) Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations.

According to the report, recent legislative reforms, including the controversial 2020 and 2023 amendments, excluded certain political prisoners and failed to alleviate the overcrowding effectively. Despite the release of approximately 110,000 prisoners following the 2023 reform, the prison population has continued to swell, increasing by 71,679 in just seven months.

The report shows that the physical conditions and infrastructure of prisons are inadequate to accommodate such numbers, leading to numerous human rights violations.

Health care access for inmates remains a significant concern, with restrictions on medical services exacerbating the suffering of sick prisoners. The report notes that despite legislation, the situation for ailing prisoners has not improved, with many denied proper medical evaluations and humane treatment.

The report highlights at least 20 deaths in prisons in 2023 due to various causes, including illness, suicide and violence. However, the lack of thorough investigation into these deaths leaves many questions about the conditions leading to such fatalities.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2022 allocated 8.7 billion lira for the construction of 36 new prisons in the next four years. The number of Turkish penal institutions will increase to 419 this year with the opening of 20 new prisons. There were 403 prisons in the country as of June 2024.

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