Opposition MP Gergerlioğlu calls for urgent release of ailing philanthropist

Human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu has called for the immediate release from prison of 82-year-old businessman and philanthropist Yusuf Bekmezci.

Although Turkey’s Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) issued a medical report saying Bekmezci was not fit to remain in prison, the İzmir 2nd High Criminal Court denied his release and said there was too much evidence against him.

Gergerlioğlu criticized the decision on Twitter, saying he had been in intensive care for 18 days and should be released immediately.

Bekmezci, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, underwent an operation on January 4, during which his heart stopped. Bekmezci was revived after 15 minutes of heart massage and electroshock and was taken to intensive care, where he remains unconscious.

Bekmezci was arrested for alleged links to the Gülen movement and tried on charges of terrorism, with the prosecutor demanding a life sentence.

The court handed down a sentence of 17 years, four months in April 2021.

Speaking to Bold Medya earlier, his daughter Şeyma Bekmezci said her ailing father had been condemned to die in prison.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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. He 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 Şeyma Bekmezci, her father could barely understand the court proceedings due to his advanced Alzheimer’s and was unable to defend himself. The lack of proper health care in prison has caused his mental state to deteriorate. “He completely forgets himself in court and is in a vulnerable position,” she said.

Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners so they can seek proper treatment.

According to the Human Rights Association (İHD), as of June 2020 there were more than 1,605 sick inmates in Turkish prisons, approximately 600 of whom were critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients had forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they were not released. Authorities refuse to free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society. In the first eight months of 2020, five critically ill prisoners passed away because they were not released in time to receive proper medical treatment.

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