Paralyzed inmate fit to remain in prison despite major heart surgery, says Turkish Council of Forensic Medicine

Şerife Sulukan, 45, a paralyzed female inmate who underwent major heart surgery in September, was issued a medical report by Turkey’s Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) saying she is fit to remain in prison, Bold Medya reported.

Despite the fact that the ATK report underlines Sulukan suffers from epilepsy, heart disease and hemiplegia (muscle weakness), it says she can walk and eat without assistance and is fit to remain in prison.

Doubts over the independence and credibility of the ATK, an institution that assesses the condition of sick inmates to decide if they are fit to remain in prison and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, have grown in recent years as more and more critically ill prisoners have died behind bars.

Sulukan, a former teacher who has been suffering from paralysis for more than a year, was sent to prison in early May after the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a six year, three month prison sentence on conviction of affiliation with the Gülen movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim 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 an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In June 2022 Sulukan suffered an epileptic seizure in prison. In a letter to Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, Sulukan said she did not have access to proper medical care in prison.

After the ATK’s latest decision on Sulukan, Gergerlioğlu said in a speech in parliament that ”Şerife Sulukan is 89 percent disabled, suffers from epilepsy and has just had heart surgery. Despite all this, the cruel Istanbul ATK hasn’t made a decision to release her from prison.

“It’s incomprehensible how ridiculous this is. How many times will I say it, I say it every week, I also said it to the Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ’s face. But these atrocities continue.”

Turkish authorities have denied political prisoners, even those with critical illnesses, release from prison so they can at least seek proper treatment. Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners.

Gergerlioğlu said ill prisoners were not released until they were at the point of no return. He claimed that prisoners did not have access to proper healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu also recently stated that there were close to 1,600 sick prisoners in Turkey, of whom 600 were seriously ill. He addressed the ATK and asked them to abide by medical ethics and to be more conscientious when issuing reports since they could cause the death of ailing inmates.

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