Police officer jailed over Gülen links dies of cancer after belated release from prison

Abdulvahit Tunçay, a former police officer who was fired in the aftermath of a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 and was subsequently jailed, has died of cancer after his belated release from prison, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Bold Medya news website reported.

Tunçay, who was jailed in Tekirdağ Prison in northwestern Turkey, was also denied timely medical treatment although he wrote dozens of petitions to the prison administration asking to be taken to a hospital.

Tunçay was most recently jailed in October 2020 to serve a 25-year sentence due to his 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. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.

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

“They left my husband to die. They did not even allow him to go to the prison infirmary. He filed 25-30 petitions about his need for treatment. … He was not released until April 24 although cancer had spread to his entire body. He dropped to 50 kilograms from 70 kilograms. They did not release a person with stage four pancreatic cancer,” Tunçay’s wife Songül said, recounting her husband’s plight in prison.

Tunçay died on May 1.

He was first arrested two months after the failed coup of July 15, 2016. He had been in Sincan Prison in Ankara and Keskin Prison in Kırıkkale for two years until he was released from prison pending trial. Tunçay was re-arrested in Tekirdağ in October 2020.

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

A recent report by the Ankara-based Human Rights Association (İHD) said there are at least 1,605 ailing inmates in the country’s prisons, 604 of whom are in critical condition. The İHD said it estimates the number of sick inmates to be higher and calls on the government to release them and delay their sentences as the coronavirus pandemic poses a further threat to their medical well-being.

According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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