Hayri Özkul, an inmate convicted on terrorism charges due to his links to the Gülen movement, said he was not released from prison although he was eligible for parole and was issued “good behavior reports” by the prison administration, in a letter to Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu.
In his letter, which was published by Bold Medya, Özkul said there were currently up to 16 inmates in similar situations in the same prison in Kocaeli province.
Özkul was sentenced to seven years, six months in prison for membership in a terrorist organization.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the faith-based 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 intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that he accused Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
According to the Turkish Penal Code, people convicted of membership in a terrorist organization are eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
However, authorities have made it increasingly difficult for political prisoners to benefit from parole by requiring good behavior reports. Prisoners are also required to disclose their political beliefs and repent for their “crimes.” According to lawyers, this contravenes the Turkish Constitution.
If political prisoners do not answer these questions according to prison administrations’ expectations, they are denied release on the grounds of “poor conduct.”
Özkul said he had not seen his children for the last 18 months due to COVID-19 restrictions and was desperate to see them. “Does our misery make the authorities happy?” he asked. “Prison under these conditions is unbearable!”
Adding that he had sent numerous unanswered petitions demanding to know why he was not yet released, Özkul said he felt trapped in prison.
Many political prisoners and especially journalists are still awaiting parole despite having served the required amount of time in prison .
In some cases, inmates are not released because their prison sentences have not yet been upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals. However, even though some political prisoners signed waivers saying they accepted the lower court’s verdict and did not want to wait for a decision on the appeal, they were not granted parole.
In a statement last year Amnesty International called for Turkish authorities to release prisoners who are eligible for parole, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.