Hakan Baş, 46, a former history teacher who was arrested for alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, was hospitalized after contracting COVID-19 in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison and is currently in critical condition, Bold Medya reported.
Baş was hospitalized after fainting several times in his cell and testing positive for COVID-19. Before falling sick, Baş suffered from several psychological problems including anxiety disorders, emotional disorders and paranoia. According to his family Baş stopped communicating with people around him and barely spoke with his family during visiting hours.
Baş had lost his will to live and had stopped eating. He also had trembling hands and was constantly confused. According to his family, his cellmates took care of his basic needs.
Baş was arrested in July 2017 based on the testimony of secret witnesses and the ByLock messaging application on his phone. The Turkish government claims that supporters of the Gülen movement used ByLock, an encrypted messaging application that was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, to ensure the privacy of their communication.
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.
In different opinions, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group of Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) said even if one’s use of ByLock app was documented, it would have been mere exercise of freedom of expression, a right protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Baş’s family pleaded with authorities to release him so he could regain his mental and physical health.
The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law on April 14 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the legislation excluded political prisoners, including opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws. The law prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.
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 movement.