Terminally ill inmate’s death in prison is murder, opposition deputy says

The death of Ahmet Kaplan, a 48-year-old former police officer suffering from stage-four lung cancer, alone in a prison infirmary despite repeated requests for his release amounts to murder said Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and rights activist.

In a tweet Gergerlioğlu described Kaplan’s death as an act of murder committed by authorities who did not approve his release and watched him get sicker with every passing day. Gergerlioğlu said he would make sure the people responsible for Kaplan’s death would face justice.

According to Bold Medya, Kaplan was summarily dismissed and arrested after a failed coup in July 2016 for alleged affiliation with the Gülen Movement. He was sentenced to seven years, six months in prison. He was diagnosed with lung cancer on October 16, 2020 but was not able to receive proper treatment because the hospital could not accommodate inmates.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the 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. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

As part of the crackdown, Erdoğan dismissed some 150,000 public servants including members of the armed forces, police officers, teachers, doctors and academics by emergency decree-laws, locking up tens of thousands and seizing their assets.

Kaplan was taken to İskenderun State Hospital in southern Turkey whenever his health worsened. During one of his visits, the doctors discovered that the cancer had metastasized to his kidneys. Yet, he was not admitted to the hospital and was sent back to prison.

Gergerlioğlu said he raised Kaplan’s situation in two separate parliamentary questions and asked the Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül why an end-stage cancer patient was neglected in prison. He said these questions were unanswered and petitions sent to the prosecutor’s office demanding Kaplan’s release were also unanswered.

According to Gergerlioğlu, Kaplan’s family visited him on September 18 and noticed his health had deteriorated. “He was even unable to go down the stairs, and [we were told] his lungs had developed edema. He could not even speak on the phone,” they said.

Gergerlioğlu had previously depicted the deaths of critically ill prisoners in Turkey who are not released in time to receive proper medical treatment as acts of “murder” committed by the state.

“They refuse to release the prisoners until it comes to the point of no return. They only release the prisoners when they realize they will die soon, not wanting them to die in prison,” he said.

Gergerlioğlu added that during and after a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the failed coup in July 2016 human rights abuses in prisons peaked. “People are dying before our eyes. This shows that human life has no value. Prisoners in critical condition are not released based on politically motivated decisions. They are left to the mercy of prison wardens, and nobody questions this. Courts fail to release them despite medical reports. We try to make their cases heard by reaching out to ministries, judges and prosecutors and also raise these issues in parliament, but it’s like talking to a wall. The state with all its institutions is the wall. It’s sheer cruelty.”

According to the Human Rights Association (İHD), there are currently 1,605 sick prisoners in Turkish prisons, 604 of whom are critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients have forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they are not released. Authorities refuse to release 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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