Torture, Inhuman Treatment and Conditions in Turkish Prisons: 2023 in Review

Turkey has experienced a marked resurgence of torture and ill-treatment in custody over the past seven years and especially since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Lack of condemnation from higher officials and a readiness to cover up allegations rather than investigate them have resulted in widespread impunity for the security forces.

The enormous gulf between Turkey’s constitutional provisions for the protection of human rights and the grim reality on the ground continued to grow during the year. Several reports from rights groups addressed the issue of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and underlined the fact that some police officers, prison authorities and military and intelligence units employed these practices.

As part of a crackdown launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has jailed tens of thousands of people on terrorism-related charges since July 2016. Most of them were merely critical of the government and had not engaged in any criminal activity. The crackdown caused overcrowding in prisons, resulting in situations where inmates were underfed and did not have beds or basic products for personal hygiene. Inmates who had landed in prison at an early age grew up in these circumstances and over time developed long-lasting health problems.

According to the Directorate General of Prisons and Detention Houses, Turkish prisons are holding 51,320 more prisoners than their overall capacity. The official data revealed that Turkish prisons are holding 341,294 people, although they can safely accommodate only 289,974.

In December the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) faulted Turkey for the poor prison conditions suffered by eight people who were given less than three square meters of living space in overcrowded prisons in the aftermath of the coup attempt.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on torture and ill-treatment in places of detention across Europe, addressing the increase in alleged incidents reported from Turkey in past years. Initiated based on a report by Cypriot MP Constantinos Efstathiou, the resolution named Turkey as among the countries where credible reports suggest that torture and ill-treatment tend to be systematic and/or widespread, along with Azerbaijan and Russia.

In June 22 prison staff members, comprising guards and two administrators, were detained on warrants issued by Turkish prosecutors for alleged torture and mistreatment of inmates and embezzlement of public funds.

In April 68 women incarcerated in Ankara’s Sincan Prison in a letter asked the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to take immediate action on suspicious deaths in the country’s prisons and to launch an investigation into them.

Prisoners in the provinces of southern Turkey hit by devastating earthquakes on February 6 faced increased mistreatment and rights abuses. In addition human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing seriously ill prisoners so they can seek proper treatment.

Here is some of the most important news from 2023 on torture, inhuman treatment and the conditions in Turkish prisons:

Ankara Bar published 5 censored reports on torture, ill-treatment of alleged Gülenists  

File photo.

The Ankara Bar Association published five reports by its human rights committee on allegations of torture made by detainees held at a police detention center that were previously censored by management and prompted the then-committee chair and several lawyers to resign. More..

22 prison staff members detained over alleged torture, mistreatment and embezzlement  

Twenty-two prison staff members, comprising guards and two administrators, were detained on warrants issued by Turkish prosecutors for alleged torture and mistreatment of inmates and embezzlement of public funds. More..

520 children under the age of 6 in prison with their mothers in Turkey

A total of 520 children under the age of 6 are accompanying their mothers in Turkish prisons, according to a report released by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu. Turkish prisons host some 14,000 women, 470 of whom are accompanied by their children, the report said. More..

Ankara prosecutor’s office refused to pursue case of female journalists allegedly strip-searched

A criminal complaint filed by female journalists who were detained in October 2022 and claimed to have been strip-searched at Sincan Prison in Ankara was declined by the city’s chief public prosecutor’s office. More..

IHD said conditions in Turkish prisons poor, human rights violations common

The Human Rights Association (IHD) said conditions in Turkish prisons were inhumane and that human rights violations had become worryingly common. According to the IHD, the prison population has skyrocketed in recent years under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government due to its crackdown on dissidents. As the number of prisoners has increased, so have human rights violations. More..

Mistreatment, rights violations increased in prisons in southern Turkey following devastating earthquakes  

Prisoners in the provinces of southern Turkey hit by devastating earthquakes on February 6 faced increasing mistreatment and rights abuses, according to lawyers from the IHD. Lawyer Mehtap Sert, who visited inmates in a prison in Hatay, one of the cities hardest hit by the earthquakes, said the prison had not been heated since the disaster despite the cold and that inmates were receiving inadequate amounts of food and drinking water. More..

ECtHR faulted Turkey for poor prison conditions in post-coup period  

The ECtHR faulted Turkey for the poor prison conditions suffered by eight people who were given less than three square meters of living space in overcrowded prisons in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016. The court combined the applications of 10 people in Turkey who were all jailed in a widespread post-coup crackdown on non-loyalist citizens. More..

Post-coup victims attacked by inmates in eastern Turkey prison  

Two inmates in a prison in eastern Turkey attacked eight other inmates arrested or convicted on charges of affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The two inmates, who identified themselves as “men of the deep state,” stabbed eight inmates in Elazığ High Security Prison No.1 in August, seriously injuring one of them. More..

Kurdish politician allegedly strip-searched in western Turkey prison  

The guards in an İzmir prison allegedly strip-searched and verbally assaulted Berna Çelik, a provincial executive of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who had recently been arrested on terrorism-related charges. More..

6 Turkish police officers indicted for torturing detainees  

İstanbul prosecutors in November indicted six police officers on charges of torturing three people in their custody in 2022. The detainees were allegedly taken to a room without security cameras and physically mistreated. More..

School named after officer accused of torturing Kurds during 1980s military rule draws ire  

Photo: TR724

The revelation that a primary school in the western province of İzmir was named after Esat Oktay Yıldıran, a military officer who was accused of torturing Kurdish political prisoners following a 1980 military coup in Turkey, sparked a strong backlash across the country. More..

Elderly Kurdish prisoner beaten by guards for protesting racist remarks  

Cemal Gürsel Bizci, a 68-year-old Kurdish inmate in a prison in Turkey’s western Manisa province, claimed he was beaten for objecting to racist remarks made by prison guards. Taken to a hospital after the incident, Bizci had wounds on the soles of his feet and was transferred to another prison in Manisa.. More..

Turkey acquitted police officer who allegedly impregnated a migrant woman in custody

An Ankara court acquitted a police officer accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was held at a migrant detention center. The officer, identified only by the initials M.Ş., was acquitted on the grounds that there was no concrete evidence supporting the victim’s claim that she was coerced by the officer into having sexual relations. More..

Strip-search an ongoing practice in Edirne prison

Strip-search is an ongoing practice in a prison in the northwestern Turkish province of Edirne, human rights defender and opposition lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said. According to Gergerlioğlu, female inmates were ordered to undress and squat, and prison guards touched their breasts and other parts of their bodies. More..

Imprisoned Turkish jurist mistreated by prison guards  

Gültekin Avcı

Gültekin Avcı, a former prosecutor and columnist incarcerated in Izmir, was allegedly mistreated by prison guards in September. The incident was made public by Gültekin’s wife, who said her husband was kicked and shoved by guards for not standing up during a ward count. More..

14 female inmates in Ankara prison not released despite completion of sentences  

Fourteen female inmates at Sincan Women’s Prison in Ankara were not released despite having served their sentences due to decisions on the part of the prison authorities, who cited their alleged lack of remorse as the reason. More..

Authorities at Ankara’s Sincan Prison arbitrarily revoked parole rights of political prisoners

Prison authorities in Ankara’s Sincan Prison arbitrarily revoked political prisoners’ right to parole. According to prisoners, they were denied parole for reasons such as “reading too many books,” “consuming too much water,” “meeting with the prison imam” or “attending the open university while in prison.” More..

Inmates went on a hunger strike to protest rights violations in prison in western Turkey  

Six inmates in a prison in Turkey’s western province of Afyonkarahisar went on a hunger strike in January to protest rights violations in the prison. After a prison visit, the families of the prisoners stated, “Our children are being tortured in prison. The safety of our children is at risk.” More..

Inmates in western Turkey’s Kütahya province provided 2 hours of water

Inmates in a prison in western Turkey’s Kütahya province had limited access to water. The Parmakören T-type prison, a newly built prison complex, provided running water for only two hours a day. Families expressed outrage, saying inmates were unable to shower, clean their cells, use the toilet or even wash their dishes. More..

Investigation launched into suspicious death of Palestinian man in Turkish prison  

A Turkish prosecutor launched an investigation into the suspicious death of Nabeel Hasan, a Palestinian national, in a Turkish prison less than a week after he was arrested for involvement in a fight in İstanbul’s Başakşehir district. More..

UN revealed involvement of Turkish intelligence agents in torture sessions in Syria  

A report issued by a United Nations commission on February 7, 2023 revealed the involvement of Turkish officials in the torture of victims who were arbitrarily detained in Syria by armed factions aligned with the Turkish armed forces. More..

Istanbul court sentenced 6 police officers to prison over death of detainee   

A Turkish court in September sentenced six police officers to almost four years in prison for their involvement in the death of a detainee at an Istanbul police station. Birol Yıldırım, 42, died in police custody in Istanbul’s Esenyurt neighborhood on June 5, 2021. CCTV recordings showed Yıldırım and two others speaking with policemen in front of the station. As Yıldırım turned to leave, several officers forced him into the police station. More..

3 inmates died, at least 9 injured in post-quake prison riots  

Three inmates died and at least nine were injured in the suppression of prison riots in Turkey’s Hatay and Kahramanmaraş provinces that were triggered by massive earthquakes on February 6. More..

3 gendarmes suspended on accusations of killing young man who allegedly looted a quake region liquor store  

Three gendarmes who were accused of beating Ahmet Güreşçi to death in custody after he and his brother Sabri allegedly looted a liquor store in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, where devastating earthquakes hit the hardest in February, were suspended from duty. More..

ÇHD report revealed improper practices in new maximum security prisons

Inmates in new maximum-security prisons in Turkey were forced into solitary confinement in violation of relevant regulations, according to a report by the Progressive Lawyers’ Association. More..

Female inmates in Ankara called on CPT to take action on suspicious deaths of prisoners  

Sixty-eight women who were incarcerated in Ankara’s Sincan Prison had in a letter asked the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to take immediate action on suspicious deaths in the country’s prisons and to launch an investigation into them. They said, as “political hostages” in Sincan Prison, they were concerned about the lives of inmates in solitary confinement. More..

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