The Turkish government is working to increase the capacity of its prisons to 500,000 by 2024, said Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights defender and deputy from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Gergerlioğlu spoke about the situation in prisons and government policies targeting critics and criminalizing their legitimate activities during an interview with Karar daily columnists Elif Çakır and Yıldar Oğur that was posted on YouTube.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been dismissed from the public and private sectors since a coup attempt in July 2016, Gergerlioğlu said, adding that more than 1.5 million individuals have been investigated on terrorism charges.
“Would 1.5 million people be terrorists in a country? Innocents are thrown in jail unlawfully,” he said. The government wants to continue its current policies, he added.
According to 2020 statistics published by the Justice Ministry, public prosecutors initiated 1.576 million investigations on allegations of terrorism between 2016 and 2020, and concluded 208,833 of these cases.
The Turkish government continues building new prisons to jail even more people, which will significantly increase its already high incarceration rate. The government allocated 556 million lira in the first quarter of 2021 for the construction of six new prisons in Antalya (Akseki), Giresun, Siirt, Tunceli, Kütahya and Adıyaman provinces.
The Council of Europe’s recent annual report revealed that Turkey had the highest incarceration rate of the 47 Council of Europe (CoE) countries in 2020, with 357 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants. There are 297,019 inmates in Turkish penal institutions despite the fact that their capacity is 233,194.
Out of 30,524 prisoners convicted on terrorism charges in CoE member states, 29,827 are in Turkey, the CoE report said.
According to Gergerlioğlu, there are more than 1,600 critically ill prisoners.
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 free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society.
Most recently, Ayşe Özdoğan, a critically ill woman who suffers from a rare form of cancer, was sent to prison to serve a sentence on conviction of links to the faith-based Gülen movement.
Mass detentions and arrests have been taking place in Turkey since the 2016 coup attempt. The AKP government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup, although the movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.
Critics accuse Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who embarked on the massive crackdown on the opposition after the coup attempt, of using the incident as a pretext to quash dissent.
Human Rights Watch says people alleged to have links to the Gülen movement is the largest group targeted by Erdoğan.