Turkey stops publishing data on prison figures amid mass crackdown

Following 207 percent increase in the number of detainees without a conviction, Turkish government has stopped publishing data on the number of detainees and prisoners that used to be posted on the Ministry of Justice’s web site with daily updates.

Apparently ashamed by the unprecedented spike on the number of detainees who have not even been indicted let alone being convicted amid escalating crackdown and massive purges of critics, Turkish government stopped revealing official figures on the current number of people who are imprisoned in Turkish jails.

The data had been posted on statistics page of the National Judiciary Informatics System (UYAP) and managed by the Justice Ministry under the portfolio of Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, a staunch loyalist of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

UYAP is an electronic system that is being used by judges, prosecutors and lawyers in filing verdicts, motions, appeals and judgements. It reveals the number of investigations currently being pursued by prosecutors and decisions that were taken in their case file.

Based on the compiled data, the web site also run graphics to explain the current composition of prison population in Turkey.

The web site was last updated on March 18 which showed 80,482 people in pre-trial detention and 108,734 people as convicted and serving time. It also stated 401,942 people were released with judicial control mechanisms which means they need to sign in with police on a regular basis and may be subject to travel bans.

That is a considerable spike with compare to figures posted on the web site exactly a year ago on March 18, 2016 which showed 26,257 people as in pre-trial detention while 141,739 as convicted. It corresponds to an increase of 207 percent within a year on the number arrested people who are not convicted yet.

Perhaps another scandalous development was that the number of convicted people in prisons dropped 23 percent from 141,739 a year ago to 108,734 on the day Justice Ministry stopped reporting. This drop was due to an amnesty bill the government issued for convicted felons in August 2016 to make a space for Erdoğan’s critics and opponents. The change, ostensibly a reform bill, let convicts with up to two years left in sentences to be released on probation.

Turkish prisons have already been overcrowded long before the government launched massive crackdown on critics including journalists, human rights defenders, judges, prosecutors, teachers and others.

In a draft report titled “Abuse of pre-trial detention in States Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights” which was approved by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in June 2015, Turkey led all other countries in terms of the number of detainees without final sentence per 100.000 inhabitants with 89.2. It was followed by Albania (68.1) and  Russia (65.6). The report, written by Rapporteur Pedro Agramunt who is now PACE President, stated that in terms of percentage of detainees without final sentence as part of the total prison population, Turkey ranked second with 49.6 percent.

Given the mass crackdown on critics in Turkey in the last eight month alone especially targeting members of civic group Gülen movement and Kurdish political movement, today’s figures are far worse than the ones reported by Agramunt back in 2015.

Over 135,000 people, including thousands within the military, have been purged over their alleged links to the Gülen movement since the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

As of March 23, 94,982 people were being held without charge, with an additional 47,128 in pre-trial detention over their alleged links to the movement. A total of 7,317 academics were also purged as well as 4,272 judges and prosecutors, who were dismissed due to alleged involvement in the July 15 coup attempt.

On March 22, Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported that 54 people were reported to have lost their lives, most under suspicious circumstances and under lock-up in the last eight months amid torture allegations. That number rose to 57 as of today.

Gülen movement has been inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim intellectual Fethullah Gülen who has been advocating science education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and community contribution. The movement promotes a moderate version of Islam with a heavy emphasis on public service. The movement runs schools and universities in 180 countries.

Gülen has been a vocal critic of Turkish government and Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan on massive corruption in the government as well as Turkey’s aiding and abetting of radical groups in Syria. Erdoğan launched an unprecedented persecution against Gülen and his followers in December 2013 right after major corruption probe that incriminated Erdoğan’s family members.

The ruling AKP’s Islamist leaders labeled the movement as ‘FETÖ’, a terrorist organization, although Gülen, 75-year old cleric, and his followers have never advocated violence but rather remained staunchly opposed to any violence, radicalism and terror in the name of religion.

March 31, 2017


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