Turkey stops testing prisoners for COVID-19 in notorious Silivri Prison

Testing has been halted for prisoners exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 in Turkey’s Silivri Prison under instructions from the Ministry of Health, the Mezopotamya news agency reported, citing an inmate’s phone call to his family.

According to Mezopotamya, Mehmet Sarı, imprisoned in building 7, claimed that a prison doctor had told him about the suspension of testing.

COVID-19 is spreading quickly in Turkey’s prisons, with the number of positive tests increasing by the day. One of the hotbeds of COVID-19 is Silivri Prison, which houses some 23,000 inmates.

According to information Mezopotamya received through inmates housed in Silivri buildings 7 and 8, 55 and 80 prisoners have been infected with the virus, respectively, and are confined in overcrowded wards together with uninfected prisoners.

Rights violations have increased since the outbreak of the virus in both facilities, prisoners are malnourished, canteen shopping has been stopped and some sick prisoners have not been sent to the hospital, Mezopotamya reported.

Sarı, housed in building number 7, told his wife about the situation in a telephone conversation. According to a recording shared on social media, prisoners who tested positive and negative were mixed together to create “herd immunity.”

Sarı further alleged that prisoners who show symptoms are no longer being tested. According to Sarı he and his cellmates have all the symptoms of COVID-19, but when they informed the prison doctor, he showed no interest, saying there was nothing they can do about it.

When they asked to be tested, the medical staff denied the request, saying the Ministry of Health had instructed them not to conduct tests on anyone, Sarı claimed. Sharing what a prison doctor told them, Sarı said: “in a meeting with a team that came from the Ministry of Health they decided not to conduct any more tests after testing in wards B-10 and B-12, resulted in 31 and 24 positive cases, respectively. The number is higher than 44, which is what was announced by the prosecutor’s office. So they decided to stop testing. If somebody’s health worsens, then he can be tested. Otherwise, the ministry does not want any more tests.”

Sarı further claimed that all inmates in B-10, B-12 and B-7 are ill, showing symptoms of COVID-19 and that 19 prison guards were infected, three of whom were hospitalized.

According to Mezopotamya, the prison authorities they contacted confirmed that there are infections, yet did not provide information about the numbers. The officials, claiming that the situation is under control, said, “The necessary measures have been taken, and prisoners who were infected with the virus were tested and put under treatment.”

In a move to curb the coronavirus pandemic’s spread to the country’s overcrowded prisons, the Turkish parliament passed a bill on April 14 that provided the possibility of early parole or house arrest to inmates, yet excluded political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted counterterrorism laws.

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