Turkey’s Constitutional Court denied release request of sick academic who died of COVID-19 in prison

The Turkish Constitutional Court on May 11, 2020 had denied a request for the release of sick academic Halil Şimşek, who died in western Çanakkale Prison after contracting COVID-19, Bold Medya reported.

Şimşek had applied to the court in March 2020 and requested his release due to serious health problems and the possible impact of coronavirus on his health.

However, the high court rejected Şimşek’s petition to be released for health reasons, citing the lack of life-threatening conditions.

Şimşek, who had a history of heart arrhythmia and suffered an attack-like episode in prison, died on May 5.

He was summarily dismissed from his job at Çanakkale 18 Mart University and arrested after a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016. He was sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison for links to the Gülen movement and would have been eligible for parole in August had he not passed away.

The ruling by the Turkish Constitutional Court:


He had also appealed to a local court for his release and underlined that he was suffering from respiratory disease and had been previously treated for tuberculosis. Şimşek told the judge he had lost 35 kilograms over a short period of time in prison and that he needed proper healthcare.

“I was immediately taken to the hospital and referred to a specialist,” he told the court. “But I was unable to follow through with my appointment because I had this court proceeding. I would like to be released pending trial so I can get proper treatment.”

Şimşek’s requests were not taken into consideration by the local court or prison administration.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

The rapidly spreading COVID-19 has presented greater concerns in Turkey’s prisons, which were already notorious for human rights abuses, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions before the pandemic. The death of those political prisoners revealed once again how the Turkish government puts their health in immediate danger.

Şeref Vatansever, 47, a former computer science teacher dismissed from his job during a post-coup purge in Turkey, died of COVID-19 on May 16 in Kocaeli Prison. Mehmet Şükrü Eken, 53, a former brigadier general who was jailed on coup charges, died on April 19 due to COVID-19.

The purge of thousands of dissidents in the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016 has filled Turkey’s prisons, which today are overcrowded with tens of thousands of political prisoners.

The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law on April 14 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the legislation excluded political prisoners, including opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws. The law prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.

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