Turkey’s Constitutional Court rules prison visit restrictions during pandemic violated rights

The Constitutional Court of Turkey has ruled that restrictions on prisoner visits imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic violated the right to family life, upholding the applications of six inmates, the Gazete Duvar news website reported.

The court’s decision comes after the inmates, identified only by their initials — I.O., M.K., A.K., M.K., Y.Ç. and Z.G. — challenged the restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses. The measures were initially implemented following recommendations from the Ministry of Health’s Coronavirus Scientific Committee to prevent the spread of the virus within penal institutions.

In a directive dated March 14, 2020, sent to public prosecutor’s offices, the general directorate initially suspended prisoner visits until further notice.

The suspension was extended several times through subsequent directives issued on March 27, April 11, April 30 and May 15, 2020, with the stipulation that the suspension of visits would continue across all penal institutions until July 1, 2020, while preserving other rights of the prisoners.

Human rights defender and opposition deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said at the time that the ban on visits was intentional because inmates have been vaccinated and that the ban could not be justified on public health grounds.

In reaction, the inmates affected lodged complaints with the judges at their respective penal institutions. After their complaints were dismissed, they appealed to the Constitutional Court.

The court, in examining the case, concluded that the administrative decisions lacked a legal basis, thereby constituting an infringement on the prisoners’ right to respect for family life. The court also awarded Y.Ç, İ.O, M.K. and Z.G. compensatory damages of 30,000 Turkish lira ($931.35).

Poor prison conditions, arbitrary practices and mistreatment are systemic problems in Turkey about which local rights groups, parliamentarians and state authorities receive hundreds of complaints every year.

The Human Rights Association (İHD), one of Turkey’s major advocacy groups, has released a report on prisons located in the Central Anatolian region that found a total of 7,051 rights violations in 2023.

Although victims can include people detained or imprisoned on any grounds, several documents in recent years have indicated that the abuses are more pervasive and systematic when it comes to people imprisoned on political grounds such as their alleged ties to political and civil networks are not approved of by the government.

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