Turkey’s top court finds prisoner uniforms unconstitutional

(Photo: Canva)

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has abolished a regulation requiring a designated group of inmates to wear a uniform on the grounds that it failed to comply with the legal criterion of “necessity,” the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Wednesday.

The regulation was brought by an executive decree-law promulgated in December 2017 as part of Turkey’s two-year-long state of emergency that was declared in the aftermath of a July 2016 coup attempt and stipulated that inmates convicted of or held in pretrial detention on terrorism-related charges are to wear uniforms when they leave prison facilities.

It was presented to the public by Turkish government officials as what they claimed was a way of preventing prisoners from disrupting order in courts during hearings.

The Constitutional Court in its decision cited laws on criminal procedures that allow judges to have disruptive defendants removed from courtrooms and to continue the hearing in their absence unless their presence is indispensable for the right of defense.

The regulation was highly controversial and widely criticized by human rights groups and some political parties as an attempt to stigmatize and humiliate prisoners.

These groups had set up a coordination platform to campaign against the regulation and to call on the authorities to repeal it.

According to rights groups, the uniforms would violate the right to presumption of innocence as they would stigmatize prisoners as criminals even before they get sentenced, lead to undue discrimination between those imprisoned on terrorism-related charges and other offenses and amount to degrading treatment that violates the prohibition of torture.

A military coup attempt in July 2016 led to a visible increase in the number of torture allegations originating from Turkey.

In some cases, the country’s state-run news agency and broadcaster openly published images where detainees were seen with visible marks of physical violence that likely occurred during their detention.

These included people detained on accusations related to the coup attempt or those detained on alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by the government of “terrorist activities.”

The decree-law on prisoner uniforms was promulgated following a campaign led by the pro-government mainstream media that called on the authorities to prevent alleged Gülen movement members from coming to courtrooms in suits.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Gülen, since the 2013 corruption investigations, 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. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

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