Turkish brigadier general jailed on coup charges dies of COVID-19

A former brigadier general who was jailed on coup charges following an abortive putsch in Turkey in July 2016 has died of COVID-19, Turkish Minute reported, citing local media outlets.

Mehmet Şükrü Eken (53), who was sentenced to life in prison over links to the Gülen movement and for “seeking to overthrow the government” in 2018, was serving his sentence in a prison in Samsun in the Black Sea region of Turkey.

Eken had denied coup charges in his defense statement to the court, saying: “I received a text message on the night of the coup attempt on July 15 that said I was assigned as the martial law commander for Samsun-Sinop provinces. However, I did not accept this assignment. I saw my name on a list as the martial law commander. I don’t know who drafted this list and when. I did not have any contact with the people who drafted that list and I did not obey any of the orders given to me that night. I did not join the coup perpetrators.”

He was reportedly put in intensive care on March 24 due to severe complications from COVID-19 and died on April 19.

Eken’s body was sent to the Trabzon Institution of Forensic Medicine for an autopsy and is expected be taken to his hometown of Çankırı for burial.

The rapidly spreading disease 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 political prisoners has revealed once again how the Turkish government puts their health in immediate danger.

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. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors as well as 20,610 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Some 500,000 people have been investigated, and nearly 97,000 including academics, judges, doctors, teachers, lawyers, students, policemen and others have been put in pretrial detention since the coup attempt.

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