Turkish penal system fails to provide basic healthcare for the sick

Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash

The Turkish penal system fails to provide basic healthcare for inmates with chronic diseases and disabilities and prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19, Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish reported.

According to DW, only inmates with serious illnesses are referred to a hospital, while the others are left untreated. Inmates who are being treated for COVID-19 are allegedly put in quarantine cells and kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time.

In a noteworthy case, the Council of Forensic Medicine on February 2, 2020 issued a report to inmate Serdal Yıldırım, who is almost totally disabled, saying he was unfit to remain in prison. However, the prosecutor’s office rejected the inmate’s request for release, condemning Yıldırım to stay imprisoned together with two other inmates with disabilities in the same ward in Metris Prison, DW said.

As Yıldırım was being taken from a wheelchair to his bed, the “platinum plate” attached to his spine slipped out of place, his brother Sedat Yıldırım said. “[Because of the displacement] my brother got an infection and had wounds on his body, but he had to wait for surgery for six months. If he is taken to the hospital, he will have to be kept in quarantine for 15 days. Therefore, they give antibiotics instead, but the medicine does not help. His condition has worsened.” Sedat Yıldırım also expressed concern as the number of COVID-19 cases had increased in Metris Prison.

According to the latest data from the Human Rights Association (İHD), there are at least 1,605 patients in prison, of whom 604 are seriously ill.

Despite a law Turkey’s parliament passed in April that allowed the release of tens of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding in prisons and protect inmates from COVID-19, those imprisoned on terrorism charges were excluded from the bill.

According to Berivan Korkut, the advocacy coordinator of the Civil Society Association in the Penal System (CİSST), only prisoners in need of urgent medical care are referred to the hospital, but there are serious problems in the treatment of chronically ill and seriously ill prisoners. “There are too many sick prisoners, they are not given the means to seek treatment. Despite the passage of nine months since the pandemic started, no steps have been taken for seriously ill patients. Sick prisoners may not die from the pandemic, but they will die because they are not treated,” Korkut said.

The diary of Mustafa Kabakçıoğlu, 44, a police officer who was found dead in a quarantine cell in a prison in the Black Sea city of Gümüşhane revealed how poorly he was treated by prison officials as well as exposing the medical neglect. According to DW, Kabakçıoğlu’s post-mortem report has not yet been released; however, the continued allegations of violations raise concerns.

Kocaeli deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission member Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said many cases are emerging in prisons in a manner that can no longer be covered up by the authorities, like the case of Kabakçıoğlu, who died alone due to a serious illness in Gümüşhane in a prison cell. “Serkan Tümay was a 27-year-old prisoner in Kırıkkale Prison who died as a result of assault, and no one has offered an explanation for it. An investigation was initiated only after the matter became public. But the young prisoner’s words of ‘Save me, Mother’ still ring in our ears, something he told his mother regarding the poor environment inside,” the deputy said.

Kabakçıoğlu was a decorated police officer. He was arrested in July 2016 and was summarily dismissed from his job in September 2016 for alleged membership in the Gülen movement. He was sentenced to seven years, six months in prison.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on followers of the movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, as a result of which more than 130,000 people were removed from state jobs while in excess of 30,000 others are still in jail and some 600,000 people have been investigated on allegations of terrorism.

Since then, there have been widespread claims of various forms of torture including deprivation of medical treatment in Turkey’s prisons and detention centers that have so far gone uninvestigated.

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