Turkish prison banned all communication for Gülen inmates for nearly 2 years

For 565 days, Turkish authorities cut off all communication and banned the delivery of letters and other messages to and from suspected members of the Gülen movement who were in pre-trial detention in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison.

According to documents seen by investigators from the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), the Istanbul chief public prosecutor on Aug. 12, 2016 ordered the prison administration in Silivri to forbid the use of all channels of communication including letters and text messages between members of the Gülen movement and their family members, lawyers and friends. Complying with the order, the Prison Management Administration and Observation Board also adopted a similar decision on Nov. 30, 2016.

A detainee identified only by the initials H.O. filed a complaint with a Silivri court claiming that the measure was in contravention of the law because its scope and boundaries were not clearly defined, that no reasoned decision was issued to justify the restriction and that it violated his “freedom of communication.” On May 30, 2017 the judge, without even examining the motion in substance, rejected the complaint and said it was not within the jurisdiction of the court to review an order from the Istanbul chief public prosecutor.

The victim also challenged a decision by the Silivri High Criminal Court, which ruled on July 24, 2017 that the lower court’s decision complied with the law and required procedures.

In November 2016 the Silivri prison administration also limited the frequency of open meetings between jailed members of the Gülen movement and their family members to once every two months as opposed to once a month. The plaintiff also challenged this decision, saying it prevented communication with his family, negatively impacting his physical and mental well being. But the judge rejected the petition on Feb. 6, 2017, a decision that was upheld by a high criminal court on appeal.

According to prison records sent to the court, the plaintiff met three times with his family in an open setting between September 2016 and April 2017 and six times between April 2017 and November 2017.

The plaintiff also filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court on Sept. 6, 2017, claiming that his fundamental rights under the constitution had been violated. He said he was subjected to discriminatory policies, could not communicate with his wife and children and could not convey to the media what he was subjected to during his time in prison. No disciplinary actions were taken against him.

The court examined the plaintiff’s case on Dec. 12, 2018 and decided to reject his claims, siding with the government’s line of defense. The Justice Ministry sent a statement to the Constitutional Court, saying first that the complaints had no merit and adding that the restrictions were based on the law if the court were to agree that there was a violation of the plaintiff’s rights. The restrictions were measured and proportional and required to maintain the public order, the ministry underlined.

The public prosecutor revoked the restriction on all communication on Feb. 27, 2018. The plaintiff was released pending trial on Nov. 10, 2017.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in March 2018 exposed the details of torture cases in Turkey the previous year and called on the Turkish government to enforce its proclaimed policy of zero tolerance for torture.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement. “Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner said.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since a failed coup in 2016. On Dec. 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the attempted coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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