US Human Rights Report: Lack of access to health care remained a problem at Turkish prisons in 2017

Overcrowding, particularly following the mass detentions after a 2016 coup attempt and lack of access to adequate health care remained problems at Turkish prisons in 2017, said a report by the US State Department.

The State Department released its 64-page Turkey 2017 Human Rights Report on Friday. Stating that the prison facilities in Turkey in general met international standards for physical conditions in many respects, with certain exceptions, the report said that as of June 15, 2017 the Ministry of Justice indicated a total prison inmate population of 224,878 in government-operated detention facilities with a capacity of 202,676 inmates. At least 22,000 arrestees or convicts were in prisons and had to sleep on the floor or in rotation.

According to the report, in September (2017) the Ministry of Justice, responding to an inquiry by Gamze Akkus İlgezdi, a Republican People’s Party (CHP) İstanbul lawmaker and parliamentary Human Rights Commission member, announced that 69,301 formally registered students were imprisoned as of the end of 2016, the highest number of jailed students in the country’s history. As of August 1, the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses stated that of the 2,767 minors between the ages of 12 and 18 in prison, 197 were in prison on terror-related charges.

Stating that the Turkish government declined to provide data on inmate deaths from natural causes, suicides and deaths from other causes, the report said that human rights organizations asserted that prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation and lighting. For example, on July 5, 61-year-old Kamil Ungut died while in prison in Elbistan, Kahramanmaraş province; press reports attributed his death to cramped conditions and high temperatures.

Excerpts from the section of the report on “Prison and Detention Center Conditions” are as follows:

Although authorities asserted that doctors were assigned to  each prison, according to Ministry of Justice statistics made public by CHP member of parliament Ali Haydar Hakverdi, as of March 2016, only 11 doctors were serving in prisons, equating to one doctor for every 33 prisons and 16,830 inmates. Human rights associations expressed serious concern regarding the inadequate provision of health care to prisoners, particularly the insufficient number of prison doctors. The HRA reported that in the first 10 months of the year, 1,037 inmates were sick, including 361 in critical condition. The number of inmates released for health reasons during the year was unavailable.

In one case, prison authorities did not provide adequate medical care for inmate and local Kurdish Hakkari politician Sibel Çapraz, charged with terror-related crimes and incitement, who used a colostomy bag. Çapraz’s family and lawyers claimed she had not received medical care in the prison or at a hospital and that she had to rely on her fellow ward inmates for informal and unsanitary medical care.

In February after widespread media coverage, authorities transferred Çapraz to a hospital and put her under house arrest.

Chief prosecutors have discretion, particularly under the wide-ranging counterterrorism law, to keep prisoners whom they deem dangerous to public security in pretrial detention, regardless of medical reports documenting serious illness.

At times authorities investigated credible allegations of abuse and inhumane or degrading conditions, but generally did not document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner or take action to hold perpetrators accountable. The government declined to provide data on investigations (both criminal and administrative) of alleged prison violence or mistreatment.

The government initially established the National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI) and the Ombudsman Institution as monitoring bodies for prisons as well as for broader human rights and personnel issues. Parliament’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Ombudsman Institution had authorization to visit and observe prisons, including military prisons, without advance permission; while they did so, the frequency of such visits remained unclear.

The government allowed prison visits by some international bodies. In May a delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited the country and interviewed a large number of detainees in various sites. As of year’s end, the government had not approved the public release of the CPT report and findings.

Some members of parliament were also able to conduct prison visits. In May CHP member of parliament Şafak Pavey, after having visited Silivri, Sincan, Sakarya, and Bakırkoy Prisons on multiple occasions since July 2016, alleged widespread mistreatment, insult, and torture of inmates by prison authorities. “From what I have seen, I am of the belief that there has not been any period in Turkey when heavier human rights violations of inmates and convicts took place,” she stated.

The government did not allow NGOs to monitor prisons. The HRFT noted that at least in one case of alleged inhuman treatment, treatment of the detainee improved following a complaint to government authorities.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed 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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