Veteran journalist Çetinkaya faces risk of dying in Turkish jail

Journalist Tuncer Çetinkaya.

“I don’t want to lose my dad” a message posted on Twitter by Rahime Gül Çetinkaya whose father, a veteran journalist, faces risk of death from serious health complications after he got jailed along with hundreds of colleagues in Turkey.

Tuncer Çetinkaya, a bureau chief for Turkey’s one time best-selling newspaper Zaman that was unlawfully seized by government and shut down later, suffers from kidney disease and is not getting the urgent treatment he needs under terrible prison conditions. He is diagnosed with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease and has already lost 54 percent of his kidney.

Jailed journalist Tuncer Çetinkaya’s daughter Rahime Gül Çetinkaya hugs her father upon his release from an Antalya prison in March. The journalist was rearrested several days later.

His daughter reported that during his first three months in jail, journalist Çetinkaya  was not allowed to use his drugs or see a doctor. His health situation steadily worsened. She says heartbroken when she saw his father barely walking and holding on the wall not to fall last time she visited.

On January 17, 2017, Çetinkaya had a hernia surgery yet authorities did not inform the family about it. None of the family members was allowed to stay with him at hospital during the recovery when they finally received the news of his hospitalization. This was a blatant violation of his rights under pre-trial detention.

In a petition filed by Çetinkaya, a copy was obtained by SCF, he said “I was mistreated before and after the surgery. I was put into a detention cell at the hospital, they left me alone unconscious, naked and bloody sheet under me. I sobered up after 8 hours. Private guards who supervised me were too noisy and were consistently smoking around me. No one helped me change my clothes and go to restroom. They did not provide a wheelchair despite I could not walk, worse I was handcuffed. I dragged myself to the prison car. I was sit handcuffed in the car despite the fact that I had hernia surgery and needed special care. This treatment severely affected my psychology and that caused progression of my disease.”

In another petition, Çetinkaya told authorities that prison conditions were surely deteriorating his health. He presented documents that he was also suffering from hypertension, prostatauxe (enlargement of the prostate) and thyroid cancer. Yet he received no response to these please.

Last month, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and European Federation of Journalists(EFJ) organized an awareness campaign for Çetinkaya. In a joint statement, the advocacy groups stated that Journalist Çetinkaya’s lawyer kept writing petitions to all relevant medical bodies about the fast deterioration of his client’s health asking for a committee of doctors to examine him and stated that his situation was not fit for prison conditions.  It was also claimed that Çetinkyaya received no response from authorities by then.

The IFJ and EFJ urged the prison authorities to provide him the necessary care his health requires, including being examined by a committee of doctors to assess his situation.

Çetinkaya has been in prison since July 26, 2016. He was arrested on trumped up charges in the aftermath of controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. He was released on March 29, 2017 after serving 8 months in Antalya Prison. When pro-government journalists kicked off a hate campaign targeting judges who ruled for the release of journalists, he was arrested again 3 days later. He is among 263 journalists that were jailed by Erdogan government in Turkey.

His family is very much concerned about his health considering the family medical history that shows many of Çetinkaya’s relatives passed away on similar kidney diseases he currently suffers.

Çetinkaya’s daughter’s outcry begs for her voice to be heard and pleads Turkish authorities to release her father.

841 prisoners are kept in Turkish jails despite of their critical health conditions, according to May 2017 figures published by Turkey’s Justice Ministry.

The official number of the prisoners who lost their lives because of their critical health conditions for years as follow: 51 prisoners in 2013, 63 prisoners in 2014, 145 prisoners in 2015, 172 prisoners in 2016 and 20 prisoners in the first two months of 2017.

Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world. The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 263 journalists are now in jails as of June 24, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 239 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 105 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

July 9, 2017

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