Wife of critically ill prisoner urges authorities to release her husband before it’s too late

The wife of Ahmet Zeki Özkan, a 65-year-old man who was arrested last week to serve a sentence for conviction of links to the Gülen movement despite suffering from end-stage cancer, urged authorities for the immediate release of her husband.

Speaking to the Bold Medya news website, Yasemin Özkan said her husband suffers from lung cancer and that doctors only gave him a year to live. Özkan was sent to a prison in southern Antalya province and was confined to a quarantine cell.

Inmates who have just arrived in prison are required to stay in a quarantine cell due to COVID-19 measures. However, these cells are notorious for their poor conditions and overcrowding.

“My husband was not even provided with a bed,” said Yasemin Özkan. “He was just given a blanket and told to sleep on the floor. This is very detrimental to his health, as he can’t afford to be sick.”

Özkan was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2020. The Antalya Council of Forensic Medicine issued a report saying he was not fit to be incarcerated. However, the national Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) issued a contradictory report, saying he could stay in a prison that had a doctor and an infirmary.

The Antalya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office ruled against the postponing of Özkan’s sentence based on the ATK report.

As the number of sick prisoners dying in prison has increased, doubts about the credibility and independence of the council have grown, as the institution is affiliated with the Ministry of Justice.

Yasemin Özkan added that the medication her husband took had serious side effects, which needed to be handled with the utmost of care. “He is susceptible to infections and skin irritation and lesions,” she said. “He needs constant care and can’t afford to lose weight.”

Özkan was sentenced to six years, three months in prison. He was accused of donating to a charity affiliated with the Gülen movement and of sending his children to a private school that had links to the movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement 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 Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, of masterminding.

A total of 319,587 people were detained and 99,962 arrested in operations against supporters of the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in November.

According to the Human Rights Association (İHD), as of June 2020 there were more than 1,605 sick inmates in Turkish prisons, approximately 600 of whom were critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients had forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they were not released. Authorities refuse to free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society. In the first eight months of 2020, five critically ill prisoners passed away because they were not released in time to receive proper medical treatment.

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