Turkey’s political prisoners at grave risk from COVID-19


In the early hours of Tuesday 14 April 2020, the Turkish Parliament passed a law which lead to the release of up to 90,000 prisoners. However, it excluded scores of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, lawyers and others arbitrarily detained, pending trial or serving sentences following unfair trials under Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws which facilitate incarceration for exercise of free speech.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a prominent HDP parliamentarian and human rights activist wrote to the Washington Examiner as follows: “The Turkish government’s prisoner release is the right thing in principle, but the actual bill is a human rights travesty. It is a good thing to release part of the prison population to decrease the overcrowded facilities where inmates have to survive inhumane conditions even without an outbreak. But the groups they are leaving in prison are the ones who should be let out.”

“For years, journalists and political activists have been jailed in Turkey on the charge of supporting terrorism. The counter-terrorism law defined terrorism in such a broad way that even someone who had never engaged in violence or condoned it could be charged with terrorism. Nearly 50,000, or one-fifth of the total prison population in Turkey, are journalists, civil servants, teachers, police officers, military personnel, and politicians charged with such “crimes.””

Terrorism may sound like the gravest of offenses, but in Turkey, the government misuses the charge for political ends. Many inmates are placed in lengthy pretrial detention or sentenced without evidence that they committed violent acts, incited violence, or provided logistical help to outlawed armed groups. Among them are journalists like Ahmet Altan, politicians like Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdağ, human rights defenders like Osman Kavala, and thousands of dismissed civil servants, teachers, and others punished for association with the Hizmet (Gulen) movement.

A lawyer for some of the inmates unfairly being held in prisons on counter terrorism charges, Murat Akkoc, illustrates the dire situation in the prisons by asking the following questions:

  1. 43 people remain in the B-10 ward [of Silivri Prison]. You took 8 people who were not COVID-19 in the ward to the C-7 ward where there were prisoners who had coronavirus for no reason and brought them back to the B-10 ward. Who is negligent in the work done? (https://twitter.com/avmuratakkoc/status/1258152369130520579).

  2. In the press release of the Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor's Office on 8 May 2020, despite the fact that 44 detainees / convicts suffered COVID-19 disease in Silivri Prison, this number is much higher according to our colleagues and families who reached us. (https://twitter.com/avmuratakkoc/status/1259693175595249666).

  3. Silivri No. 7 L Type Prison B-10 and B-12, Silivri No. 8 L Type Prison C-6, C-7 and C-8 wards are for only 7 inmates but currently hold between 39 and 43. (https://twitter.com/avmuratakkoc/status/1259693245631795201)

  4. Retweeted: Journalist Çetin Çiftçi, who has been in prison for 6 years and 3 months and has been in Sincan Prison for 8 months, has been diagnosed with Covid 19. It was learned that Çiftçi, who has kidney and heart diseases, is under treatment. #JournalismIsNotACrime Hundreds of Corona in Prisons (https://twitter.com/jailedjournos/status/1260666529722531846)

The prominent former editor-in-chief for the now non-existing Today’s Zaman newspaper, which was the highest circulating newspaper published in English in Turkey before being ceased and shut down by the government, tweeted this:

https://twitter.com/SevgiAkarcesme/status/1259661139597832193

Several international human rights bodies have appealed on Turkey to ensure the release from prison of the excluded prisoners; 27 human rights and freedom of expression NGOs have issued a joint statement and tens of thousands in Turkey and elsewhere have signed a petition urging the Minister of Justice to broaden the scope of the proposed measures.

Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/covid-19-pandemic-urgent-steps-are-needed-to-protect-the-rights-of-prisoners-in-europe

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales https://www.barhumanrights.org.uk/political-prisoners-in-turkey-in-the-face-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/

NGOs Joint statement: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur44/2047/2020/en/

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR4420472020ENGLISH.pdf

According to the joint statement:

“Turkey is subject to the authority of both the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the European Committee on the Prevention on Torture who respectively have issued calls to “reduce prison populations and other detention populations, wherever possible” and said concerted efforts by all relevant authorities to resort to alternatives to deprivation of liberty “ is imperative, in particular, in situations of overcrowding.”

The Advocates for Dignity join the chorus of the above human rights organisations and demand the Turkish Authorities enact immediate measures to release all those arbitrarily detained, whether in pre-trial detention or after conviction, particularly given many are vulnerable to Covid-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions. We urge the authorities to move now to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Failure to release those detained and imprisoned on spurious charges, which would help reduce the spread of a deadly disease in detention, would show further alarming disregard for human rights by the Turkish government.

CHANGE.ORG STATEMENT

Turkish prosecutors on 8 May 2020 reported that 44 inmates in an Istanbul prison (Silivri Prison) have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement, Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office said that after infection of two inmates,d 42 others who came in contact with them tested positive at Silivri Prison.

Turkish prosecutors confirm treatment of four prisoners continues at the prison hospital, while others who are asymptomatic are being kept in isolation under the supervision of a doctor.

However, there are reports coming out from the prisoner’s families and their lawyers that there are 100’s of people from Silivri and other prisons who have been infected by the virus and others who are in critical condition.

Those that are still in prison are those who have been charged on counter terrorism charges. Terrorism may sound like the gravest of offenses, but in Turkey, the government misuses the charge for political ends. Many inmates are placed in lengthy pretrial detention or sentenced without evidence that they committed violent acts, incited violence, or provided logistical help to outlawed armed groups. Among them are journalists like Ahmet Altan, politicians like Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdağ, human rights defenders like Osman Kavala, and thousands of dismissed civil servants, teachers, and others punished for association with the Hizmet (Gulen) movement.

Advocates for Dignity joins the chorus of 27 other human rights organisations (https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur44/2047/2020/en/) and demand the Turkish Authorities enact immediate measures to release all those arbitrarily detained, whether in pre-trial detention or after conviction, particularly given many are vulnerable to Covid-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions.

We urge the authorities to move now to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Failure to release those detained and imprisoned on spurious charges, which would help reduce the spread of a deadly disease in detention, would show further alarming disregard for human rights by the Turkish government.

Please join us in urging Turkish authorities to release all prisoners and stop excluding certain prisoners by writing the below statement to the following accounts on twitter and/or emailing the below statement to the relevant emails:

#COVID19 outbreak in Turkish jails is putting the lives of thousands at risk. #Turkey’s gov’t must take immediate action, provide health service and set political prisoners free. #SilivrideİnsanlarÖlüyor #PeopleAreDyingInSilivriJails

POLITICIANS

@CHPMuratB (CHP grup yonetim kurulu uyesi)

@gergerliogluof (HDP Kocaeli mv)

@chpakifekici (CHP eski Gaziantep mv)

@chpaliozcan (CHP eski Istanbul mv)

@chpdevrimkok (CHP Antalya mv)

@profdrhalukkoc (CHP Ankara mv-Tip doktoru, ogretim uyesi)

@CHPMuratBakan (CHP eski Izmir mv-CHP sozcusu)

@gurseltekin34 (CHP Istanbul mv)

@MBekaroglu (CHP Istanbul mv)

@TurabiKayan (CHP Kirklareli mv)

@UmutOranCHP (CHP eski mv)

@utkucakirozer (CHP Eskisehir mv-Gazeteci)

@vekilince /Muharrem Ince (CHP eski Yalova mv-Eski cumhurbaskani adayi)

@veliagbaba (CHP genel baskan yardimcisi-Malatya milletvekili)

@MSTanrikulu/Sezgin Tanrikulu (CHP Istanbul mv-Insan Haklari Aktivisti, Hukukcu)

@MTanal/Mahmut Tanal (CHP eski Istanbul mv)

@Akif_Hamzacebi (CHP Istanbul mv)

@ALAKYILDIZ/Ali Akyildiz (CHP Sivas mv)

@AliYigitCHP (CHP eski Izmir mv)

@drmehmet_goker (CHP Burdur mv)

@ayhanbilgen (Kars belediye eski baskani)

@aykuterdogdu (CHP Istanbul mv)

@AtillaSertell (CHP Izmir mv)

@bulenttezcanchp (CHP Aydin mv)

@erenerdemnet (CHP Istanbul mv)

@erkanecz (CHP Bursa mv)

@fatmakose44 (CHP kadin kollari genel baskani)

@gamzeilgezdi (CHP Istanbul mv)

@gokdagantep/Mehmet Gokdag (CHP eski Gaziantep mv)

@goklevent (CHP Ankara mv)

@gulselerol62 (CHP Elazig mv)

@birol_ertem (CHP Hatay mv)

@halukpeksen (CHP Trabzon mv)

@hayatitekin55 (Eski Samsun mv)

@hilmiyarayici (CHP Hatay mv)

@ahmethamdicamli (AKP Istanbul mv)

@FuatKoktas55 (AKP Samsun mv)

@satiroglu2018/Navzat Satiroglu (AKP Istanbul mv)

@iekarayel/Ismail Emrah Karayel (AKP Kayseri mv)

@RamazanAcikgoz_ (AKP Bahcelievler Ilce Baskani)

@emrullahisler (AKP Ankara mv)

@RavzaKavakci (AKP Istanbul MV)

@huseyinburge (Akp eski Istanbul mv)

@fikriisik (AKP Kocaeli mv)

@Y_Akdogan/Yalcin Akdogan (AKP Ankara mv)

@NazimMavis (AKP Sinop mv)

@makif_yilmaz/Mehmet Akif Yilmaz (AKP Kocaeli mv)

@haozdemir/Haci Ahmet Ozdemir (AKP Konya mv)

@burhanettinuysal (AKP eski Karabuk mv)

@halilozcan63 (AKP eski Sanliurfa mv)

@skaplankivircik/Semra Kaplan Kivircik (AKP Manisa mv)

@malicevheri/Mehmet Ali Cevheri (AKP eski Sanliurfa mv)

@av_ihalilyildiz/Ibrahim Halil Yildiz (AKP eski Sanliurfa mv)

@scakir20/Sami Cakir (AKP Kocaeli mv)

@poyrazlimahmut/Mahmut Poyrazli (AKP eski Balikesir mv)

@aefakibaba/Ahmet Esref Fakibaba (Eski Sanliurfa mv ve belediye baskani)

@sezerkatirciogl/R. Sezer Katircioglu (AKP Kocaeli mv)

@uguraydemir45 (AKP eski Manisa mv)

@ekremcelebi4 (AKP Agri mv)

@drsoysal/Ertugrul Soysal (AKP eski Yozgat mv)

@avyusufbaser (AKP Yozgat mv)

@yilmaztunc (AKP Bartin mv)

@ramazancan0071 (AKP Kirikkale mv)

@SemihaEkinci58 (AKP Sivas mv)

@avmetincelik (AKP Kastamonu mv)

@adnangunnar (AKP Trabzon mv)

@alicumhurtaskin (AKP Mersin mv)

@muratd37/Murat Demir (AKP Kastamonu mv)

@mvrecaiberber (AKP eski Manisa mv)

@haciozkan33 (AKP Mersin mv)

JOURNALISTS

Baris Yarkadas @barisyarkadas CHP Istanbul Milletvekili

Atilla Kart @atillakart CHP Konya Milletvekili

Atila Sertel @AtillaSertell CHP İzmir Milletvekili

Aydin Uslupehlivan @auslupehlivan01 CHP Adana Milletvekili

Hüseyin Aygün @HuseyinAygun62 (hukukcu, yazar)

Erk Acarer @eacarer (Arti TV)

Kâzım Güleçyüz @gulecyuzk

Ayşe Hür @HurAyse

Hayko Bağdat @haykobagdat

Ayse Arman @ArmanAyse

Aslı Aydıntaşbaş @asliaydintasbas

Bülent Mumay @bulentmumay

Emre Kongar @emrkongar

Faruk Köse @FarukKose52

İsmail Saymaz @ismailsaymaz

Ismail Kucukkaya @KucukkayaIsmail

Nesrin Nas @Nesrinnas

Nevsin Mengu @nevsinmengu

Derya Sazak @sazak_derya

Sedef Kabas @SedefKabas

Yasemin Çongar @YaseminCongar_

Arzu Yildiz @arzuyldzz

LeMan Dergisi @lemandergisi

Nurcan Baysal @baysal_nurcan

Metin Uca @MetinUca

Ahmet Takan @ahmethtakan

Servet Avcı @Servet_Avci ‏ yazar

Çağlar Çilera @caglarcilara

Halit İşçi @Halitisci

Tuncay Güven @tuncayguvn

Serkan Kalemciler @kalemciler

Selcan Taşçı @stselcan gazeteci yazar

irfan önmez @irfansonmezz yazar

Amberin Zaman @amberinzaman

İhan Tanır @WashingtonPoint

Emin Çölaşan @ecolasan

Can Ataklı @Can_Atakli

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