Coşkun Üsterci, the General Secretary of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), spoke to the Mesopotamia News Agency about the current situation in Turkish prisons.
Üsterci said that almost all prisoners are at high risk of being infected by the coronavirus since the necessary measures have not been taken against the pandemic. He added that no one knows exactly how many Covid patients are in prison due to the lack of transparency from the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses.
“We as the HRFT rely on the data collected by the Human Rights Association (HRA)”, said Üsterci. “According to data that was published on 31 March by the HRA, there are currently 1,564 sick prisoners in Turkey, and the number of seriously ill patients is 590. However, receiving information about sick prisoners is getting harder each day. According to a report by the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses that was published on 8 November, out of 368 prisons, 117 of them held prisoners who tested positive for Covid. However, the total number of prisoners who tested positive was not published”.
The same report announced that a mere 12 people have lost their lives due to the pandemic in prisons. However, this number contradicts the HRA report, which showed the number of sick prisoners who lost their lives in 2020 is at least 49. The HRA also stated that the real number will be far above this.
Üsterci said social distancing is not possible in prisons beause of overcrowding. Noting that the detainees were not given sufficient disinfectants and cleaning materials such as masks, Üsterci said, “Such materials are sold in prison canteens, but they are expensive. Most of the detainees cannot afford them. In addition, we often receive complaints that the prison guards and other staff on duty do not obey the social distancing rules and do not wear gloves and masks during the ward searches. Prisoners who have symptoms are having serious problems getting tested”.
Üsterci said prisoners are not provided with medicines and do not receive proper treatment in prisons. “Due to incorrect quarantine practices, at least three detainees lost their lives in the quarantine wards”, said Üsterci, emphasising that prisoners who are seriously ill have to be released from the prisons. “Despite court reports claiming ‘the sick cannot stay in prison’ these prisoners are not released and this is against the law.
“Prisoners in this situation are kept until the last stage of their illnesses and released when their health conditions have deteriorated. Some of the sick prisoners die a short time after they are released. According to the HRA data, at least five seriously ill prisoners died shortly after they were released this year”.
Üsterci also drew attention to the fact that detainees can only announce the violations of their rights to the press through their families. “Prison administrations do not want the prisoners to talk about the situation in prisons. A detainee in the Kayseri Bünyan Type-1 prison was given discipline punishment for informing the press about prison violations”.