Another prisoner has lost his life behind bars in Turkey’s prisons. Turgay Deniz was 39 years old when his lungs eventually simply gave way, Evrensel reported on Wednesday.
Deniz’s lungs had been failing due to tuberculosis, and he had been using an oxygen pump for the last 12 years. He went to prison with his pump, when he was arrested one year ago in February 2021.
Despite medical reports stating he could not be cared for under prison conditions, he remained incarcerated. His condition was further aggravated during three transfers, he was first sent to the Silivri prison, only to be then taken to Bandırma and finally to the Metris Prison in Istanbul.
A month before his death, when he had a very bad episode, Deniz was transferred to a hospital without his family’s knowledge.
Baver Deniz, the prisoner’s brother, told Evrensel that he was released from hospital after the doctors said there was no hope for his recovery.
“They deliberately sent Turgay to his death,” his brother said.
Increase in the number of deaths
At least eight prisoners have lost their lives behind bars in the last three months, and 59 prisoners died between January and March 2021.
There is an estimated 1,600 prisoners behind bars in the country with health conditions. At least 600 of them have severe conditions. Human rights organisations know of at least 38 prisoners who should be released urgently, as their conditions further deteriorate.
Deniz was among the 38 prisoners who should have been released urgently.
The number of ill prisoners, those in pre-trial detention without convictions in particular, has risen six-fold in the past decade, Ankara Medical Association’s Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Aysel Ülker told Evrensel in December.
In 2011, there were 256 prisoners with health conditions, 106 of which were categorised as severe. By 2017, the number rose to 1,025. Numbers rose rapidly during the state-of-emergency declared following the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
Doctors and human rights advocates are no longer allowed to visit prisons, Ülker said. “Apart from those who appeal to us, we have no information. We cannot obtain permission to visit prisons under any circumstances.”
Many prisoners have lost their lives within a week of their release, as the release procedures are delayed despite “massive efforts by lawyers”, she added.
Lawyer Davut Arslan from the Human Rights Association’s (İHD) Istanbul branch said that accessing healthcare services have become almost impossible for prisoners.
“With the pandemic, everything has arrived to a terrifying point,” Arslan said. “Prisoners must fight hard just to visit the infirmary. If they can visit a hospital, they are quarantined alone upon their return, in conditions where they cannot manage their daily necessities.”
Many prisoners are having to resort to drastic protests including hunger strikes, “for the most basic rights”, the lawyer said.
In the north-western Tekirdağ province, prisoners held in isolation have been on a hunger strike since 12 January to get an audience with the administration. A committee of human rights defenders and lawyers visited the prison, and could not find anyone from the prison administration other than guards to discuss issues with, Arslan said.
“I am calling on the Justice Ministry. We do not want to read another obituary. Release all seriously ill prisoners immediately,” he said.
Forensic Medicine Reports are biased
The next step would be to inspect all prisons and improve conditions, he added.
Reports from public hospitals are not accepted by the courts as evidence that the ill prisoner cannot remain behind bars, prominent human rights lawyer Eren Keskin had said in December last year.
“Only Forensic Medicine reports are accepted as evidence. However, Forensic Medicine is a state institution, official experts, completely dependent on political will. For this reason, it’s about torture being a state policy,” Keskin said.
According to a 2018 report by the İHD, at least 3,500 prisoners died of illness since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power.
On Tuesday, family members of ill prisoners protested the treatment of their loved ones in various provinces throughout the country.
“Policies of isolation have gotten to a point where coffins regularly come out of prisons,” the families said in the joint statement read in seven provinces simultaneously. “Today prisons are nothing but centres for human rights violations, battery, and mistreatment.”
“We are faced with the reality that most basic humanitarian principles have been shelved, let alone international law,” they said.
The families continued:
“Policies of issuing sentences longer than human lifespans, and keeping people behind bars until they die must end immediately. We are calling on the government to be responsible and pass regulations for just and equal execution of sentences.”