“What happened to terminally ill prisoner Mehmet Ali Çelebi in Turkey is a key example of the hostile policies of the Turkish government towards sick prisoners,” writes Arzu Demir for Yeni Özgür Politika.
Mehmet Ali Çelebi spent 28 of his 70 years in prison. He had leukaemia and renal failure and a variety of other physical illnesses. He was no longer able to care for himself.
He was transferred to the notorious Sincan F-Type Prison in Ankara from the prison where he had been ‘held hostage’ in Bolu for 27 years. He was spending five days a week in hospital. Nine months passed between his transfer to Ankara and his final release.
He was among a large number of the sick prisoners the Human Rights Association of Turkey (IHD)’s Prisons Commission drew attention to. The IHD has repeatedly called on the Turkish authorities for Çelebi to be immediately released for treatment; but this did not happen. The long-awaited decision came only when he was on the brink of death.
He was released on 25 August solely so that he would not die in prison. On 31 August his condition worsened and on 4 September, only 12 days after his release, he passed away.
According to IHD executive Nuray Çevirmen, one of the first things Çelebi said during his first moments of ‘freedom’ after his release was, “I don’t have handcuffs, how lucky I am, I am so relieved.” He said this when he was being treated in hospital, because this elderly man who was no longer even able to care for himself, had always been in handcuffs, including during treatment in hospital so that even his treatment had been turned into a kind of torture.
He had already been deprived of his right to personal freedom; he was also deprived of his right to health. But the ultimate insult resulting from the hostile policy of the state was to strip him of his right to pass away peacefully and bid farewell to his loved ones.
In short, the Turkish state, which had stolen 28 years of Çelebi’s life, even bedgrudged him the right to spend time with his loved ones and family and to say goodbye.
There are at least 1,605 sick prisoners in Turkey, 604 of whom are terminally ill. Some of these people are quite elderly, yet they are denied their right to “pass away peacefully and bid farewell” by the fabrication of medical reports to keep them in jail.
Mehmet Emin Özkan is one of those sick prisoners. He has spent a quarter of a century in prison on the charge of killing Diyarbakır Gendarmerie Regional Commander Bahtiyar Aydın on 22 October 1993. Using this killing as an pretext, the Turkish state killed 14 Kurds from of Lice and burned the town to the ground.
A former intelligence officer who was a part of the investigation of the killing talked to the daily Yeni Yaşam and said that Mehmet Emin Özkan had only been arrested to cover up the state-sanctioned murder, planned by then Diyarbakır Army Corps Commander Hasan Iğsız and Deputy Commander İlker Başbuğ.
The Turkish state, which has stolen 26 years of Mehmet Emin Özkan’s life, continues to persecute him. Millions viewed scenes of him on social media being brought to hospital in handcuffs. He could hardly walk. Many times he almost fell.
Although the whole world saw this, the Forensic Medicine Institute of Turkey issed a report saying that “there is no reason he should not remain in prison”. For some reason they must still think that he is not at the brink of death.
It is a fact that the Turkish authorities refuse to release sick prisoners simply to strip them of their right to treatment and to bid farewell to their families.
Güler Zere, for instance…
Güler Zere had cancer. Thanks to the months-long struggle of her comrades she was finally released, but she too was released on the brink of death. After her release, she wrote in a letter:
“They have brought me to the edge of death and then let me go. I have been robbed of my right to life. They have given me the ‘right to die’ on the outside. I will not forget this.”
Güler Zere passed away, angry and disappointed, six months after her release.
In conclusion, social struggle is needed to open the doors closed by the state in order to secure for terminally sick prisoners the right to treatment and to bid farewell. However, it appears that this responsibility has once again been left solely on the shoulders of human rights defenders and the families of prisoners…