Miheme Porgebol, a prisoners’ rights activist and brother of a Kurdish prisoner, spoke with MedyaNews on Saturday about the ongoing issue of what he describes as a de facto death penalty for Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey. “There are more than 200 prisoners [in Turkey] today who have completed their 30-year sentences but have not been released,” he said.
Porgebol traced the roots of this issue back to the 1990s, a period marked by intense state violence in Kurdistan. “Special war concepts and paramilitary gangs and groups were deployed under state control,” he said. He added that during this period, thousands of Kurds were arrested and tried in special State Security Courts, regardless of whether or not they were affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which was the main target.
Porgebol explained that many of these prisoners were initially sentenced to death. However, these sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment for various reasons, including political pressures and changes in Turkish policy. Despite both the State Security Courts and the death penalty itself being abolished later on, “None of these [life] prisoners have been retried, essentially confirming the life sentences,” he said.
One example Porgebol cited was that of Mehmet Savur, who is now in his 33rd year of imprisonment. Savur was arrested in July 1991 based on false witness testimony. He was sentenced to life imprisonment despite the absence of complaints from the victims’ families, and even their explicit statements exonerating him. “His release is being obstructed by the state on grounds like not showing remorse or not using the prison library,” Porgebol stated.
According to Porgebol, the state continues to find reasons to keep these prisoners incarcerated, effectively implementing what he describes as a prolonged form of the death penalty. “This is a continuation of policies from the 1990s,” he added, emphasising that the number of prisoners who have completed their 30-year sentences [the effective time served under a life sentence in Turkey] but are not being released is increasing.
Adding to the concerns raised by Porgebol, Turkey’s prominent rights watchdog, the Human Rights Association (IHD), has called for the abolition of the country’s Administrative and Observation Boards. These boards have been responsible for delaying the release of at least 313 prisoners based on subjective evaluations of “good conduct.” Established following an amendment to Turkey’s Law No. 5275 on the Execution of Penal and Security Measures, these boards have the authority to delay or deny release based on behaviour. According to the IHD, such arbitrary assessments violate both the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.