Human rights organisations in Turkey have long criticised the prison conditions in the country as prisoners suffer from heavy isolation practices, lack of medical facilities, healthy food and clean water in many prisons.
According to the Turkish General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses (CTE), there are 276.438 people in Turkish prisons. Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD)’s annual report on prisons for 2020 revealed that 1,182 prisoners have made applications to the authorities in regards to their violated human rights and 17 prisoners died due to the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Whilst prisoners have no other option but to endure the inhumane living conditions in prisons, political prisoners launched a hunger strike on November 27 last year in protest against such impositions.
“Prisoners are suffering more than ever, especially many ill-prisoners. Pandemic-related isolation conditions further violate prisoners’ rights,” said Nuray Çevirmen, a human rights activist and a member of the central executive committee of the IHD in an interview with Jin News.
Çevirmen highlighted violations of communication rights of prisoners in prisons. “We have been receiving more applications from the prisoners regarding bans on letters in Kurdish. Lawyers and families have also been banned from visiting prisoners for months now, as the authorities used the pandemic as an excuse to further disconnect the prisoners from the outside world,” she said.
She added: ”The situation of the prisoners worsened with the pandemic. Prisoners were taken to solitary confinement cells under the name of ‘quarantine’ when they needed to visit a hospital and were taken back to their prisons after their hospital checks.”
The hygiene standards in these so-called “quarantine wards” are very poor, Çevirmen informed. ”We are seeing prisoners reporting a lack of supply of gloves and masks which has become a very serious problem in crowded jails. Their conditions have deteriorated. Prisoners over the age of 80, who are unable to take care of themselves, are being held in prisons,” she said.
Çevirmen also highlighted the demands of the hunger striking prisoners, as the indefinite, rotating hunger strike launched by political prisoners to protest against the prison isolation conditions of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan as well as the violations of prisoners’ rights more generally, continues on to its 159th day.
“Their demands are clear. They try to address all these violations of rights we have documented. The heavy isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan is also a human rights issue and the isolation practice in Imralı Prison still continues,” Çevirmen said.
Çevirmen urged human rights defenders to act more sensitivily on defending prisoners’ rights during the pandemic. She also underlined the conditions of the seriously ill prisoners coping with cancer and heart diseases. “Although we have applied for their release, our applications have been disregarded,” she said.
“We recall our demands: Ill prisoners and prisoners aged above 65 should be immediately released.”