An 81-year-old Kurdish woman is at risk of returning to prison a year after Turkey’s Forensic Medicine Institute (ATK) assessed that she could not see to her daily needs behind bars, Mezopotamya Agency reported on Friday.
Makbule Özer was arrested in May last year in the eastern Van (Wan) province, and released in the following September, her sentence over terrorism charges deferred one year due to her advanced age and chronic health conditions. In the follow up assessment, despite her conditions remaining the same, the ATK said the octogenarian could be housed in an R-type prison.
The R-type prisons, three in operation throughout Turkey currently, are supposed to be specialised for sick and disabled prisoners, and offer rehabilitation and care around the clock. However, all three in operation are rife with reported human rights abuses.
In 2019, opposition MP Atilla Sertel found that 14 inmates had lost their lives in the span of eight months in the R-type facility in the western Izmir province. Overcrowding by three times its capacity meant that sick and disabled inmates, including those suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), severe cancers and various losses of limb, were sleeping in toilets and corridors, or using bunks in shifts.
Journalist Cüneyt Arat, who has a severe visual disability and has served time in one of the R-type facilities over terrorism charges, told Euro News Turkish in an interview that the rehabilitation-focused prisons “do not even have accessible toilets”. According to Arat, disabled and sick prisoners in regular prisons would be sent to the R-type facilities as punishment “when they advocate for their rights”.
There are more than 1,500 sick prisoners in the country, according to the Human Rights Association (İHD), at least 44 of whom lost their lives in 2022 behind bars.
In 2021, 181 prisoners with serious conditions accused the prison administrations of torture, mistreatment and neglect, according to appeals made to a prison watchdog.
Turkey’s laws allow for elderly, disabled and sick people to be released from prison, but require an official ATK report that is hard to obtain. Another option for release is the presidential pardon, which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan most recently issued for a radical Islamist involved in the Madımak Massacre.
In contrast, veteran Kurdish politician Aysel Tuğluk was only able to be released after a lengthy legal battle, her dementia that was diagnosed behind bars deteriorating in a year of additional imprisonment while waiting for an ATK report.
Özer has already served four months of a two year and one month sentence. If the sentence was one month shorter, it could have been deferred with no jail time by law.
In 2018, the elderly woman known for her naturalistic healing skills in her village found an injured young woman by her doorstep and offered her help. Shortly after the Özer family home was raided by soldiers, and it was later revealed that the young woman who sought treatment had been on the run, using a fake ID. Makbule Özer was charged with aiding and abetting terrorists over the incident.
“If I go back to prison, I might not get out again. With all my conditions, I’d leave in a coffin,” she told ANF in an interview.