Despite being one of Turkey’s most pressing concerns – where various rights violations have reportedly been taking place in prisons at an extreme level – the condition of sick prisoners remains a problem that has not been addressed for years. Detainees do not have access to proper treatment and the situation has reportedly worsened during the ‘Covid-19 pandemic’ period in Turkey.
According to data that was released by the Minister of Justice, Abdulhamit Gul, on 28 June last year, 1,582 sick people were released from hospital between 2013 and 2020. However, human rights advocates state that this number does not include political prisoners, who are not released despite having serious illnesses.
A Human Rights Association (IHD) report states that 27 sick prisoners died in prisons in 2020. In the first three months of 2021 alone, 13 sick prisoners lost their lives behind bars and one seriously ill detainee died in hospital shortly after his release. There are currently 1,605 sick prisoners behind bars, 604 of whom are reportedly seriously ill.
The Forensic Medicine Institutes (ATK) in Turkey are at the centre of the legal mechanisms that decide upon the release or non-release of sick prisoners in Turkey. ATKs, whose staff are directly assigned by the Ministry of Justice, most of the time reportedly present reports on political prisoners that are very different from the reports that have been provided by public hospitals, noted Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Chair Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı to MA.
Fincanci stated that the ATK reports that are prepared are of great importance, especially when it comes to the stay of prison sentences for convicted sick detainees. Noting that the ATKs apply several criteria in the preparation of their reports, Fincancı stated that the criteria that is applied differs for each prisoner, depending on the reason ‘why’ they were convicted.
“For two separate patients with the same health problems, they say, for one, you can stay in prison and for the other, you cannot stay in prison,” she observed.
Fincancı also stated that there are some changes, from time to time, in those ATK reports and that the most changes occurred during the period of hunger strikes that started in prisons in 2018.
She stated that when serious illnesses emerged in the F-Type prisons as the hunger strikes continued during those days, some ATK reports were prepared repeatedly to ensure that “prisoners cannot remain in prisons”.
“The goal of these reports was to end the hunger strikes,” she noted, adding that even new reports were being prepared a couple of years later for those who hjad been released during those days, where some of them have even now been sent back to prison.
Last week, MA reported that a 70-year-old prisoner, Mehmet Ali Çelebi was still behind bars despite suffering from various diseases including cancer. IHD appealed to the authorities to release Çelebi.
For Fincancı, the situation of the prisoners who have cancer is desperate. “Chemotherapy drugs cause serious problems in the immune system. There are many problems regarding food and nutrition in prisons. Especially with such diseases, stay of imprisonment should be a mandatory practice.”
Fincancı concluded that the judiciary is not independent in Turkey, and these rights violations will not come to an end unless the one-man regime in Turkey changes. “The judge should be independent and the one who will make the objective assessment should be independent but since the Justice Ministry is not an independent institution, then the justice system in the country becomes dependent. Since the Forensic Medicine Institutes and the jurisdiciary are directly related institutions,” she adds: “With the transition to a one-man regime in the last couple of years, this has become much more dangerous.”