Deaths in Turkish prisons are covered up

Lawyer Çiğdem Kozan draws attention to the increasing violations of rights in Turkish prisons, saying that the release of political prisoners from prison is not decided by a court, but by the prison staff.

Çiğdem Kozan, co-chair of the prison commission of the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD) in Ankara, spoke to ANF about the daily increase in rights violations and arbitrariness in Turkey's prisons.

Explaining that suspension of release is the main concern of prisoners' relatives, Kozan said: "Prisoners who have served their sentence and should be released on parole using the right provided by law are not released from prison. Unlawful decisions and procedures are resorted to in order to legitimise this. Disciplinary sanctions are imposed on prisoners on null and void grounds, which are then used to justify the unlawful suspension of release. For example, in Sincan Women's Prison, 50 female prisoners were given disciplinary sentences for halay dancing and folk songs. Releases are also suspended by decision of the so-called Administrative and Monitoring Committee. This committee does not consist of lawyers, but is made up of people such as the prison warden, his deputy, administrative officers, the prison doctor, the psychologist, the chief warden and technical staff, but it makes decisions about people's freedom as if it were a court."

Repentance is only required of political prisoners

Emphasising that no institution other than a court can make decisions about the freedom of individuals, Kozan continued: "The message of the Turkish state to political prisoners is; your freedom is not even in the hands of the courts, but in the hands of the prison administration. The Administrative and Monitoring Committee makes its decisions based on unlawful assessments. The committee often cites tragicomic reasons such as hugging a friend in passing in the corridor, being compatible with fellow prisoners or, even more absurdly, not attending school for a prisoner who is already a teacher, as reasons for its decisions. In fact, this is to force political prisoners to repent. However, we are talking about people who do not consider their actions to be a crime anyway. How can such a person repent? These decisions unlawfully deprive individuals of their liberties. The state has made the suspension of release by prison administrations, resulting in double punishment, the norm. Prisoners protest and raise their voices against these unlawful decisions. For example, in some prisons, prisoners went on hunger strike. Again, prisoners' families are carrying out actions related to the suspension of releases. Apart from this, prisoners are prevented from exercising their social rights such as communication and participation in courses and events. Even transfers to another prison or cell are not made. All these violations are what turn the prison into a place of torture for prisoners."

"Deaths must be investigated"

Deaths in prisons are not only consequences of suicide or health problems, Kozan explained, noting that the causes of death must be investigated. She recalled the traces of ill-treatment on the bodies of deceased prisoners, stating: "Specifically, we can say that there are no effective investigations. There are often reports of deaths in prisons, but the manner of these deaths is covered up and no concrete investigations are carried out. After the death of Ferhan Yılmaz, it was claimed by the prison management that he died of a heart attack; but the pictures that also appeared in the press showed that he had been severely tortured, his nose was broken and he had severe injuries all over his body. Prisoner Halil Kasan said in the last telephone conversation with his family before he was transferred to the intensive care unit that they had been tortured and driven to suicide by the guards. At this point I would like to state the following: Even if these prisoners committed suicide as alleged, the question must be asked whether, in the particular case, members of the guards or other employees of the prison drove these prisoners to suicide. Even if these deaths were suicides, I believe that the impact of prison conditions, prison practices, rights violations and isolation on the prisoners' psyche are serious and need to be investigated. Even if Garibe Gezer's death was a suicide, the question must be asked what influence the isolation in a padded cell and the abuse by members of the guard staff had on this."

"Torture and oppression against Kurdish prisoners"

Kozan drew attention to the situation of seriously ill prisoners and said: "Forensic medicine even certifies that seriously ill prisoners are fit for detention. These prisoners either die in the prisons or they are released shortly before they die. Pictures of Mehmet Emin Özkan have also been documented in the press. He can barely walk and cannot look after himself. It is impossible for him to survive in prison, but he is not released. The Diyarbakir Training and Research Hospital has certified that he is unfit to be imprisoned, but the competent court would not release him. Similarly, Aysel Tuğluk was certified by the University Hospital of Kocaeli Medical Faculty that she cannot stay in prison, but the Institute of Forensic Medicine claims that she is fit to be imprisoned. This is because forensic medicine does not decide according to medical science and ethics, but according to the political weather. The deaths are the result of prison conditions and practices, and the reports and decisions of health and judicial authorities, and cannot be considered independently. To see the deaths in prisons only as a result of suicide or health problems is to ignore the torture and oppression of Kurdish prisoners."

"Treatment of prisoners according to the law of the enemy must end"

The Turkish state could solve these problems in part by abiding by its own domestic law and the international conventions it has ratified, Kozan explained. However, he said, there could only be a solution if the law of the enemy was abandoned. "The prisoners would at least serve the sentences imposed on them according to the principles of world law and international conventions. A period of detention without isolation and violation of prisoners' rights may be a solution to some problems in prisons. But it must be pointed out that there are too many arbitrary provisions in Turkish law that can be interpreted against prisoners. The recently introduced administrative and monitoring committees are a clear example of this. We are talking about a system that does not release prisoners even though they have served their sentence. For this reason, it is important that first of all there is a change of thinking on this issue and that the mentality that violates the rights of prisoners and also legitimises this in law is abandoned. To put it clearly: The enemy penal law that applies to political prisoners must be abandoned. Only then can the problems be solved."