The daily lives of inmates held in Turkish prisons include surviving miseries of overcrowding, water denial, indefinite solitary confinement, physical beatings and torture by electrocution.
Local and international reports have also voiced deep concerns about a surge in the number of deaths in Turkish prisons, but the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has mostly written these off as “suicide.”
Since the summer of 2016, when a failed coup attempt threatened to remove the government from power, Turkish press and human rights groups have been reporting on prisoners dying under “mysterious circumstances” suspected to be tied to human rights abuses and torture.
In the coup’s aftermath, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spearheaded a nationwide purge against state institutions, sacking and arresting thousands of public workers.
Muzaffer Ozcengiz, a teacher who was dismissed from his job and jailed after the controversial coup attempt, recently died at a prison in Corum province, the local Turkish daily, Zaman, reported.
Ozcengiz had reportedly been held in a cell by himself, rather than in a dormitory with other inmates, for the last 14 months.
According to the Stockholm Freedom Center (SFC), Ozcengiz suffered from hypertension and diabetes. He was also sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement.
International Reports on Torture in Turkish Jails
A report entitled “Suspicious Deaths and Suicides In Turkey” recently published by the SFC sheds light on the deaths of at least 58 prisoners under questionable conditions.
According to the report, the increase in the number of suspicious deaths in jails and detention centres is a direct result of torture and ill-treatment. However, in the majority of cases, authorities concluded the deaths were suicides, without carrying out any effective or independent investigations.
The Turkish government’s lack of cooperation with international bodies concerned with monitoring the humanitarian conditions of prisoners has made it difficult to gain accurate statistics on the amount of abuse taking place in prisons there.
But the United Nations Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer, in a 21-page report, has documented evidence on numerous accounts of human rights violations against prisoners in Turkey.
Cases involving physical and verbal abuse, torture devices, strip searches, rape, sexual violence, sleep deprivation and shackling were listed in the report. Overpopulation in prison facilities was also criticized in the report alongside poor medical attention, shortage of water and food supplies, and unattended trauma and depression.
Besides the international concerns, members local opposition groups have also been vocal against torture and loose management of prisons in the country.
A deputy from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, has revealed that water is deliberately cut off in an unnamed Turkish prison, according to a guard who spoke in confidence to him.
Speaking about the dire conditions in Turkey’s overcrowded prisons, Gergerlioglu said a guard in a prison in a hot-weather province told him that their supervisors order them to cut the water despite the nonexistence of problems with the water supply. He did not specify the city to protect the identity of the guard.
Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) Istanbul branch has released a report showing that for the first half of 2018, prisoners in the Marmara Region have filed at least 543 complaints, 147 of which described deteriorating health conditions, 216 tied to torture and threats, and 115 on denying inmates the right to talk to their relatives.
The group’s Adana branch also released a report covering testimonials from Cukurova district prisoners revealing that at least 700 children are living in poor conditions inside all-female jails.
Commenting on prison conditions in Turkey, attorney Gulsen Ozbek said that since declaring the state of emergency in 2016, to this date, an unprecedented surge in human rights violations has been taking place.
Citing interviews with current detainees, Ozbek strongly criticized prisoners being denied basic health care, saying that numerous ill prisoners are left untreated.
“If prison management allowed inmates medical leave to start with, it still insists on the patient being shackled during examination,” Gulsen told a 7Dnews correspondent.
“Thanks to prisoner reports, we can list many violations such as denying an inmate medical attention, treating patients poorly and refusing to allow their transfer to hospitals for treatment,” Ozbek said.
Speaking about female prisoners, the Turkish lawyer said that when allowed to visit the hospital, they are chained up and escorted by male guards that do not leave the room during examination or treatment.
Refusing to strip before guards, many women end up without treatment.
“The vast majority of women refuse to have their body exposed to men, and end up leaving without being treated properly,” Ozbek said, adding that sick prisoners are subjected to disciplinary punishment when objecting to the guards’ company.
Ozbek also condemned arbitrary measures taken by authorities for transferring detainees to facilities thousands of kilometers away from where their families live.
Since the vast majority of detainees come from poor backgrounds, relatives are unable to visit, she added.
Ozbek also reported that some detainees have been the victims of appalling torture and violence by prison guards, particularly in Elazig, Tarsus and Bayburt prisons.
Since the failed coup in 2016, the Turkish government has launched a fierce crackdown against dissent and opposition members, sacked more than 150,000 civil servants and arrested more than 50,000. At least 600,000 citizens have been investigated on terrorism-linked charges.