According to human rights and prison monitoring organizations, the conditions of prisons in Turkey have worsened with the pandemic. Failure to provide healthy food, insufficient cleaning and hygiene materials, water shortage and suspension of treatment of sick prisoners continue to be common problems in many prisons. These problems make prisoners even more vulnerable to Covid-19. On April 28th, Turkish Ministry of Justice stated that 120 COVID-19 cases were detected in 4 different prisons. On May 22nd, the Ministry announced a total of 82 COVID-19 cases in Silivri Prison alone, and with one infected prisoner dead. The government has not been transparent about the number of COVID-19 cases in and outside the prisons. But, based on reports from families and lawyers, we know that COVID-19 is rapidly spreading inside Turkish prisons.
Since early March, Turkish government has been implementing various measures to fight COVID-19 within prisons, including a highly contested special amnesty law that released some 90 thousand convicts. While it helped to significantly reduce prison population, this law was unfair and discriminatory on two grounds. First, it categorically excluded from its scope all political prisoners facing "terrorism-related charges." Second, as it applies only to convicts, the law also excluded those jailed pending trial. As various legal authorities have underlined, this law is in clear violation of Article 2 (the rule of law) and Article 10 (equality before the law) of the Turkish Constitution as well as Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These categorical exclusions prevented the release of about an additional 50,000 prisoners; including thousands of politicians, members of parliament, Kurdish mayors, intellectuals, human rights activists, students, artists, journalists and all other political prisoners arrested or convicted with terrorism-related charges. There are also hundreds of sick prisoners who were excluded from the amnesty law.
According to the Human Rights Association (IHD), as of 31 March 2020, there were 1,564 sick prisoners across Turkey; 590 of them being "seriously sick." Some of these people were released with the amnesty law, but many are still behind bars. If the sick prisoner is a political prisoner charged with terrorism-related offenses, then his/her release for medical reasons is next to impossible. For example, despite all efforts of his family members, lawyers and human rights advocates, Turkish authorities refused to release Kurdish political prisoner Ms Sabri Kaya, who had two open-heart surgeries and over a dozen heart attacks in the past. He had another heart attack and cerebral hemorrhage on 25 March 2020. He was hospitalized three times, treated under intensive care, and then sent back to prison. Mr Kaya was finally released on May 22nd. He died only a couple of hours later.
And now Mr Deniz Yıldırım is in a similar situation. Mr Yıldırım has been on trial for more than 4 years. He did develop colon cancer while in prison and had surgery in January 2020. A large portion of his large bowels was removed; he had chemotherapy. On top of these, he tested positive for Covid-19 in March 2020. His family, lawyers and the HDP have made every attempt to bring the issue to the immediate attention of the Ministry of Justice and the Parliamentary Investigation Commission on Human Rights, but our efforts have been in vain. Mr Yıldırım's life is under grave risk. State authorities have clearly left him to the mercy of cancer and Covid-19.
We hereby and once again call upon the Council of Europe authorities - the CPT, the Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Monitoring Committee of the PACE, in particular, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of European Union External Action, our sister parties, and all other democratic institutions and persons concerned with the rights and health of prisoners in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to monitor the situation of prisons in Turkey, the case of extremely vulnerable sick prisoners in particular, and to take action to protect their rights and their health.
Feleknas Uca & Hişyar Özsoy
Co-spokespersons of HDP for Foreign Affairs
30 June 2020