Now the world knows. For sure, hiding behind the recent strategic discriminative law, the Government of Turkey and the officials are not taking (avoiding?) the expected necessary measures to clamp down on the Coronavirus outbreak in prisons. They are doing the opposite. They do not even provide the essential basic needs of inmates whose well-being and health are under their responsibility to protect.
It is likewise clearly seen that they fail to ensure physical conditions necessary to prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 disease, and that mass deaths can occur in prisons due to the “mass isolation” measures, the likes of the medieval practices.
One imprisoned father, after seeing his son test positive and simply returned to a seven-person cell packed with 39 inmates, summarized the Turkey prisons situation in the wake of the global pandemic as “massacre”. Turkey needs restoration of conscience in all its forms and the world should not turn a blind eye to what is happening on the ground narrated in the earlier two articles. For those who did not, here is a quick cross-sectional scan of captured and verified incidents.
A diabetic inmate serving a sentence under the country’s controversial terrorism laws is sent back to prison after leg amputation, only to die three days later from COVID-19-related complications. The Public Prosecutor’s Office is quick to deny that the death is related to COVID-19 which turns out later to differ with some shared documents from the same office.
Sixty-four inmates at Izmir Buca Prison test coronavirus positive after one confirmed case two days earlier. Another 55 test positive in another prison four days later.
Complaint letters from inmates and their relatives to the office of the CHP Istanbul Deputy and Vice-President of the Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Committee reveal “inadequate access to nutrition, hygiene, and healthcare service”.
Towards the end of May this year, last month (on 22nd to be exact), the prosecutor’s office reveals there are a total of 82 cases of COVID-19 in Silivri Prison, including 47 in the L-type Prison No. 7 and 35 in L-type Prison No. 8.
The conclusion is such that the extent of the Coronavirus risk in Turkey’s prisons is far deeper than what has been announced. In the slightest terms, the Government of Turkey and officials, for not taking the necessary precautions to protect the rights to life of inmates who are under their responsibility, act with “severe neglect of duty and culpable negligence”.
According to the latest report, compiled on a survey conducted by credible institutions like the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD) Van Branch, the Prison (Watch) Commission of Van Bar, and Van Tuhay-Der (the Women Executives of the Prisoners’ Families Aid Association), the Turkey Government and officials context, stand culpable on nine counts. These include:
- Inadequate, untimely, infrequent and inaccurate information on the coronavirus cases in prison and the inmates’ health conditions.
- Failure of the measures that have been taken to reduce the number of people in prison cells. Overcrowding is still the problem.
- Routine let alone, the sick inmates are not being tested or delayed until their conditions worsen.
- Inmates’ access to healthcare providers has been severely curtailed and de-facto abruptly stopped due to the post-
- Inadequate In-prison hygiene conditions even in cases involving fee payment.
- Weakened inmates’ body immune systems making them more vulnerable during the pandemic due to malnutrition caused by inadequate, unhealthy, and poor quality food service after terminating some canteen services.
- Inadequate personal protective materials for inmates and prison warders, leading to inadequate services.
Against these stark facts obtaining in Turkish prisons amid the COVID-19 pandemic, report compilers, Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) make a 7-point “call on all national and international institutions and the general public, especially the Turkish Government, to act immediately and effectively to stop the aggravated coronavirus threats in Turkey’s prisons and prevent possible mass deaths from happening.”
The thrust of AST recommendations, besides providing an address module to the statement of the case, hinges on suspending the execution of sentences and immediate application on all the convicted prisoners.
Inmates should be tested routinely and those infected should be detected, provided with effective health care, and treated under appropriate conditions. As current quarantine efforts resemble medieval practices evoked from physical contact between the infected and uninfected, they should immediately be halted. Appropriate and scientific measures should be undertaken.
In-prison hygiene conditions should adequately be provided, the access to cleaning materials should be improved, and the overpricing in the prison canteens should be prevented.
To strengthen the immune systems of inmates, adequate and balanced nutrition should be provided – calling for improvements in the quality and amount of the food service, provision of adequate and proper food products in the canteens, and halting of the overpricing regime in canteens.
Inmates and prison personnel that they are in contact with should be provided with adequate and proper protective materials. To protect the right to life, the demands of inmates should be evaluated urgently; rapid and effective measures should be undertaken in the fight against the pandemic.
As AST concludes, all these measures must be accompanied by strict adherence in the prisons “to the protocols identified in the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2 INFECTION) GUIDE, prepared and updated by the General Directorate of Public Health of the Ministry of Health.”
With due respect to the AST recommended way out of the Turkey prisons Coronavirus mess, presenting itself as an insult to global fight against the pandemic, more basic changes must be made. All that is taking place in Turkey is as fever and cough are to the COVID-19 disease. They are symptoms when it is the disease that demands the cure.
What AST has recommended cannot effectively and positively deliver in the absence of the country addressing the systemic terrorism laws. Regulations and practices of the current Execution Bill that has opened prison gates for some and closed them for others find their roots in these laws. Those who are left to contract Coronavirus (to die from COVID-19 disease?) in prison are mostly the ones perceived to be government political opponents, for which they stand as criminals under the terrorism laws.
To be or not to be, Turkey must first revisit its controversial terrorism laws and the rest (peace and security) shall come to the country. While scientists have yet to connect terrorism with genes, there are children being born and bred in Turkish jails because their parents are, for example, perceived to have links with proscribed terror organizations.
Could it be in the letter and spirit of the Execution Bill to reduce the prison population that the Public Prosecutor’s Office recently issued arrest warrants for 118 people, the majority of whom are suspected to be members of the Hizmet Movement? And what are the chances of these suspects getting a fair trial in circumstances where the judge and prosecutor talk one language leaving defense lawyers as sole advocates for the rights of the accused?
The Advocates for Silenced Turkey are right when they talk of “severe neglect of duty and culpable negligence” in the country’s prisons. But the answer lies beyond the prison walls and gates. Politics without principles is the Turkish problem. What is taking place in the prisons is an insult to global efforts in response to COVID-19. It demands restoration of national conscience.