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At least 3,000 people in solitary confinement in Turkey jails: Observer

An estimated 3,000 prisoners are currently being kept in solitary confinement under harsh conditions in Turkey, according to a news report by the Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish service on Friday.

Although there are no official figures on the number of prisoners in solitary confinement, observers told DW Turkish that an estimated 3,000 inmates are being held in isolation across Turkey.

The observers also said that solitary confinement, which must be imposed on those who were given aggravated life sentence or disciplinary penalty or on those charged with managing a terror organization, is implemented arbitrarily in Turkey’s prisons.

A teacher, who was previously dismissed from his job by a state-of-emergency decree issued by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), died in solitary confinement before his sentence was upheld by an appeals court.

Muzaffer Ozcengiz, the 58-year-old purge victim, was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison on charges of managing FETO, Turkish government’s designation of faith-based Gulen Movement as a terrorist organization.

He was in prison for more than two years and in solitary confinement for more than 14 months when he died on April 27 due to poor conditions at Corum Prison.

“My living conditions are getting worse here every day and so is my [health] situation. For the sake of humanity, I request to be transferred to a communal cell so as not to lose the right to life,” he wrote in a letter to the court a few days before he died.

In the letter, which is shared with DW Turkish by Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, an MP for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Ozcengiz also underlined that he even considered committing suicide due to being kept in solitary confinement without justification.

Ozcengiz is not the only inmate who died in isolation in Turkey. On April 30, retired Brigadier Zaki Y.M. Hasan, who was arrested by Turkish authorities on suspicion of illegally gathering intelligence for the United Arab Emirates, allegedly committed suicide in the Silivri Prison.

Gergerlioglu, a lawmaker who advocates improving prison conditions, told DW Turkish that their questions on the number of prisoners in solitary confinement and their living conditions have not been answered by the Ministry of Justice in the last few years.

He revealed that the number increased sharply after a state of emergency was declared by the ruling AKP in 2016, following a failed military coup attempt on July 15.

The HDP MP also said that hundreds of prisoners are in solitary confinement for up to 26 months, although legally they can be kept in isolation for a maximum of 20 days.

“The state suspends human rights in prison,” Gergerlioglu further said, adding that the prisoners are also denied fresh air and physical activity in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons.

DW Turkish also tried to reach Leyla Sahin Usta, Deputy Chairman of the governing AKP in charge of human rights, to ask her about the conditions of isolation in Turkish prisons and the number of inmates in solitary confinement.

However, they were told that Sahin cannot talk to them due to her busy schedule.

Ezgi Yusufoglu, a sociologist who researches the lives of inmates serving life sentences, told DW Turkish that solitary confinement conditions are harsh.

“Contact with other prisoners is strictly forbidden, and only first-degree relatives are allowed to visit,” she explained.

Yusufoglu said that the last data received from the Justice Ministry on the issue dates back to 2014. Then, the ministry announced that 1,453 prisoners were kept in solitary confinement across Turkey.

“Although we’re not able to obtain new information about the number in the last two years, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office announced in September 2018 that 700 people were facing an aggravated life sentence in Istanbul,” she told DW Turkish.

“This shows that inmates in solitary confinement across Turkey is around 3,000, and maybe more than that,” Yusufoglu argued.

According to the data received from the Civil Society Association in Penal Execution System (CISST), there’s a sharp increase in inmates’ complaints about poor prison conditions lately.

CISST’s administrative board member Berivan Korkut told DW Turkish that incidents of heavy violation of rights also take place in communal cells.

Among the incidents that Korkut talked about is the seizure of letters sent to the prisoners, limiting their right to make phone calls, see visitors and use the toilet or shower. Korkut added that use of violence from time to time is a common practice in Turkey’s prisons.

The number of prisoners increased in the aftermath of the attempted coup in July 2016. According to the data received from the Justice Ministry, there were 258,660 prisoners in 385 prisons at the end of 2018.

The total capacity of the prisons was reported to be 111,000 inmates, a number that was almost doubled by adding bunk beds and mattresses on the floor. The AKP government has announced that it will build 100 new prisons in the coming years.

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