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Lawyers report unhealthy conditions in Turkish prisons amid COVID-19 outbreak

A lawyers’ association and a human rights group have released a report on the condition of prisons in Turkey’s eastern and south-eastern regions, stating that inmates’ basic necessities are not being met.

The lawyers and the executives of the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (OHD) and MED Federation for Solidarity with Families of Prisoners (Med-Tuad-Fed) have written “the COVID-19 report” after visiting several closed penitentiary institutions in the region.

The report said inmates in some prisons had not been provided with disinfectants and cologne. Some prison administrations reportedly said the inmates would buy the disinfecting agents from the canteens when they would be supplied.

The delegation could see sanitizers only in some personnel rooms but not in the halls of the prisons.

The visitors also reported many instances in which the wardens and the officials had acted regardless of hygiene rules, such as not using gloves or masks, and moving in groups. Further, all prisoners, whom the delegates talked to during their visits, were not supplied with masks and gloves, the report said.

In the ward searchings, the officers were not taking care of hygiene rules, the inmates alleged.

The report also emphasized the urgent need for the provision of electricity, water, and cleaning materials free of charge.

Last week, Turkey’s thirty-two bar associations also issued a joint statement, calling for immediate action for prisoners in the country in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

The bar associations emphasized that current sanitary conditions in prisons were far from meeting the mandatory minimum to curb the virus spread.

On Sunday, Turkey’s six bar associations also penned down an open letter to the ministry of justice, calling it to act on an equal basis in the face of imminent danger to the health of arrestees.

On Friday, Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said a law had been prepared to release around 100,000 prisoners over raising worries of deadly novel coronavirus contagion. However, the immediate remarks by the authorities signaled the law would exclude those who were sentenced over sexual assault, narcotics, terrorism and recurring offenses.

“It is not acceptable that the regulation in the judicial [reform] package, which has been currently brought to the parliament, excludes the political prisoners from the scope of abating in contrary to the constitutional principle of equality,” the six bars said, also referring to the inmates’ right to access hygiene, nutrition, and treatment.

“Many countries have been taking precautions to protect the rights to life of the inmates who are kept in one of the riskiest places [in terms of the outbreak]. The releases [of the prisoners] are at countries’ agendas in that regard. Even in Iran, which is far away from the principles of the rule of law, tens of thousands of people, including political prisoners, have been freed,” read the statement.

In many countries, crowded indoor gatherings are being canceled as they create the perfect conditions for the virus to spread, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Turkey’s prisons have been overcrowded due to mass arrests ever since a failed coup in July 2016, with the number of inmates reaching 286,000 while the capacity is only 218,950, according to the ministry of justice.

According to Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, the death toll from the coronavirus has reached 30, with 1,236 people having been confirmed infected across the country as of late Sunday.

Emrah Altindis, an Assistant Professor at Boston College and an adjunct faculty at Harvard Medical School, told online news portal Gazete Duvar that a “tsunami” was heading towards Turkey.

The Turkish authorities should be conducting aggressive testings for the virus, the professor said.

“South Korea carried out 20,000 tests daily. The estimated number of all tests that Turkey has conducted since the outbreak is around that number,” Altindis added.

The professor saw it is pointless for some people to isolate themselves while thousands of others have been crammed indoors, such as prisons and factories.

“They [authorities] need to take precautions in prisons. They need to send vulnerable inmates over the age of 60 home. The government is responsible for those people’s lives. If they die, that will be on the hands of the ministries of justice and health,” the academician vowed.

“Turkey has been heading in the direction of Italy. The public will be shocked by the number of people dying in the coming days,” the professor warned.

Michael Tanchum, another professor from the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), tweeted early Monday that confirmed coronavirus cases in Turkey were growing at a faster pace than cases in Italy and South Korea during the same phase.

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