The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office announced on Friday that 44 inmates of an Istanbul prison have tested positive for COVID-19.
Two inmates at Silivri Prison and 42 others who came in contact with them were infected with the virus, according to a statement from the office.
Doctors treated four prisoners at the prison hospital, the prosecutors said, while other inmates are being kept in isolation in cells.
Turkey’s justice minister Abdulhamit Gul announced on April 13 that three prisoners in the country have died from the COVID-19 pandemic, which emerged in Wuhan, China last December, and has spread to more than 187 countries and territories.
Silivri is a well-known prison for hosting dozens of dissidents, including journalists, academics, and human rights defenders.
Turkey’s parliament passed a bill last month, releasing tens of thousands of prisoners under the pandemic measures but it excluded political prisoners, who face terrorism charges.
Human rights groups harshly criticized the move by the ruling party, leaving political prisoners in jails under the virus threat.
Ankara’s western allies have criticized the government of President Tayyip Erdogan for what they call “mass and arbitrary arrests,” as part of a crackdown targeting various dissident factions following an abortive July 2016 coup.
New York-based Human Rights Watch pointed out that thousands of prisoners in Turkey are in pre-trial detention or sentenced over terrorism-related charges or crimes against the state.
“Terrorism may sound like the gravest of offenses, but in Turkey, the government misuses the charge for political ends,” the group said in March.
Turkey currently has 133,721 confirmed coronavirus cases, and the death toll is 3,641, according to the health ministry.
Human rights defenders accuse the Erdogan government of not taking precautions in the prisons to protect inmates from the COVID-19.
“There are very crowded wards, and disinfection is not done regularly. Cleaning products are also under the initiative of the institutions. These measures are neither systematic nor regular, which causes problems, especially for prisoners who cannot afford cleaning supplies,” Berivan E. Korkut from the Civil Society in the Penal System Association (CİSST) told Bianet.
Fifty-five inmates in Konya prison have tested positive for the coronavirus, local authorities announced in April.
Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul said on April 28 that 120 some other inmates from four separate prisons were hospitalized after doctors diagnosed them with COVID-19.
Turkish authorities have so far not revealed the total number of infected inmates and their names.