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The state refuses to see and hear ill prisoners

These were the last words of a 65-year-old seriously ill prisoner, Koçer Özdal, who died in a Turkish hospital last week while his hands and feet were cuffed. Özdal was jailed in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison in 2016.

In 2018, he was diagnosed with cancer but denied treatment. Human rights organisations campaigned for him to be released to receive treatment, but the Justice Ministry refused to release him. Last week Özdal lost his life in inhumane conditions, without the chance to say goodbye to his family. His hands and feet were in chains as he lost consciousness. Police officers were at his bedside as he died.

But the cruelty did not end there. His family organised his burial in his home village of Boylu, in the southeastern province of Muş. Security forces did not allow his relatives, friends or politicians to attend the funeral. He went alone to his last resting place.

Özdal is not the only case. Many political prisoners in Turkey, especially mostly Kurds, face the same cruelties. According to a report by Turkey’s Human Rights Association, 2,300 detained and convicted prisoners have lost their lives in prisons in the last eight years.

There are some 1,500 sick prisoners in Turkish prisons, 402 of them are suffering from terminal illnesses. Most of these prisoners are there for political reasons. The Human Rights Association regularly prepares reports about the situation of these ill prisoners and has warned state institutions. Despite legal requirements, the state has remained indifferent to repeated calls from families, medical officials and human rights associations.

As someone who often receives letters from political prisoners, I can easily say that the situation in Turkish prisons is abhorrent. One of my friends, Nedim Türfent, a journalist who was sentenced to eight years and nine months due to his journalistic work, wrote to me describing his tiny cell that he shared with mice and insects. I later learned the state did not give me letters and books to him. Last week in a letter interview with him, we learned that he has been ill for four months, but the guards have not taken him to the hospital, just 20 minutes away from the prison.   

Another Kurdish journalist, Metin Duran who is severely handicapped, has been in prison for more than four months. Duran was an employee of Radyo Rengin, a Mardin-based radio station which was closed by government decree. Duran lost his memory as well as his ability to walk and speak following a stroke, which came on the heels of a heart attack. Despite his illness, he was taken into custody from his family home in Nusaybin. He was sent to prison accused of “committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organisation without being a member” and sentenced to prison for three years and three months. One of his brothers accompanies him in the prison because he cannot meet care for himself. Last week, Duran’s journalist friends launched a social media campaign seeking his immediate release from prison. But again, the state refuses to hear these pleas.

Mezopotamya news agency quoted the sister of another ill prisoner, Mehdi Boz, as saying guards had tried to strangle her brother and threatened to kill him.

Hundreds of ill prisoners are left to die in Turkish prisons. They cannot receive treatment, medicine, or proper food. In many prisons, they do not even have access to books or newspapers. In many prisons, two or three prisoners share one bed because of overcrowding.  Prisons are full of politicians, activists, intellectuals, journalists and writers.

A sad Turkish joke:

A prisoner goes to the jail library to borrow a book. The librarian says: “We don’t have this book, but we have its author.”

All these people are Turkish citizens. Their ill-treatment is a crime not only internationally, but also according to Turkish law. The state refuses to see and hear these citizens.