Outrage boils over as photos reveal suspicious death of inmate in Turkish prison

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Postmortem photos of former Deputy Police Chief Mustafa Kabakçıoğlu, who was found dead in a quarantine cell in Turkey’s Gümüşhane E Type Closed Prison on August 29, has sparked outrage among dissidents.

The photos showing Kabakçıoğlu sitting lifeless in a plastic chair with his head back and his hands on his knees circulated widely on social media after being released in an exclusive report by Bold Medya on Wednesday.

The dire conditions due to criminal neglect in Turkish prisons during the pandemic are also revealed in the photos, which show his quarantine cell, where Kabakçıoğlu’s meal is seen placed on a trash bin, with water bottles and rolls of toilet paper scattered on the floor.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chair Gülizar Biçer Karaca on Thursday directed a parliamentary question to Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül, arguing that the photos circulating on social media give the impression that conditions in Turkish prisons during the pandemic are incompatible with human dignity.

“What is Kabakçıoğlu’s cause of death? Why was he sitting in a plastic chair when he was found dead? Did the prison guards and other officers neglect him [to death]? How many inmates have died in Turkish prisons in 2020?” Karaca asked Gül.

According to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency (AA), Minister Gül appointed two inspectors to investigate Kabakçıoğlu’s suspicious death.

The Gümüşhane Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a written press statement released late on Wednesday that although Kabakçıoğlu stated his condition was deteriorating two days before he was found dead, he refused to be transferred to a hospital in a petition he wrote.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a member of parliament’s Human Rights Inquiry Committee, addressed the issue during a press conference in the Turkish Parliament on Thursday, saying Kabakçıoğlu’s family suspects he was murdered.

“Although it has been 48 days since Kabakçıoğlu was found dead in his quarantine cell, the prosecutor’s office has chosen to hurriedly make a press statement only after the inmate’s postmortem photos started circulating on social media,” the lawmaker underlined.

Referring to Kabakçıoğlu’s COVID-19 test that came back negative, Gergerlioğlu added: “Why did you put him in a quarantine cell if he was not infected? If he was really sick, why did you kept him alone in a cell for nine days and wait for him to die?”

“There’s extreme swelling on the left side of my mouth and on my left leg. I have difficulty walking and talking.  My arm feels numb while writing this petition,” Kabakçıoğlu reportedly wrote in a petition to inform the prison doctor of his deteriorating condition on August 27.

 Referring to Kabakçıoğlu’s last petition, Gergerlioğlu argued that it does not make sense for an inmate to refuse to be sent to a hospital in that condition.

“They [the prosecutor’s office] say he did not want to go to the hospital and wrote a petition for it, but there’s no such petition in his case file. The prosecutor has failed to explain so many things [regarding Kabakçıoğlu’s death],” he stressed.

“How can a prisoner die in a chair in a quarantine cell? The death of Mustafa KABAKÇIOGLU must be investigated,” Rebecca Harms, former MEP and a rights advocate, said in a tweet on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t matter what his crime was. This is not justice. This is not humanity,” CHP Istanbul deputy Aykut Erdoğdu also said on Twitter.

Şule Aydın, a former anchorwoman for Halk TV, one of the few television stations in Turkey that is critical of the government, also tweeted, “It’s not difficult to cleanse oneself of fear and hatred in order to speak out against every act that violates human dignity.”

The Izmir branch of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD) criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on Twitter, saying, “The conditions of the execution [of sentences] are being used as death sentences themselves.”

Kabakçıoğlu was previously removed from his job and arrested due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by the ruling AKP and is accused of orchestrating a coup attempt that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

He was arrested on July 26, 2016, during a massive purge that followed the abortive putsch and targeted members of the faith-based movement in Turkey.

Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the 2016 coup attempt, more than 135,000 people, including police officers, military personnel, teachers, lawyers, and judges, have been dismissed from their jobs due to their real or alleged connection to the movement, the labor minister announced in January.

In April, the Turkish Parliament adopted an early release law to ease overcrowding in jails and protect detainees from the coronavirus but categorically excluded those convicted on terrorism-related charges.

According to reports by Turkish news outlets critical of the Erdoğan administration, scores of prisoners across the country have died allegedly due to the negligence of prison authorities during the pandemic.

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