The Ankara-based Human Rights Association (İHD) received petitions from a total of 1,182 inmates in 2020 in which they complained about the rights violations they were subjected to in prison, according to a report released by the İHD.
Inmates cited poor living conditions and maltreatment in Turkish prisons in the complaints, reporting violations of their rights to adequate nutrition, humane treatment, educational opportunity and the ability to transfer to other penal facilities, among others, the İHD Prisons Report for 2020 said.
Rights violations in Turkey’s prisons and the denial of medical care to inmates have increased since a failed coup in July 2016, as a result of which the Turkish government has jailed thousands of people on the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
Turkey currently has one of the largest prison populations in its history, with 276,438 inmates as of Feb. 28, according to data from the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers. The high prison population is thought to lead to rights violations as cells are filled well above capacity.
The İHD report shows that complaints related to coronavirus pandemic measures and access to medical services in prison facilities were also frequent in 2020 when at least 17 inmates died of COVID-19.
According to data from the Justice Ministry in November 2020, coronavirus infections were reported in 117 out of 368 prisons, and 120 inmates tested positive for the coronavirus. However, petitions filed at the İHD by inmates from 20 different prisons show that at least 489 inmates were infected with the virus.
Turkey’s Justice Ministry refuses to announce the exact number of inmates and prison staff members who have been infected with the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic in Turkey in March 2020.
In their petitions, some inmates complained that coronavirus measures turned into a punishment for inmates as they were deprived of their rights to have visitors, engage in physical activities and socialize with other inmates.
The İHD report also showed that there are at least 1,605 ailing inmates in the country’s prisons, 604 of whom are in critical condition. The İHD said it estimates the number of sick inmates to be higher and calls on the government to release them and delay their sentences as the coronavirus pandemic poses a further threat to their medical well-being.
Parliament passed an early parole law on April 14, 2020 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the legislation excluded political prisoners, including opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws. The law prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.