Family of inmate with late stage cancer urges authorities to release him before it’s too late

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The family of Yusuf Özmen, a stage 4 cancer patient who remains in prison despite a hospital report saying he is almost totally disabled, has called on authorities to release him before it’s too late, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported on Tuesday, citing the Bold Medya news website.

Özmen’s wife, Aynur Özmen, shared her husband’s most recent hospital reports which indicated that a tumor in one of his lungs had grown. “Hospital reports say my husband’s incarceration should be postponed,” she said. “What are authorities waiting for? He is being condemned to death.”

A medical report signed by 40 doctors said Özmen was not fit to stay in prison. However, Turkey’s Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) issued another health report in April saying he could remain incarcerated. The report added that the institute should be consulted if Özmen’s health continued to deteriorate.

As the number of sick prisoners dying in prison has increased, doubts about the credibility and independence of the council have grown, as the institution is affiliated with the Ministry of Justice.

Özmen was hospitalized in August when his heart rate increased to 200 bpm, after which he was placed in a quarantine cell by himself.

Özmen was arrested for alleged links to the Gülen movement. He was accused of using the ByLock smartphone application and sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, and he is currently in a prison in eastern Erzurum province.

Turkey has considered ByLock, once widely available online, a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement since a coup attempt in July 2016 despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch, leading to the arrest of thousands who were using it.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of Dec. 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized the authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners so they can seek proper treatment. Human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said ill prisoners were not released until they were at the point of no return.

According to the Human Rights Association (İHD), as of June 2020 there were more than 1,605 sick inmates in Turkish prisons, approximately 600 of whom were critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients had forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they were not released. Authorities refuse to free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society. In the first eight months of 2020, five critically ill prisoners passed away because they were not released in time to receive proper medical treatment.

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