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NGOs urge UN to take urgent action for ailing pro-Kurdish-party politician in prison

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Several nongovernmental organizations have urged the United Nations to take “urgent” action for the release of jailed Kurdish politician Aysel Tuğluk, who suffers from dementia, in a letter addressed to various UN rapporteurs and a working group, the Bianet news website reported on Friday.

The letter, titled “Urgent Action: Imminent risk to health and life of ill prisoner Aysel Tuğluk,” was sent by 43 Turkish and international NGOs, bar associations and human rights associations to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Tuğluk was arrested on Dec. 29, 2016, while she was deputy co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) along with seven other Kurdish opposition politicians. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of serving as an executive of a terrorist organization and taking orders from Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the US.

Tuğluk has denied the accusations, saying she never called for violence and always sought democratic solutions to problems the Kurds faced.

The letter noted that Tuğluk’s health has deteriorated considerably since she was diagnosed with dementia.

“Ms. Tuğluk’s continued imprisonment despite her serious health issues and her vulnerabilities to both conditions in the prison and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, show a failure of Turkish authorities to adhere to both their own domestic laws and international standards with regard to treatment of prisoners,” it said.

The letter urged the UN rapporteurs and the working group for urgent action to intervene against ongoing rights violations targeting Tuğluk, specifically asking them “to urge the Turkish Government to immediately release Aysel Tuğluk and other severely ill prisoners who are not fit to remain in prison in compliance with Turkey’s domestic and international law obligations,” and “to communicate the concerns in relation to violation of prisoners’ rights to medical services and to investigate the circumstances behind the refusal to release severely ill prisoners.”

The letter also urged the UN rapporteurs and the working group “to invite the Turkish Government to ensure that all prisons in Turkey have an adequate number of medical staff, including doctors and that they work freely without any undue interference with their work,” and “to ensure the Turkish Government allows greater accountability and transparency of prison living conditions by enabling visits and inspections from human rights groups and nongovernmental entities.”

According to her lawyer, Tuğluk was issued a report by a medical board comprising nine physicians at Kocaeli University Hospital stating that she couldn’t survive on her own. Turkey’s Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK), an institution affiliated with the Ministry of Justice whose independence and credibility have been called into question lately due to an increasing number of deaths of critically ill inmates with ATK reports, saying they are “fit to remain in prison,” denied Tuğluk ‘s release after a brief examination, despite the medical board report.

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

HDP deputy Züleyha Gülüm said political prisoners were the most disadvantaged and were often the least likely to be released in the event of a serious health problem.

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