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Wife calls for release of imprisoned former teacher with thyroid cancer

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Nesli Kanat, wife of 40-year-old inmate Hakan Kanat, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in October 2021, has demanded the immediate release of her husband along with other critically ill prisoners in Turkey, local media reported on Saturday.

Former teacher Kanat, who was arrested for alleged links to the Gülen movement in 2016 and has been behind bars since then, underwent major surgery in October, being sent back to prison only a week afterward. Due to coronavirus-related measures, he was put in a quarantine cell upon his return to prison.

Releasing a video on Twitter on Friday, Nesli Kanat called for her husband’s immediate release from prison, saying that aside from the exhaustion of the past six years, the difficulties they had faced in the last six months after the surgery had been “devastating” for them.

“I’ve been complaining [about this] for months, trying to make my husband’s illness known. … My husband is a cancer patient and he needs to be under a doctor’s care so that we can stop the progression of the disease. He needs to be in a sterile environment and pay attention to his diet. I call for the release of my husband and all [critically] ill prisoners,” Kanat said.

Hakan Kanat was arrested on July 24, 2016. He was convicted on terrorism charges due to his alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement for working at a private student dormitory affiliated with the group. He was sentenced to 15 years, but the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned his sentence.

Kanat is still being held in prison despite the top court’s decision.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 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 a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Critics have slammed Turkish authorities for refusing to release critically ill prisoners. Human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu previously said critically ill political prisoners were not released from prison “until it reaches the point of no return.” He depicted the deaths of seriously ill prisoners in Turkey who are not released in time to receive proper medical treatment as acts of “murder” committed by the state.

According to the most recent statistics published by the Human Rights Association (İHD), the number of sick prisoners is in the thousands, more than 600 of whom are critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients have forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they are not released. Authorities refuse to free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society.

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