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Solidarity festival in Cologne focuses on human rights violations in Turkey

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A number of Turkish rights activists addressed the issue of human rights violations in Turkey, with an emphasis on political prisoners, during the 3rd Festival der Solidarität (Solidarity Festival) in Cologne over the weekend, the Kronos news website reported.

The event was organized by the Stimmen der Solidarität (Voices of Solidarity) group and the Willi Eichler Academy in Cologne with the aim of raising public awareness of the ongoing human rights violations in Turkey and encouraging people to work together for the fundamental rights of Turks.

Among the participants from Turkey were prominent rights activist and Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Chairperson Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Sibel Yiğitalp, president of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) İstanbul branch Gülseren Yoleri and Melek Çetinkaya, who has become famous due to her campaign for the release of military cadets – including her son Furkan – who she said were jailed on bogus charges for allegedly participating in an abortive putsch in Turkey in 2016.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu also took part in the event via video message, Kronos said.

Cologne Mayor Andreas Wolter, who gave the opening speech, said they closely follow all cases of political imprisonment in Turkey in addition to other arbitrary practices and violations of human rights.

Fincancı talked about the serious health problems faced by Turkey’s political prisoners, who she said were unable to see medical specialists in prison.

She added that when sick prisoners were transferred to a hospital, they were taken there in handcuffs in prison vehicles that were “turned into individual cells” and that their handcuffs weren’t taken off in the examination room, where they were accompanied by a security guard.

“The conditions in high-security prisons in particular are almost equivalent to solitary confinement. People are kept in one-person cells, deprived of ventilation. In places where there’s ventilation, they [the authorities] recently have started to cover the duct with wire cages. Therefore, their possibility of seeing the sun disappears,” Fincancı said.

The TTB chair continued to say that all prisoners in Turkey had serious chronic health problems that are developed and aggravated by staying in prison in addition to the psychological effects of being behind bars for a long time.

CHP MP Tanrıkulu said in his video message that Turkey was going through a time of more serious human rights violations than the coup periods.

Drawing attention to widespread cases of systematic torture and ill-treatment behind bars, he added that the judiciary, media and parliament in Turkey were “dysfunctional” in the face of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s “tyranny.”

The lawmaker then urged solidarity against the Turkish government’s arbitrary practices by saying, “Now is the time for solidarity and struggle. Let’s remove the prejudices between us. We have the courage and hope to do this.”

İHD’s Yoleri argued, citing their reports on human rights violations in Turkey, that the number of suicides among prisoners was increasing mainly due to torture and ill-treatment in prisons and detention centers.

Çetinkaya talked about becoming a human rights activist after hundreds of military cadets were arrested following an abortive putsch on July 16, 2016 with 178 of them, including her son Furkan, being given life sentences on coup-related charges.

“My son and his friends were deprived of [even] bread and water when they were first detained. … They were maltreated,” Çetinkaya said, adding that her son has been acquitted after spending six years in prison.

The military cadets said on the night of the coup attempt, which claimed the lives of 251 people and was suppressed overnight, they were taken to İstanbul in buses from Yalova and that they did not know they were part of a coup attempt. During their trial, they denied taking part in the coup attempt and said they were only acting on orders from their superiors, who told them there was a terrorist attack.

HDP MP Yiğitalp, on the other hand, drew attention to politicians in Turkish prisons, saying that they shouldn’t be forgotten as hundreds of HDP politicians including the party’s former co-chairs are behind bars.

In early August Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported that there was a 43 percent increase in the number of complaints of rights violations submitted to the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey (TİHEK), a government organization responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights, in the first six months of 2022 compared to the same period the previous year.

While 631 complaints about rights violations were submitted to TİHEK in the January-June period of 2021, the number surged to 905 in the first six months of 2022, with 506 of them – corresponding to 55 percent – submitted by inmates, including convicted criminals and suspects in pretrial detention, according to DW.

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