Ahmet Çiçek from the Human Rights Association (IHD) has said conditions in Turkish prisons are inhumane and that human rights violations have become worryingly common, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported, citing the Gazete Duvar news website.
Speaking to the Gazete Duvar news website, Çiçek said the prison population had skyrocketed in recent years under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government due to its crackdown on dissidents. As the number of prisoners has increased, so have human rights violations. According to a report by the IHD, hundreds of rights violations were reported last year in western Turkey alone.
The violations include arbitrary suspension of privileges such as social activities and use of the telephone. Inmates also said they were unjustly put in solitary confinement and did not have access to healthcare.
As part of a crackdown launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the aftermath of an attempted coup in 2016, Turkey has jailed tens of thousands of people on terrorism-related charges. Most of them were merely critical of the government and had not engaged in any criminal activity.
According to Çiçek, this caused overcrowding, resulting in situations where inmates were underfed and did not have a bed or basic hygiene supplies. Inmates who had landed in prison at an early age grew up in these circumstances and over time developed long-lasting health problems.
“Inmates are searched when entering and leaving the prison, but the way in which this search is conducted in some cases can only be described as sexual harassment,” he said referring to unlawful strip-searches, which have become common in prisons.
According to Turkish legal and preventative search regulations, strip searches can only be conducted in exceptional cases, such as when there are credible indications that the person has contraband materials on him. In such cases the search must be conducted in a manner so as not to humiliate the person and as quickly as possible. When there is a credible suspicion that something is hidden in the person’s body, officers are required to ask the person to remove it himself and inform him that if he disobeys, the removal will be done by the prison doctor.
However, testimonies of female inmates shows that Turkish security forces use strip searches unlawfully and systematically to humiliate them.
If inmates object to such treatment, they face severe consequences. In a notorious example, journalist Aslıhan Gençay was disciplined for objecting to an unlawful strip-search in central Turkey’s Sivas open prison.
Çiçek added that many sick prisoners were not released even if terminal. He gave the example of Mehmet Emin Özkan, an 84-year-old man who is currently in prison despite suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other severe health problems.
“We hear about a lot of prison deaths, and many are classified as suicide. But how many of these deaths are really investigated? I’m not surprised there are so many cases of suicide as prison conditions are so terrible. Many inmates simply lose the will to live,” Çiçek explained.
The Turkish government was previously scrutinized by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) about abysmal conditions of Turkish prisons.
According to Turkish media, the government was posed questions about overcrowding, sanitary conditions and access to open air areas as well as the social, cultural and sports activities the inmates are allowed to participate in.