HDP calls Turkish prisons 'torture centers,' urges UN to take action

At least 50,000 inmates have been charged with political crimes.
author_image Ari Khalidi

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) - Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on Friday called on the United Nations, the European Parliament, and the European Commission to "urgently" take action against alarming levels of torture and other ill-treatment in Turkish prisons.

In a press release given to reporters, the opposition party accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's administration and its ultranationalist allies of using prisons and detention centers as "key areas for brutally oppressive government policies."

"Prisoners are physically abused on a regular basis. [They] are beaten up and sometimes killed when they refuse to roll-call standing up, give a military salute, reject strip searches, or ask to see a doctor," HDP's Commission on Prisons said.

"The most recent dreadful [example] is that of Ulas Yurdakul, a Kurdish man who was sleeping on a mat under the stairs due to lack of space. Prisoners and prison guards beat him up regularly. Eventually, he was beaten to death," the HDP statement read.

It also claimed the existence of audio recordings of the perpetrators bragging about having killed him, how the guards covered up their crime, and that they had managed to kill “a terrorist” without having to do military service.

The statement noted that Turkey’s Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers puts the number of inmates held in prisons across the country as of February 2018 at 235,888, but added that the nation's prisons, at full capacity, were large enough to hold only 208,830.

It also stated that 50,000 of those prisoners were incarcerated after having been charged with political crimes.

Last month, claims of torture in several prisons made headlines in media outlets run by Kurdish and other opposition parties in Turkey

HDP listed them the prisons as those in Elazig, Bursa, Rize, Mersin, Ankara, and Balikesir provinces, where guards and officials responsible for torture had "total impunity."

Chart showing number of inmates rising in Turkish prisons. (Source: HDP)
Chart showing number of inmates rising in Turkish prisons. (Source: HDP)

The HDP also charged that terminally-ill prisoners as well were victims of the "failing prison system" in Turkey.

"Even though there is not a death sentence in Turkey," many prisoners die as a result of poor treatment, or because they are denied much-needed medical treatment, the party said, and listed several examples.

Among them, Celal Seker, an inmate, is said to have been ruled ‘unfit to stay in prison’ by multiple medical authorities, but later died in prison after a heart attack.

Another, Murat Saat, was serving a life sentence when he died after treatment was withheld, and Ahmet Bayar, arrested for attending a protest, died three months after his release. According to the statement, Bayar would have survived longer if he had received cancer treatment in prison, or was released earlier.

Friday's statement also named prisoners it said were in need of urgent care, including Seyran Demir, a young female prisoner with leukemia, who had has lost all of her teeth and currently weighs just 35 kilograms, as well as 78-year-old Sise Bingol, jailed for ‘making terror propaganda.'

The HDP said its members and officials now detained were being singled out to be tortured and receive other forms of maltreatment.

Last month, claimed the statement, guards at Bursa Prison ordered a roll-call and told inmates to give a military salute.

"When prisoners, most of whom are jailed HDP officials, refused to do so, they were first cuffed in the back and beaten up brutally, and then kept in solitary confinement with their hands cuffed behind them for eight hours," it read.

The same practice had also been documented at Rize Prison, the statement continued, where HDP officials "with broken bones and fractures resulting from the beatings were denied hospital visits.

Authorities, including ministers, were not responsive to reports and allegations of torture, charged the statement, noting that "Not a single guard or prison staff has been removed from their position for using violence against prisoners, while many prisoners have received extra punishment for demanding to file a complaint on torture or ill-treatment they face."

"As if prison conditions are not bad [enough]," it continued, "the government has decided to impose prison uniforms on those charged with 'terrorism,' a broad and ambiguous term in Turkey that includes almost any dissident voice."

The HDP statement concluded by asserting that "Erdogan and his allies are gradually building a dictatorial rule under conditions of the emergency rule, militarization, and populist nationalism," and was using the mass arrests as a tool to squelch all opposition before upcoming elections.

Editing by John J. Catherine