A damp cellar hole, a bed on the concrete floor and a corpse in a plastic chair: a gruesome photo now reminds the Turks that four years after the power struggle between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his former ally Fethullah Gülen, thousands of people are still languishing in the prison.
The dead man in the chair was a police officer convicted of a supporter of Gulen who had begged in vain for medical help in prison before dying in a lonely cell in agony. The photo, apparently smuggled from the investigation files and published by a medium in exile, shows Turkish society the detention conditions that human rights defenders have so far denounced in vain.
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Mustafa Kabakcioglu, 44, was a deputy police commissioner in Giresun, northern Turkey, until he was released from the civil service by an emergency decree in the summer of 2016, was arrested and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison as a supporter of Gülen.
Erdogan exempted political prisoners from amnesty
According to press reports, he was charged with donating five lira to a charity that was later banned as Gülen-nah, and for downloading an app on his cell phone that was used by many Gülen supporters – enough to get caught in the fine-meshed trawl net with which Erdogan pursued his nemesis’ sympathizers after the 2016 coup attempt.
Thousands of people went behind bars over such charges, and most of them are still there: they were expressly exempted from an amnesty for the April coronavirus pandemic as political prisoners, while nearly 100,000 criminal convicts, including mob boss and right-wing extremists, were released. Leader.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is tough on his opponents Photo: Adem Altan / AFP
The amnesty was supposed to relieve the prisons, but inmates were unaware, as opposition CHP deputy chairman of the parliamentary human rights committee, Sezgin Tanrikulu, discovered during an inspection of the prisons.
Cells of eight men are still occupied by twenty or more inmates, Tanrikulu reported. Since there are only eight bunk beds and one toilet in these cells, the inmates take turns sleeping on the floor and rationing their supplies.
Visiting rights severely limited due to pandemic
The prison budget therefore estimates the equivalent of 90 cents per person per day for the catering for the inmates. A balanced diet is not possible, says Tanrikulu, and food in prisons is therefore: bad, little and unhealthy. Sick prisoners would have to wait months for medical treatment. Due to the pandemic, the right to visit has been drastically limited – to one visitor per month, half an hour with a partition.
Kabakcioglu must have experienced it all in exactly the same way – according to his letters and diaries, presented by MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioglu of the opposition party HDP after consultation with the widow. “We can’t breathe, we can barely move,” Kabakcioglu noted three years ago. Locked in an eight-man cell with 17 inmates, the initially strongman lost his health in custody – he became very emaciated and passed out.
Now it is determined – how the picture came to the public
When he started coughing that summer, prison authorities placed him in a solitary cell, but did not have him tested for Covid-19 – only when the autopsy revealed he was not infected with the coronavirus. The prisoner pleaded for treatment from the lonely cell. “I have swelling in my mouth and on my leg, my arm is numb, I don’t feel anything below the waist and I can’t move,” he wrote in his latest entry to the prison doctor.
Two days later, a security guard found him dead in the plastic chair that opened the door in the morning, with his head tilted back. That was on August 29, but Kabakcioglu’s wife and children received no information about their questions. It was only when the drastic photos from death row became public six weeks later that the public prosecutor felt compelled to explain: the man did not want to go to the hospital, it said. With a preliminary investigation, the judiciary wants to clarify how the photos can reach the public: The photos were probably launched by “treacherous fringe groups” to stir up society, the prosecutor said.
Kabakcioglu’s death is not an isolated incident, says human rights activist Gergerlioglu, who has been denouncing the situation in Turkish prisons for years. He himself knows dozens of such cases that have been covered by the judge. Kabakcioglu’s lonely death probably wouldn’t have interested anyone anymore, he says – “if this photo hadn’t surfaced, it shocked the public.”