News on the health of former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş caused a stir on Monday. Last week, the jailed opposition politician allegedly lost consciousness for a few minutes due to chest tightness and an inability to breathe. The deployment of first aid was delayed.
While Demirtaş’s lawyers and visitors announced he was in good shape, they also said his “condition” had worsned in prison as he suffered 20 such attacks in the past three years. What Demirtaş suffers from remains unclear. After his aides publicized the scandal, the Ministry of Justice for the first time allowed the politician to consult several specialists. HDP MP Erol Katırcıoğlu, who visited him, told me on the phone that due to “high security” regulations, a hospital needs to be completely cleared in oder to perform medical treatment on Demirtaş. But the Ministry was reluctant to do so.
Demirtaş, who was named third after Erdoğan and Imamoğlu as the “most admirable politician” in a recent AKP poll, announced that didn’t want to bother his party or the public with his health, while there were so many ill prisoners struggling to survive under horrendous conditions. Indeed, ill prisoners – hundreds of which suffer from fatal diseases – are widespread if severe human rights violation in Turkey. Their plight goes mostly untold.
As I was writing this article, HDP Viranşehir district admin Emine Aslan Aydoğan (64) who had been suffered from a fatal disease in a prison, in Şanlıurfa died after being hospitalized. Aydoğan’s family had to take her body with a pickup since they couldn’t get a funeral vehicle – which is supposed to be provided as a civil service. What is more, no Imam was appointed for her funeral. Except for a few independent and pro-Kurdish media outlets, this affair did not make it to the news.
Let alone the number of ill prisoners and their condition, it is hard to get reliable data of any kind in Turkey. Political prisoners, including those who have health problems, are held under inhumane conditions. This only catches the attention of a few human rights advocates. According to the Human Rights Association (IHD), in the last 17 years, 3,500 sick prisoners died in prisons. It has been estimated that there are 1,333 sick prisoners in total, 457 of which have fatal diseases.
A sick prisoner can only be released by a decision from the Ministry of Justice’s, if the Institution of Forensic Medicine (ATK) gives permission. Since ATK is not an independent body, political prisoners are seldom released. The prevailing idea is that “if they are terrorists, they do not deserve a treatment, but should rather rot in a cell”. The case of Aydoğan is the latest proof of this understanding. Political prisoners are treated like trash not only when ill, but also after their death.
Last year, CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu made a law proposal for sick prisoners and babies imprisoned with their mothers. No one cared. Recently, HDP MP Ebru Günay presented a report on prisons and prisoners, with the help of IHD data. Examining seven prisons across Turkey, the report showed that the right to get medical treatment is hurdled, that beatings and torture are common and that access to media and books is prohibited. Food defiency and quality are also common problems, whereas sick prisoners can’t get food in line with their dietary needs. As a example, prisoners with diabetes are served sugar-based diet and they cannot eat.
HDP MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, who frequently brings forwards human rights abuses in prisons, says the process of being hospitalized is a common problem. Prisoners receive belated medical attention, are cuffed while being transferred and at times, whilst getting their physical examination. Complaints regarding medical treatment abound.
The severe violations of sick prisoners rights are against the law and contradict with international agreements Turkey partakes in. Human right advocates accuse the government of being unwilling to address these problems and point to the The European Council, which remains silent.
While the Turkish government presents judicial reforms and boasts at how well the system functions, hundreds of lives are at stake in prisons.