Hacı Bişkin / DUVAR

Turkish officials have been offering conflicting statements on coronavirus deaths in prisons.

During a recent parliamentary human rights commission meeting, Deputy Justice Minister Uğurhan Kuş responded to a question from main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy İrfan Kaplan regarding the number of inmates who had died while behind bars due to the coronavirus by saying there were no such deaths. 

However, a previous statement from Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül indicated that three prisoners had succumbed to the virus. 

There are indeed inmates who have died in jail after contracting the novel coronavirus, according to lawyer Şule Recepoğlu from the Human Rights Association prison commission:

“There are inmates in prison with serious illnesses. The prevalence of the virus is much higher than what is said. It is impossible for the virus not to spread in prison. Deaths resulting from the virus are not being listed as such. There are many prisoners with other illnesses as well. When prisoners who have kidney failure or other chronic illnesses die, they do not say that the cause was coronavirus,” Recepoğlu said.

“Coronavirus triggers these illnesses. We think that there is a great possibility that these deaths are a result of the virus,” she added.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu specifically named prisoners who died after becoming ill with coronavirus, as well as the two prisons in the provinces of Samsun and İzmir where the deaths occurred: 

“There have been instances of death in the Bafra and Şakran prisons. They tried to cover up this information. Mehmet Yeter died in the Bafra prison and İsmet Nice died in the Şakran prison. In fact, they buried Mehmet Yeter without informing his family. When this came to light, the prosecutor’s office announced that they were unable to reach his family. His family said that this wasn’t the case. On İsmet Nice’s death certificate, coronavirus is listed [as the cause of death],” Gergerlioğlu said.

Gergerlioğlu brought up two instances of prisoners in penal facilities in different parts of the country who contracted the virus while in jail and were eventually released but passed away due to their illnesses shortly thereafter. 

The deputy said that the Justice Ministry is not announcing the numbers in terms of how many people have died from coronavirus in jail and in which prisons these deaths occurred, adding that it was recently revealed that Istanbul’s Silivri prison has hundreds of inmates who have contracted the virus.