Hacı Bişkin/ DUVAR

According to a recent report by the human rights commission of the Turkish Parliament, inmate population of the maximum-security Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul more than doubled its official capacity. 

The research was carried out by parliamentarians from the provinces of Hatay, Afyonkarahısar, Ankara Çorum, Diyarbakır, Istanbul, Antep, Siirt along with three experts from the commission. The report surveyed the applications of prisoners concerning their most common complaints which included insufficient attention to health problems, arbitrary behavior and bad treatment on the part of prison staff, the lack of social activities and the right to communication, requests for transfer being denied, poor physical conditions, and issues with being sent to hospitals. 

Though technically within the borders of the Istanbul province, the maximum-security Silivri prison is located in the suburb of the same name, just under 60 miles west of central Istanbul. Opened in 2008, Silivri holds the distinction as the largest penal facility in Europe. 

The prison initially became notable for holding prisoners being tried in the Ergenekon case, an infamous trial that targed an alleged nationalist deep state ring that was trying to topple the government. It is widely believed that the trial was launched by members of the judiciary followers of the US-based, exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who at at the time was allies with then-PM and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who supported the trials. The defendants included prominent journalists, politicians and military officers. 

Prior to and following the failed military coup of July 2016, Silivri continued to be among the prisons where large numbers of political prisoners were regularly sent, accounting for its overcapacity. They included journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, who were jailed on what critics blasted as baseless and contradictory charges. Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, who is believed to have been used as a hostage by Turkey, as Germany went to great diplomatic lengths to secure his release, spent a year in Silivri awaiting trial on terror charges.  

Perhaps the most prominent prisoner currently being held at Silivri is Osman Kavala, a respected philanthropist, civil society leader and businessman who has been imprisoned in pre-trial detention for two years on charges of overthrowing the government in the Gezi Park trials, regarding the widespread anti-government protests that broke out in 2013. Critics who have read the indictment of the case against Kavala and his co-defendants have said it completely lacks evidence. 

Earlier this week, well-known author and journalist Ahmet Altan was released from Silivri after spending three years behind bars on terror charges. The charges alleged that Altan had aided what the government calls the Fethuhallist Terror Organization (FETÖ), which it has blamed for the July 2016 coup attempt. 

Silivri has been notorious for numerous reports of torture, including by Yücel who said he was tortured at the prison for three days, for which he specifically blamed Erdoğan. 

The commission determined that the drinking water in the prison was coming through old and rusty pipes, which was resulting in health problems among the inmates. While the report concluded that the prison library contact a sufficient number and selection of reading material, it said that among the prisoners’ most common requests was psychological support. 

The most problematic area of the Silivri prison was determined to be the No. 4 L-Type Closed Penitentiary Institution, where reported problems included insufficient time for visits, the prevention of books coming from outside of the prison, and prison staff exhibiting insulting behavior to inmates while they were visiting loved ones. 

The report concluded that action needed to be taken regarding the overcapacity, the poor physical conditions, the bad treatment of inmates by personnel, and ensuring that inmates were allowed to use the full extent of their visiting time.