Twenty bar associations in Turkey have released a joint statement calling for the release of Aysel Tuğluk from Kocaeli prison. Tuğluk has suffered from early-onset dementia for years, likely a result of trauma.
Tuğluk has received a medical report from the Kocaeli Faculty of Medicine stating that she “cannot remain in prison” due to the ever-deteriorating nature of her condition. Prison authorities, however, have refused to release her.
Former People’s Democratic Party (HDP) deputy co-chair Tuğluk was arrested in 2016 as part of the government’s operation against the Democratic Society Congress (DTK).
She has long been a vocal member of the Kurdish opposition and has openly called for Kurdish “democratic autonomy”. She was one of the lawyers who fought against the death sentence for the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, and later shuttled letters between him and the PKK.
She later became a politician as a member of the HDP.
Tuğluk’s mother, Hatun Tuğluk, who was long an advocate for the Kurdish movement, died in 2017. The funeral in Ankara was attacked by a mob and the family could not bury the body. Aysel Tuğluk was at the funeral with special permission from the prison, but could not actually see her mother buried because she had to return.
After her mother’s death, Tuğluk's condition rapidly deteriorated. Her lawyer, Serdar Çelebi, said that she withdrew from the world.
“She was very affected by this process (of imprisonment). She cut off contact with the world. She did not attend to her daily needs. She went through a process where she became cut off from life,” he said in November.
In recent months, Tuğluk’s family and lawyers have openly said that she suffers from early-onset dementia. Now, twenty bar associations including that of İzmir and Antalya say her continued imprisonment is a denial of her right to life, which is guaranteed in the Turkish constitution. They further state that Turkish legislation regulating prisons states that in case of illness, “If the execution of the prison sentence poses a certain danger to the life of the prisoner, the execution of the prisoner's sentence is suspended until he recovers.” In Tuğluk’s case, they say, this is not being followed.
Further, according to the statement, Tuğluk is now unable to meet her most basic needs, including eating and drinking. She is also hardly able to communicate. Her lawyers and human rights associations state that her condition will only worsen the longer she stays in prison.
The twenty bar associations signed the statement in the name of “protecting and defending human rights,” as required by Turkish law regulating attorneys.