2012-01-24

Treatment of sick prisoners under scrutiny

According to the human rights groups, Turkey's treatment of sick prisoners is against international standards.

By Ozgur Ogret for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 24/01/12

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Terminally sick convicts in Turkish prisons who should receive care or be released according to law are being neglected, resulting in worsening health conditions and the death of dozens each year, human rights activists say.

  • A guard patrols a prison in Van. Human rights groups warn about high number of fatalities due to sickness in Turkish prisons. [Reuters]

    A guard patrols a prison in Van. Human rights groups warn about high number of fatalities due to sickness in Turkish prisons. [Reuters]

According to the most recent report of the Human Rights Association (IHD), as of January 2011 there were 266 ill people imprisoned of which 122 were in serious condition. The number of fatalities due to sickness in prisons was 161 in 2010.

One prominent case is that of Abdullah Demirbas, the terminally ill mayor of Diyarbakir, who has been prevented by courts from travelling abroad for treatment while he is on trial for alleged links to KCK, claimed to be the urban wing of the PKK.

Demirbas was released from prison on May 14th -- after four months of imprisonment of which two were spent in hospital -- due to a hereditary blood coagulation, which causes embolisms.

However, to be treated for the illness, including tests for using a drug called Pradaxa, Demirbas must leave the country, something that he has so far been denied.

Demirbas' lawyer, Sertac Eke, told SES Türkiye that they made six applications to local courts to travel abroad. They now plan to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

"Unfortunately, we are at a dead end in terms of the law," Eke said

Speaking to SES Türkiye, Demirbas said that so far he has visited six universities to get different opinions and all agreed that he should be treated abroad.

For now, since he is unable to leave the country, he is trying domestic options.

When asked whether he perceives his current situation as bureaucratic neglect or wilful attempt against him, Demirbas replied: "To be honest, I perceive this as the attitude of the leading administration towards opposing politics and politicians."

He said his right to travel is denied with the justification of "suspicion of the possibility of escape" and added, "I believe the right to live is superior to the suspicion of possibility of escape."

Lawyer Oya Aslan, known for the documentary she produced on Guler Zere, who died of mouth cancer shortly after she was released from prison in May 2010, spoke to SES Türkiye about terminally ill patients in prison.

In the case of Zere, her condition started while imprisoned and could have been treated if she had been released earlier, she explained. Some of her current clients have diseases like skin cancer and kidney failure but are still denied release.

According to Aslan, the problem lies in the attitude of the prison personnel. "The prison management has to notify the related institutions about a person who is sick. They do not do this, first of all. The first notification always comes from our side," she said.

If the sick prisoner cannot be treated at the prison, he or she should be sent to a hospital or the judiciary should be alerted to suspend the sentence, Aslan noted.

Forensics Medicine institutions which the prisoners are transferred to are either prejudiced or neglecting patients due to an excessive work load, she says, and suggested university institutions and public hospitals should be used.

"Although we know there are a lot of people inside who are about to die, there are dossiers that do not come out of Forensics Medicine," she adds.

Prison staffs, prosecutors' offices, forensics medicine institutions and the justice ministry inspectors who oversee them create "a chain of violations", according to Aslan.

Law professor Ersan Sen told SES Türkiye that while the basic rights of the convicts cannot be debated in this age, so can't the improvement of prison conditions in recent years.

"I believe the complaints in terms of prisons are exaggerated compared to the past," he said. "'There is bad treatment in prison, people who enter healthy leave sick'" -- these claims cannot be accepted."

He said the situation differs between the arrested and the convicted: while the situation should be improved for the former, the procedure for the convicted is sufficient.

"The law says this: if they can be treated, they will be treated. If they cannot be treated the sentence will be put on hold, they will be released from prison and the sentence will continue after the treatment is carried out in a secure environment."

If the condition cannot be treated, there is always presidential pardon, he says. But according to IHD, the system governing presidential pardons is broken and rarely used.

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