A damp basement hole, a bed on the concrete floor and a corpse in a plastic chair: a gruesome photo has now reminded the Turks that four years after the power struggle between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his former ally Fethullah Gülen, thousands of people are still languishing in prison.
The dead man in the chair was a policeman who had been convicted of being a Gülen supporter and who had begged in vain for medical help in prison before he died in agony in a solitary cell. The photo, apparently smuggled from the investigation files and published by a medium in exile, shows Turkish society the conditions of detention that human rights defenders have so far denounced in vain.
[Wenn Sie aktuelle Nachrichten aus Berlin, Deutschland und der Welt live auf Ihr Handy haben wollen, empfehlen wir Ihnen unsere App, die Sie hier für Apple- und Android-Geräte herunterladen können.]
The 44-year-old Mustafa Kabakcioglu was deputy police commissioner in Giresun, northern Turkey, until he was dismissed from civil service by emergency decree in the summer of 2016, arrested and sentenced as a Gülen supporter to seven and a half years in prison.
Erdogan exempted political prisoners from amnesty
According to press reports, he was charged with donating five lira to a charity that was later banned as Gülen-nah, and for downloading an app to his cell phone that was used by many Gülen supporters – enough to To get caught in the fine-meshed trawl that Erdogan used to hunt down the sympathizers of his archenemy after the 2016 coup attempt.
Thousands of people disappeared behind bars over such allegations, and most of them are still sitting there: They were expressly exempted from an amnesty for the coronavirus pandemic in April as political prisoners, while almost 100,000 criminal convicts, including mafia bosses and right-wing extremists, were released Ringleader.
The amnesty was supposed to relieve the prisons, but the prisoners didn’t notice anything, as the vice-chairman of the parliamentary human rights commission, Sezgin Tanrikulu from the opposition CHP, discovered during an inspection of the prisons.
Eight-man cells are still occupied by 20 prisoners or more, Tanrikulu reported. Because there are only eight bunks and one toilet in these cells, the inmates have to take turns sleeping on the floor and rationing their necessities.
Visiting rights severely restricted due to pandemic
The prison budget therefore estimates the equivalent of 90 cents per person per day for catering for the inmates. A balanced diet is not possible, says Tanrikulu, and the food in prisons is accordingly: bad, little and unhealthy. Sick prisoners would have to wait months for medical treatment. Visiting rights are drastically restricted due to the pandemic – to one visitor a month, for half an hour with a partition.
Kabakcioglu must have experienced it all in exactly the same way – it emerges from his letters and diaries, which the MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioglu from the opposition party HDP presented after consulting the widow. “We can’t breathe, we can hardly move,” noted Kabakcioglu three years ago. Locked in an eight-man cell with 17 prisoners, the initially strong man lost his health in custody – he became very emaciated and passed out.
Now it is being determined – how the photo came to the public
When he started coughing that summer, the prison authorities put him in a solitary cell, but did not have him tested for Covid-19 – it was not until the autopsy showed that he was not infected with the coronavirus. The prisoner pleaded for treatment from the solitary cell. “I have swellings in my mouth and on my leg, my arm is numb, I can’t feel anything below the belt and can’t move,” he wrote in his last petition to the prison doctor.
Two days later, a guard found him dead in the plastic chair unlocking the door in the morning, his head tilted back. It was on August 29th, but Kabakcioglu’s wife and children received no answer to their questions. Only when the drastic photos from death row came to the public six weeks later did the public prosecutor’s office feel compelled to explain: The man did not want to go to the hospital, it said. With a preliminary investigation, the judiciary now wants to clarify how the photos could get to the public: The pictures were probably launched by “insidious fringe groups” to stir up society, the public prosecutor said.
The death of Kabakcioglu is not an isolated incident, says the human rights activist Gergerlioglu, who has been denouncing the situation in Turkish prisons for years. He himself knows dozens of such cases that have been covered up by the judiciary. Also the lonely death of Kabakcioglu would probably not have interested anyone again, he says – “if this photo hadn’t turned up that shook the public”.