Kurdish leader sent back to prison despite health fears

Selahattin Demirtas greets Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) supporters during a rally in Istanbul, in 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 03 December 2019

Kurdish leader sent back to prison despite health fears

  • Turkish authorities accused of ‘negligence’ after Selahattin Demirtas collapses in jail cell
  • Demirtas, the former co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and nicknamed the ‘Kurdish Obama,’ has been in prison for more than three years on terror-related charges

ANKARA: Jailed pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas was taken to hospital on Monday for health checks after collapsing five days ago in his prison cell.
The move followed criticism of Turkish authorities for failing to authorize emergency treatment earlier.
However, contrary to hopes that Demirtas would undergo extensive examinations, he was returned to prison within a few hours.
Demirtas’ sister Aygul and his supporters had criticized Turkish authorities for refusing to carry out full checks and detailed examinations, claiming that Demirtas received emergency treatment in prison in Edirne in northwestern Turkey.
“He has not been sent to hospital because of security reasons,” his sister said.
Lawyers and family members were not told about Demirtaş’ collapse for two days, with his sister learning about his health issues only on Monday, three days after the incident, when she came to visit her brother.
Authorities were informed on Friday about the need to take Demirtas to hospital for tests, but the process stalled over the weekend. Family and lawyers had to bring the politician’s case to the attention of the media before official approval was given.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Demirtas’ lawyer, Mahsuni Karaman, said the politician, who has had coronary issues previously, had serious chest pains and breathing problems, and lost his memory for a short while.
His lawyers are set to apply to the Constitutional Court to speed up legal proceedings for examining his dossier at the court.
“We haven’t received the results of his health examinations yet. If there is an acute situation that means he has to be transferred to a full-fledged hospital, we will apply to the relevant authorities to accelerate that process,” Karaman said.
Demirtas, the former co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and nicknamed the “Kurdish Obama,” has been in prison for more than three years on terror-related charges.
If convicted, he faces a prison term of up to 142 years.
His lawyers recently made their sixth application to the Constitutional Court claiming that he is being kept in prison despite two release orders.
Last year the European Court of Human Rights called for Demirtas’ release from pre-trial detention, claiming that the case “had political incentives” aimed at “limiting freedom of political debate” in Turkey.
Emma Sinclair-Webb, of Human Rights Watch, said Turkey has a poor record of providing medical care for sick prisoners and those with chronic or life-threatening health conditions.
“Demirtas is one of thousands of prisoners denied the right to proper health care,” she told Arab News. “Combined with the Turkish government’s politically motivated and arbitrary detention, any further denial of necessary medical treatment will fuel concerns of deliberate negligence on the part of the authorities.” 
About a dozen lawmakers from HDP, Turkey’s third-largest parliamentary party, are being held in prison pending trial over terror-related charges after their parliamentary immunities were lifted more than three years ago.
The Turkish government accuses the HDP of having links to the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, the EU and the US.
Demirtas, a former lawyer and a charismatic leader, won almost 10 percent of the vote in 2014 presidential elections, where he challenged Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
His next hearing will be held in Ankara from Jan. 7-9.


Panama hospitals on verge of collapse as virus cases surge

Updated 3 min 38 sec ago

Panama hospitals on verge of collapse as virus cases surge

  • With a population of four million, Panama has gone from 200 cases a day to 1,100 over the last few weeks
  • Authorities estimate that of every 100 people infected, 20 end up in hospital

PANAMA CITY: Hospitals in Panama are on the brink of collapse as coronavirus cases spike in the Central American country worst hit by the pandemic, where doctors are already exhausted.
With a population of four million, Panama has gone from 200 cases a day to 1,100 over the last few weeks.
“Our daily number of infected patients has been increasing in a sustained way to the point of passing 1,000 cases,” David Villalobos, head of the intensive care unit at the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital in Panama City, told AFP.
“There are no hospitals that could sustain such a number,” he said.
The sharp increase has forced authorities to adapt existing hospitals and look for new spaces, like convention centers, to boost a health system with a range of problems including long waiting lists.
“The fear of the collapse of the public system in our country is evident if the number of cases remains the same,” Domingo Moreno, coordinator of a coalition of health care workers’ unions, told AFP.
“In the next two weeks we probably won’t have anywhere to put beds.”
With 42,000 cases and 839 deaths, Panama has the worst official tally of coronavirus infections in the region.

According to official figures, close to 20,000 people are in isolation at home or in hotels. Another 1,000 are receiving hospital treatment, 159 of whom are in intensive care.
Authorities estimate that of every 100 people infected, 20 end up in hospital — meaning that at the current rate, 200 people a day are being admitted to hospital, and 50 to intensive care.
“It’s exhausting, sometimes we have to go back at night for admissions. But here we are,” Giselle Sanchez, a doctor caring for the most serious COVID-19 patients, told AFP.
Doctors and nurses around the country have protested in recent weeks demanding medical supplies and protective equipment.
“There’s fear of infection, of being in a situation that puts your life at risk. This is a war of attrition,” said Moreno.
President Laurentino Cortizo recently pledged to carry out 4,000 tests a day to find and isolate those infected.
But some people, like Silda Idalia Rios, are afraid of taking the test because of rumors circulating about the pandemic.
The virus “has come to attack us,” she told AFP, conceding that “you need to accept that you have to take a test to see if it’s positive.”
Health Minister Francisco Sucre said he was aware of a significant group of people continuing to go out despite knowing they had contracted COVID-19, making it harder to get the outbreak under control.
“We are directly dependent on what the people can do or prevent in the street. The people really need to understand that we’re going to collapse,” said Malena Urrutia, from the COVID-19 coordination team at the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital.
Cortizo said: “As president I would like to tell you that it’s over, but it isn’t. We still don’t have a vaccine. The battle goes on.”