European body criticizes prison conditions in Turkey

Silivri Prison complex near Istanbul, Turkey, June 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 07 August 2020

European body criticizes prison conditions in Turkey

  • Overcrowding in prisons led to adoption of amnesty law which released 90,000 inmates
  • Former detainees were kicked, punched and slapped by police to obtain confessions

ISTANBUL: Prison conditions and police brutality in Turkey have been criticized by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

Overcrowding in prisons prompted the Turkish government to adopt an amnesty law in April that led to the release of 90,000 inmates — including mafia bosses — but not those convicted on terror charges.

However, the problem has persisted with a steady increase in the prison population, according to two CPT reports, released on Aug. 5.

The criticisms by the European body are based on its periodic visits to several prisons throughout the country and on interviews with hundreds of people who were held in police custody.

The European delegation examined several personal testimonies about excessive use of force and physical ill-treatment by gendarmerie officers and police forces during custody. Former detainees said that they were kicked, punched and slapped by police who wanted them to provide more information or give confessions.

“Numerous detained persons claimed to have been subjected to threats and/or severe verbal abuse. Moreover, a number of allegations were once again received about excessive use of force and/or physical ill-treatment by members of the mobile motorcycle intervention teams in Istanbul,” the report said.

“In a number of cases, the allegations of physical ill-treatment were supported by medical evidence, such as bodily injuries documented in medical records or directly observed by medical members of the delegation,” the report added.

The Council of Europe reiterated its call to the Turkish government to implement its “zero tolerance policy to the ill-treatment” and to alleviate concerns about legal restrictions on access to a lawyer during the initial phase of police custody for certain serious crimes.

Ozturk Turkdogan, president of the Human Rights Association (IHD), said that Turkey was also obliged to open its prisons to civil monitoring by Turkish-based human rights groups.

“So far, only CPT and the ministry are entitled to inspect the prisons’ physical conditions, undermining transparency and preventing immediate precautions during the pandemic conditions,” he told Arab News.

Another area of criticism is the flawed system of mandatory medical examinations for newly arrived prisoners, as well as the lack of beds for a large number of inmates in the prisons — obliging them to sleep on mattresses on the floor due to overcrowding.

Philanthropist, businessperson and human rights activist, Osman Kavala, recently marked his 1,000th day of imprisonment on July 27 although the Council of Europe has often called for his immediate release.

Last December, jailed Kurdish politician, Selahattin Demirtas, who has a history of coronary issues, was taken to hospital for health checks after collapsing in his prison cell. Family members claimed that the authorities refused to carry out full checks and detailed examinations for emergency treatment.

According to Turkdogan, prisons are still overpopulated as their capacity even with the planned construction of new facilities is only suitable to accommodate 165,000 inmates, while the current prison population is about 200,000.

“Those convicted for expressing their opinions, as well as juvenile inmates and thousands of children who stay with their mothers in the prison, should be released at first instance to alleviate this overpopulation problem. About 600 inmates who have serious illnesses should also be released,” he said.

Turkdogan said that allegations of torture should be investigated, and naked screening for inmates as well as handcuffed health monitoring practices should be stopped to protect the dignity of prisoners.

Some inmates, such as Demirtas who is in northwestern Edirne prison 1,600 km from his southeastern hometown Diyarbakir, are kept far from their families. Turkdogan said that this was also a violation of rights.

“They need to keep their contacts with their families. But when you put an inmate in a city situated miles away from the place of residence or from the city where the crime is committed, it complicates the lives of the relatives as well,” he said.

On the basis of photos, videos and legal and medical documents about the incidents examined, Human Rights Watch also released a report last week claiming that “Turkish police and “night watchmen” have committed serious abuses against at least 14 people in six incidents in Diyarbakir and Istanbul in the past two months.

Politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have regularly submitted written parliamentary questions regarding torture or ill-treatment in Turkey, but the questions mostly remain unanswered by the interior and justice ministries.

Ankara meddling in South Caucasian conflict sparks wide criticism

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets with top military officials in Yerevan on September 27, 2020. Arch foes Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27, 2020 accused each other of initiating deadly clashes that claimed at least 23 lives over a decades-long territorial dispute and threatened to draw in regional powers Russia and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2020

Ankara meddling in South Caucasian conflict sparks wide criticism

  • Turkey, under the leadership of Recept Tayyip Er4dogan, is also blamed for meddling in Syria, Iraq and Libya
  • Syrian mercenaries reportedly recruited with the help of Turkish intelligence agency

JEDDAH: Amid the rising escalation of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ankara has offered its full diplomatic support to Baku.
This is along with widespread reports that it has arranged a flow of Syrian jihadists to the Azeri territories via Turkey to boost its regional partner’s military resilience during the clashes.
However, after its controversial meddling in Syria, Iraq and Libya, its active engagement in a conflict in the South Caucasus has sparked criticism about how far Ankara can go to expand its regional ambitions.
“We strongly condemn the Armenian attack that caused civilian losses and that is a clear violation of international law. Turkey fully supports Azerbaijan. We’ll stand with it anyway it wishes,” read a Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement on Sept. 27.
Armenian officials have long claimed that some Turkish troops remained in Azerbaijan recently after they went there for joint drilling activities.
Sources from the Syrian National Army (SNA) reportedly announced that up to 1,000 jihadists were deployed to Azerbaijan as mercenaries, while sources from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia reported that hundreds of Syrian mercenaries were moved through Turkey’s southeastern province of Kilis.
Hikmet Durgun, a Turkish journalist, claimed that these SNA militants would be deployed toward Nagorno Karabakh, a disputed landlocked region in the South Caucasus.
Sources reached by Arab News also claimed that some of the mercenaries were drawn from Turkish-backed factions on the Libyan battleground.
Syrian mercenaries are said to be recruited through the intermediary of the Turkish intelligence agency with a promised monthly wage of $2,000 each, and have been transported via Turkish military cargo planes to the Azeri cities of Ganja and Baku using the airspace of Georgia.
“About a month ago, rumors spread on WhatsApp among SNA fighters that they can register to go to Azerbaijan. Many registered over WhatsApp, others apparently through offices in the Turkish-controlled areas. The fighters registered due to the enticing rumored salaries of $2K-$2.5K,” Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Center for Global Policy, tweeted.


Armenian officials have long claimed that some Turkish troops remained in Azerbaijan recently after they went there for joint drilling activities.

Idlib post, a local news site in the Syrian Idlib province, also confirmed with a photo that a group of 300 fighters of the Syrian National Army left from the Syrian territories in the countryside of Aleppo to Azerbaijan via Turkey.
Award-winning journalist Lindsey Snell claimed that they were mainly selected from the Hamza division, a Syrian rebel group in northwestern Syria that has cooperated, as a proxy force, with the Turkish Armed Forces in military operations in northern Syria.
In the meantime, the official visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Ankara on Sunday was abruptly canceled.
Paul Antonopoulos, a regional expert, expects that Sunday’s clashes will end in a cease-fire after pressure from the EU, Russia, and perhaps even the US, to end hostilities.
“Armenia is a member state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Eurasian military alliance led by Russia. This would likely deter Turkey from directly intervening militarily and thus the conflict will be contained between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, urged the international community to “use all of its influence to halt any possible interference by Turkey, which will ultimately destabilize the situation in the region.” He also said that Turkey’s behavior could have destructive consequences for the South Caucasus and neighboring regions.
Antonopoulos thinks that there is strong evidence that Turkey has transferred militants from northern Syria to Azerbaijan, and will likely use this proxy force in the same way that they were used in Libya.
“Turkey will unequivocally support Azerbaijan in every possible way they can bar a direct military intervention. Turkey’s strong diplomatic support for Azerbaijan will continue, as well as material and intelligence aid,” he said. “I would estimate that when there is enough international pressure to end the hostilities, Russia and Turkey will mediate together to bring a temporary end to the hostilities.”
Joseh Borrell Fontelles, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, spoke to ministers in Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday evening to urge an immediate cease-fire and called them to return to the negotiation table.
However, some pro-government journalists in Turkey called for the use of military force against Armenia to protect Azeri interests.
Ibrahim Karagul, the chief editor of one of the key pro-government newspapers, Yenisafak, advised the dropping of a “missile in the middle of Yerevan” to show Turkish solidarity for Azerbaijan, adding: “In this way, we can build a Caucasus Islam Army within 100 years.”