The Turkish government is violating well-established domestic and international law by keeping severely ill prisoners arbitrarily detained. Prisoners in Turkey are struggling with sexual and physical violence such as bare-searching, harassment, and brutal beatings as well as many rights violations such as exorbitantly expensive canteens, midnight raids in the wards, book restrictions, denial of medicine and arbitrary punishments.[1] This article will shed light on some human rights violations cases taking place in Turkish prisons today.

Following the attempted coup in 2016, incarceration numbers have massively risen to the extent that prison overcrowding has become a prevalent issue. However, overcrowding is not the only concerning matter in prisons throughout Turkey, but the ill-treatment and human rights abuses happening to the tens of thousands of prisoners is a serious problem that must be tackled immediately.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been targeting followers of the Gülen moment, a faith-based group inspired by the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since a series of corruption investigations took place in December 2013, implicating Erdogan, his relatives and inner circle.[2] Among the targeted are many opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders. Yusuf Bekmezci (82), a gravely ill prisoner who was in custody at Kırıklar F-Type Prison in Izmir, died after 47 days in intensive care.[3] He was arrested in January 2020 as part of investigations into the Fetullah Gülen Movement. Bekmezci was remanded in Izmir Kırıklar F-Type Prison and sentenced to 17 years and 4 months imprisonment on 9 April 2021 on a charge being a “manager of an organisation”.[4] Saadet Aytekin, his granddaughter and lawyer stated that her “grandfather’s case was at the Supreme Court. His sentence had not been ratified. However, the court ruled that ‘he should continue to serve his sentence in hospital’ as if his conviction had been ratified. He had illnesses throughout his two-year detention, but they refused to release a man attached to tubes in intensive care because he was an “escape risk”.”[5] Indeed, the Turkish Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) issued a medical report stating that Bekmezci was unfit to remain incarcerated, but the court dismissed the report by stating he was at “flight risk”.[6] His daughter, Şeyma Bekmezci, stated her father’s inability to understand court proceedings in light of his advanced Alzheimer’s, which consequently made it impossible for him to defend himself. She suggested that the lack of proper mental health care in prison was one of the factors causing his deterioration: “he completely forgets himself in court and is in a vulnerable position”.[7]


Human Rights Association (İHD) declared that, as of June 2020, the numbers of sick inmates locked behind bars in Turkey amounted to 1,605, of which approximately 600 were in a critical condition. The government allowed their detainment even though most of them had forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain incarcerated. Authorities refused their release on the basis that they pose a potential danger to society. The failure to release critically ill prisoners in time to receive proper medical treatment resulted in five deaths during the first eight months of 2020. After the pandemic hit, the government released prisoners charged with murder but decided to keep political prisoners in spite of the pandemic’s risks. Mugla died after contracting Covid-19.[8]

Throughout November and December 2021, several prisoners lost their lives while detained in Type T and Type F prisons. Prisoners Garibe Gezer and İlyas Demir were found dead in the padded cells where they had been isolated.[9] Some prisoners, such as 33-year-old Bangin Muhammed and 65-year-old Abdülrezzak Şuyur passed away due to failure of being released in spite of their severe illness and, in the latter case, advanced cancer.[10] Others were suspiciously found dead in their cells, and the administration informed their families that they had committed suicide.[11]

On the 20th of January 2022, 43 bar associations and lawyers as well as human rights organisations nationally and internationally signed an urgent letter for the United Nations special mandate holders to call attention to the imminent risk to health and life of the ill prisoner Aysel Tugluk, detained in Kocaeli Kandira F-Type Prison since December 2016.[12] Tugluk has been diagnosed with dementia and continues imprisoned despite the calls by medical reports demonstrating her precarious state and deteriorating health, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Providing additional information on systemic issues concerning the treatment of prisoners in Turkey, the letter requests that the Special Procedures urge the Turkish government to immediately release Aysel Tugluk and all severely ill prisoners in line with both domestic and international standards with regard to the treatment of prisoners.[13] Despite this, at the beginning

of February 2022, the imprisoned Turgay Deniz (39) suffered lung failure and lost his life while in arbitrary detention. Although medical reports stressed the importance of being cared for throughout hospitalisation, he remained incarcerated.[14] His story is one of eight stories of people that have passed away in Turkish prisons in the last three months.[15] 84-year-old Nusret Mugla was convicted and imprisoned for being a Gulen Movement sympathiser. His arrestment failed to consider his age, heart and kidney diseases, and prostate cancer, and as a result of the neglected assistance, he died incarcerated.


The press statement held in the İHD İstanbul Branch noted that the serious violations of rights in prisons are gradually becoming systematic and has reached a stalemate in healthcare, the right to communication, torture, and ill treatment respects.[16] Accessing justice has become hopeless for many prisoners in Turkey. The rights organisations raised concerns that “it is now seen as an ordinary incident in the country that the dead body of a person is taken out of a prison any time.”[17]

Referring to the İHD data, as of March 2021, there were at least 1,605 ill prisoners, 604 of whom were in precarious conditions at the time of the statement’s publishment.[18] Human rights organisations know of at least 38 prisoners who should be released urgently, as their conditions are further deteriorating. However, to date the authorities have not responded to calls either from human rights activists or from the families.


On behalf of Broken Chalk, I make an urgent call to all the international communities and organisations to take action against the injustices and inhumane treatments against political prisoners undertaken by Erdogan and his regime, and to assist them in their release from the degrading conditions they are detained in.


Written by Olga Ruiz Pilato



[1] Duvar English, MHP submits social media proposal, seeks penalties for fake accounts, February 2022 <accessible at>.

[2] Turkish Minute, Turkish court rejects ailing philanthropist’s appeal for release from prison, January 2022 <accessible at>.

[3] MedyaNews, Turkey: Severely ill octogenarian prisoner dies, January 2022 <accessible at>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Turkish Minute, Turkish court rejects ailing philanthropist’s appeal for release from prison, January 2022 <accessible at>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Politurco, Gulenm sympathisers are dying in prisons under the ruling of the Erdogan regime, February 2022 <accessible at>.

[9] English Bianet, At least 59 ill prisoners lost their lives in Turkey in a year, January 2022 <accessible at>.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] International Federation for Human Rights, Turkey must immediately release Aysel Tugluk and other severely ill prisoners, January 2022 <accessible at>.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] English Bianet, At least 59 ill prisoners lost their lives in Turkey in a year, January 2022 <accessible at>.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

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