Current issues in Turkish prisons submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Carolina Silvestre, Dimitrios Chasouras, María Núñez Fontán, Olimpia Guidi, Samantha Orozco, Vahit Uzunlar

Through this report, our organisation aims to address current issues and promote good practices in prison management, focusing on Turkey. In alignment with the objectives set forth by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), this thematic report endeavours to shed light on the prevailing challenges and commendable practices within the Turkish prison system. The report considers the OHCHR’s delineation of eight crucial focus areas, which serves as the foundational framework for our comprehensive assessment of Turkey’s prison management practices through “Call 9.” As a critical contribution to the discourse on human rights and prison conditions, this report aims to offer valuable insights and recommendations for enhancing the well-being and dignity of detainees within Turkey’s correctional facilities, thereby advancing the cause of human rights on a global scale.

For the comprehensive evaluation of prison management in Turkey, “Broken Chalk” has laid down ten critical points of focus that underpin the core objectives of this report. These ten key areas encompass issues of profound importance in understanding prison conditions and human rights in the Turkish correctional system. These points are as follows:

  1. Babies in Turkish Prisons: The presence of infants in correctional facilities raises concerns about the rights and well-being of both the child and the incarcerated parent.
  2. Sick Prisoners in Turkey: Ensuring adequate healthcare and treatment for ill inmates is fundamental to their human rights.
  3. Pregnant Women in Turkish Prisons: The unique needs of expectant mothers behind bars require special attention and care.
  4. Deaths Due to COVID-19 in Turkish Prisons: In light of the global pandemic, examining the impact of COVID-19 on prison populations is of utmost importance.
  5. Deaths Due to Sickness in Turkish Prisons: Understanding the circumstances leading to deaths within prisons is essential to addressing systemic issues.
  6. Parole Right Violations in Turkish Prisons: Ensuring prisoners’ rights to parole are respected and upheld is critical in fair and just incarceration.
  7. Allegations of Torture and Ill-Treatment in Turkish Prisons: Investigating claims of torture and ill-treatment is critical for upholding human rights and international standards.
  8. Exceeding Capacity in Turkish Prisons: Overcrowding poses significant challenges to the well-being of inmates, and its implications are central to this report.
  9. Denial of the Right to Defence in Turkish Prisons: Ensuring access to legal representation and due process is pivotal in safeguarding the rights of those incarcerated.
  10. Access to Health Services in Turkish Prisons: Adequate healthcare services are a fundamental human right for those within the prison system.

    Each of these points has been included in the report to shed light on specific areas of concern within the Turkish prison system, with the ultimate goal of improving conditions, safeguarding human rights, and contributing to international discourse on the subject.

Detention of Ismet Ozcelik Extended by 10 Months

By Aneta Orlowska

The case of Ismet Ozcelik, a Turkish national, has once again highlighted the concerns surrounding justice and the legal profession in Turkey. Ozcelik, an academic who has been held in detention since 2017 on alleged links to a cleric blamed for a 2016 coup attempt, was due for release from prison. However, his departure has been extended by an additional ten months, raising questions about the fairness and independence of the Turkish legal system.

Ozcelik, along with Turgay Karaman, a school principal, was deported from Malaysia to Turkey in 2017, where they were accused of ties to the network of Fethullah Gulen. The Gulen movement, led by an influential Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, aims to provide devout Muslims with the necessary secular education for success in contemporary society while also emphasising the importance of traditional religious teachings. The movement promotes a tolerant form of Islam, highlighting values such as altruism, modesty, hard work, and education (Pew Research Center, 2010).

Since the failed coup attempt, the Turkish government has detained and jailed tens of thousands of people, pending trial, on suspicion of involvement with Gulen’s network. Human rights organizations have criticized this widespread crackdown for its impact on the rule of law and the right to a fair trial.

One of the key pieces of evidence used against Ozcelik was the allegation that he had used a mobile app called Bylock, which Turkish authorities claimed was used exclusively by Gulen’s followers. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has clarified that using Bylock cannot serve as reasonable suspicion for arrest or evidence for a conviction. Despite this, Ozcelik’s requests for an expert panel examination to contest the claims against him were denied, violating the principle of equality of arms in the legal process.

In addition to the Bylock allegation, Ozcelik’s participation in a protest and his social media posts criticizing the government’s actions were presented as evidence of his alleged membership in an armed terrorist organization. The UN Human Rights Committee and the ECtHR have emphasized protecting the fundamental rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. They have stated that these activities should not be criminalized without concrete evidence of involvement in illegal or terrorist activities.

Another contentious aspect of the case is the involvement of a private education company, Polat A.S., with which Ozcelik was a shareholder. Turkish authorities accused the company of being a front for carrying out alleged terrorist activities. However, critics argue that no concrete evidence substantiates this claim. Polat A.S. was a legally incorporated company operating under Turkish law and with a license from the Ministry of Education. Using such legal activities as grounds for criminal conviction raises concerns about the validity of the charges against Ozcelik.

The extension of Ozcelik’s detention by ten months has raised further concerns about the erosion of justice and the stifling of the legal profession in Turkey. Human rights defenders and legal experts have consistently expressed worries about arbitrary detention and the use of terrorism charges against individuals who exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest.

The case of Ismet Ozcelik and others like him underscores the need for Turkey to uphold fundamental principles of justice, independence, and respect for human rights. International bodies, including the United Nations, have called for the release of detainees like Ozcelik and have highlighted the importance of providing effective remedies for those who have suffered violations of their rights.

As the detention of Ismet Ozcelik continues, it remains a stark reminder of the challenges facing the Turkish legal system and the urgent need for reforms to protect the rights and freedoms of all individuals.

Note: This article is based on available information and does not constitute legal advice or an official statement of the events described.

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  • İsmet Ozcelik. Tenkil Memorial. (n.d.).
  • Miles, T. (2019, May 29). Turkey was told by U.N. to free and compensate gulen-linked detainees. Reuters.
  • Scf. (2023, November 9). Man imprisoned on Gülen links to spend ten more months behind bars for making prayer beads. Stockholm Center for Freedom.
  • Turkish Minute. (2023, November 9). Man imprisoned on Gülen links to spend 10 more months behind bars for making prayer beads.
  • The United Nations Human Rights Committee has decided that Turkey is unfair. Justice Square. (n.d.).
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