In this photo released by Turkish Presidency, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan participates in a teleconference with his ministers amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Turkish Presidency via AP
In this photo released by Turkish Presidency, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan participates in a teleconference with his ministers amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Turkish Presidency via AP

Coronavirus: Turkey violates ‘Mandela rules’ on political prisoners

By Mirza Aydin Time of article published Apr 1, 2020

Share this article:

While the UN has called on countries to reduce their prison populations in the wake of the coronavirus contagion, Turkey is putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of mainly Kurdish and Gulen Movement-linked inmates at risk by continuing to keep them in overcrowded prisons.

Human rights organisations have warned Turkey that discriminating against political prisoners was a clear violation of the “UN Nelson Mandela Rule” - the convention that is meant to protect the rights of prisoners.

Turkish parliamentarians drafted a law to release more than 100 000 inmates, but the bill excludes journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders who have been convicted or are being held as part of Turkey’s July 2016 post-coup crackdown.

Human Rights Watch Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb said prisoners who were jailed for their political views should benefit from early parole or house arrest.

Ankara’s draft law before Parliament reportedly could see the release of about 100000 inmates, who were convicted of committing murder, rape and violence against women and children as well as drug trafficking.

However, it excludes about 200 000 political prisoners.

A picture by a Turkish prisoner shows the unhygienic, overcrowded condition of Turkish cells.

Erdogan accuses US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the coup. Gulen denies the accusations and has been calling for an international investigation.

Turkey’s Contemporary Lawyers’ Association, Lawyers for Democracy, Association of Lawyers for Freedom and many other organisations mentioned “UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” known as the Nelson Mandela Rules in their statement to the Justice Minister.

The UN resolution, which honours the legacy of the late president of South Africa, requires that states have to protect the health care of all prisoners and that they should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.

Lawyer associations warned that if the justice minister did not act with urgency, about 150 000 correctional services staff and visitors would face great health risks and could also become a threat to society’s health.

Many family members of “political prisoners” have also called for urgent help from the government.

Baak Demirta, the wife of jailed former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party Selahattin Demirta, said: “We have been calling for the release of prisoners since the outbreak of #coronavirus. There are 840 children (0-6 years of age) in prisons. There are 11 000 women in prison. The prisons are overcrowded, 300 000 people are staying in prisons while their capacity is for 120.000.”

The People’s Democratic Party lawmaker and member of Human Rights Inquiry Committee of Parliament Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu called on the Turkish government to take action.

Since the failed July 2016 coup, international bodies such as the Council of Europe, UN bodies and many NGOs have often called on Turkey to bring its counterterrorism-related legislation into line with international human rights standards.

Turkey has turned a deaf ear to the calls.

While the number of known infections in the country reached 9217 and the death toll 131, Ankara has no luxury anymore to play with the lives of inmates who are imprisoned based on flimsy terrorism-related charges.

* Mizra Aydin is a journalist and political analyst in South Africa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Share this article:

Related Articles