On Wednesday, a shocking report that appeared on a Turkish-language news website revealed the dire conditions of Turkey's prisons and served as a reminder of the grave risk posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to the right to life of the country's tens of thousands of political prisoners, who were categorically excluded from the scope of an early release legislation enacted in April to ease overcrowding in prison amid the outbreak.
Mustafa Kabakçıoğlu, a 44-year-old former Turkish police officer who was removed from his duty and jailed on terrorism-related charges in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016, was found dead in the quarantine cell of a Turkish prison located in northeastern Turkey.
According to the report, Kabakçıoğlu was sent to the quarantine cell on August 20, after showing symptoms of Covid-19, particularly frequent coughs.
On August 27, he wrote a petition to the prison administration, complaining about the adverse effects of the medication that he was given.
“I am regularly using the medication that you have given me. However, I think that they are causing side effects," the petition read. "Particularly, there have been swellings in my mouth on the left side and in my left leg. I am having difficulty walking and speaking. As I am writing this petition, I am experiencing numbness in my arm. I am unable to ensure movement below the waist. I am unable to perform any of my tasks.”
A note added to the petition by a prison physician says that the patient was referred to the ward for internal diseases, that it was strongly recommended to proceed with further examinations on the patient, and that the patient should use the prescribed medication; although it is not known when the note was written.
Another document revealed by the report was an official report dated August 27, 2020, prepared and signed by the prison physician, the health officer and two correctional officers; alleging that Kabakçıoğlu repeatedly asked not to be hospitalized despite the availability of emergency medical teams for his transfer. The report also suggests that Kabakçıoğlu submitted a petition asking not to be hospitalized. A statement released by the relevant Chief Public Prosecutor's Office also said that Kabakçıoğlu asked in writing to remain in prison. However, as of writing authorities have not produced his written request against hospitalization.
On August 29, prison guards reportedly found Kabakçıoğlu's lifeless body sitting on a plastic chair. The pictures that emerged from his cell demonstrated the notoriously unhygienic and unsanitary conditions inside Turkey's prisons.
There is more than enough reason to suspect that the authorities displayed gross negligence, if not wilful misconduct, in the course of the nine days that led to Kabakçıoğlu's demise. That is why, his case needs to be thoroughly investigated.
Moreover, Kabakçıoğlu was at the end of his prison sentence of 7 years, 6 months, and he would have been released prior to his health complications if he was included in the government's early release law in April.
This tragic incident presented a clear picture of the plight of Turkey's political prisoners who are simultaneously faced with the abusive practices of authorities and a life-threatening health crisis inside the country's incredibly inhospitable prison system.