|Euro-Mediterranean observer mission reports on the F-type prison crisis in Turkey|
Euro-Mediterranean observer mission reports on the F-type prison crisis in Turkey and the repression of human rights defenders
OMCT, EMHRN and KHRP Geneva, Copenhagen, London
Alarmed by the growing number of deaths of political prisoners as a result of hunger strikes against Turkey's newly-deployed F-type prisons (characterised by small one- and three-person cells) and the increased repression of human rights defenders involved in monitoring this situation, an independent observer mission set up by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) travelled to Turkey from 5 to 10 May 2001 to investigate the crisis. In addition to meeting with non-governmental organisations, families of political prisoners, medical experts, journalists and representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the mission was also able to interview a recently-released political prisoner who was seriously beaten and injured during the 19 December 2000 "Operation Return to Life" military action in which 30 prisoners were killed by Turkish troops and more than 1,000 prisoners were transferred into F-type prisons (Edirne, Kandira, Sincan and Tekirdag).
The mission insists on the urgent need for Turkey to respond in a meaningful way to the desperate prison situation which has prevailed since the introduction of F-type prisons in December. To date, a total of 23 people have died on death fasts and it is estimated that more than 500 others are currently either on death fasts or undergoing hunger strikes in solidarity. Though Turkey's decision to amend Article 16 of the Anti-Terrorism Law marked a positive step forward in the struggle for penal reform, the Amendment, as approved by the Turkish Parliament in April, falls far from international standards and fails to provide for an unconditional right to communal activities for prisoners in accordance with international provisions like Article 78 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners(1).
The delegation calls on Turkey to live up to its responsibility to ensure the right of prisoners to spend a reasonable part of the day outside their cells. The mission is deeply concerned by the inadequacy of this Amendment which has failed to address key concerns from leading Turkish and international human rights organisations including the concern that continued isolation leaves prisoners particularly vulnerable to torture and other forms of ill treatment. The delegation also notes that minor reforms proposed by the Government cannot replace the genuine effort needed to initiate dialogue with the prisoners who have been on hunger strike for 210 days. An immediate solution to end the current crisis must be made a priority in order to end the continuing death toll which has now reached 23 mortalities.
Furthermore, the excessive and disproportionate use of violence by the security forces during the 19 December military operation must be investigated. As evidenced by the absence of effective legal proceedings against those responsible for the prison massacres since the events of Umraniye in Istanbul in 1995(2), the prevailing climate of impunity in Turkey must not be allowed to continue. Turkey has invoked European and international prison practices to legitimise a system that currently amounts to solitary confinement. The climate of impunity combined with the widespread use of torture and ill treatment of prisoners calls into serious question the use of F-style prisons in Turkey.
The delegation also investigated the repression of human rights defenders and lawyers in Turkey who have criticised the F-style prisons and who have denounced the increased risk of ill treatment inside isolation cells. In addition to meeting with key human rights associations, doctors and journalists to discuss the situation of human rights defenders, the mission was also able to attend the court hearing against the Human Rights Association (IHD) Headquarters in Ankara on 7 May 2001.
The delegation observed that the justice system is being used as an instrument of repression against human rights defenders who have merely exercised their right to freely express their opinions on the prison crisis in a non-violent manner.
EMHRN, KHRP and OMCT call on:
1. Previously, Article 16 declared that "No open visits shall be permitted…Communication between inmates and with other convicts shall be prevented." Though allowing for the possibility of communal activities, the Amendment states that activities may be "discontinued or revised in the event it has been observed their effects on convicts were inconsistent with the objectives thereof."2. In January 1995, 3 prisoners were killed in the Umraniye (Istanbul) prison; in September 1996, 10 political prisoners lost their lives following a military assault in the Diyarbakir prison, on 26 September 1999 10 political prisoners were killed and 28 wounded in the Ulucanlar prison in Ankara following another military operation. Finally, on 5 July 2000, following an intervention by the security forces in the enclosed prison of Burdur, 61 prisoners were seriously injured.