COVID-19 restrictions still in force in Turkish prisons, despite being eliminated elsewhere, lead to serious rights violations, say presidents of Istanbul Medical Chamber and Istanbul Bar Association noted at a press conference on Tuesday.
According to Mehmet Durakoğlu, president of the Istanbul Bar Association, the pandemic is being exploited by the government as a tool to legitimize restrictions on rights and is especially true for prisons. “Precautions can be taken to save lives, but they must be taken within the limits of the law,” said Durakoğlu.
Dr Pınar Saip, president of the Istanbul Medical Chamber, said authorities were not disclosing information on the number of COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates in prisons. Ongoing restrictions in prisons, such as limitations on how long inmates can enjoy fresh air and visitation rights, have become a punishment in themselves, and they continue despite the lifting of restrictions elsewhere, a she added.
Families of detainees have expressed protests that contact visits to Turkish prisons have not been allowed since the start of the pandemic despite the removal of restrictions, even for gatherings as large as weddings and concerts.
Even though detainees have been vaccinated, families can only see their loved ones behind glass during non-contact visits.
In contact visits, the detainee and the visitor are allowed in the same area without barriers between them, under close supervision.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has raised great concern in Turkish prisons, which were already notorious for human rights violations, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions before the pandemic. The purge of thousands of dissidents following a coup attempt in July 2016 filled Turkish prisons, which are now overcrowded with tens of thousands of political prisoners.
Turkey’s parliament passed an early parole law in April 2020 aimed at reducing the prison population in overcrowded prisons across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet the law excluded political prisoners, including opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial anti-terrorism laws. The law sparked calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for a non-discriminatory reduction in the prison population.