For Political Prisoners, Turkey’s Jails Turn to a Graveyard Amid Pandemic
The death of an inmate in quarantine in a Turkish prison is not a natural tragedy. It is a murder sanctioned by authorities.
The Covid-19 virus continues to be a menacing threat, no matter what governments (in non-democratic countries) do to obscure the exact toll from public view through tailored statistics. The lack of transparency and political accountability proves as costly as the pandemic itself given the pileup of body bags in hospital morgues after the experimental shutdown and premature reopening of national economies over the course of the summer. The fall saw a rapid surge in death toll as the world wrestles to contain the pandemic amid an accelerating contest for finding the vaccine.
The record of non-democratic countries offers a testament to the high cost of misplaced confidence and botched handling of the entire process in the existential war against this national health threat. In Turkey, things are no exception and certainly no better. There is even a sinister and more troubling aspect attached to the political management of the combat against the virus. It is that some people appear to have been deliberately condemned by political authorities to the mercy of a merciless virus in the riskiest places such as prison where Covid-19 charges through the ranks of inmates like a Medieval cavalry as a death angel.
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In April and May, I penned down two detailed pieces documenting the high-profile risk posed by the Covid against the vulnerable inmates while the government was busy with crafting a plan to grant an amnesty to convicted prisoners. Noble though the intention might have seemed when the news broke, it was indeed not. It was entirely a cunning plan to leave the political prisoners (read as journalists, writers, and victims of the purge terror ) outside the scope of the amnesty. In this distressing context, reports, verified and unverified (this ambiguity itself is a deliberate strategy), began to emerge, amplifying the suspects about the conditions in prisons.
If anyone wants to know what is going on, the personal account of Mustafa Kabakcioglu, a former deputy police chief sacked by the blanket government decrees in the post-coup era and dutifully imprisoned thereafter, vindicates the belief that the government pays faint heed to the overwhelming health risk in jails during the pandemic.
The image of Kabakcioglu, who was found dead by the prison guards on Aug. 29 after nine days of enforced isolation at ward cell on his own, speaks volumes about the conditions where sick people were sheltered. He was sitting in a plastic chair when he was found. The picture was the embodiment of the government policy executed against a certain kind of people — the KHK ones as the public called them. (It refers to 150,000 or so public workers summarily dismissed by government decrees after the 2016 coup.)
Nacho Sanchez Amor, European Parliament’s Rapporteur on Turkey, was to the point when he addressed the double standard applied by the Turkish government with regards to the botched amnesty plan that led to the release of at least 90,000 convicted criminals, including mob bosses and rapists.
The Turkish officials, as usual, deny any responsibility for Kabakcioglu’s tragic end. His death is presented as a result of long-simmering ailments unrelated to the Covid. But his friends and family, according to Berlin-based Bold Medya, harbor healthy skepticism over the official account. They strongly suspect that Kabakcioglu might have fallen victim to Covid-19 after his pleas for transfer to a medical facility was systematically denied by the prison administration. According to one unverified account, he died after a night of incessant coughing that perished his struggling lungs. The autopsy will be released within two months.
Only days before his death, the deceased police officer, in a hand-written petition, revealed his flailing health and the negative side-effects of the pills offered by the prison medical staff. The fact that we are only able to garner the gruesome details of the entire story and the heart-wrenching picture of Kabakcioglu sitting dead at a chair more than a month and a half after his initial death itself represents the heart of the problem — the lack of proper access to information about the current situation in jails.
This, like countless other ones, was a preventable death. It still occurred because the conditions befitting Turkey’s dysfunctional prison complex were intentionally left to deteriorate so as to act as a natural conduit for hapless inmates directly to their final destination — their death. Against this backdrop, it is safe to state that Kabakcıoglu’s case is not a tragedy. It is a murder, one that is sanctioned by a callous and deliberate regime that is oblivious to the plight of political prisoners. His death is not an isolated, single incident generated by official misconduct. It is a new norm, a new pattern dangerously set out by official policy since 2016.
When the Kabakcioglu case combined with the death of a former commander in Ankara Sincan Prison this week, the picture becomes evidently clear. The government’s prison policy continues to devour new lives.
The distinguished Col. Mustafa Avialan’s march to death was long looming after his letter to his family months ago warned of his impending end. Unceremoniously, he kinda offered a farewell to his family while explaining that his days were numbered. Countless warnings and calls from human rights organizations fell on deaf ears as authorities looked the other way.
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People from different generations (young or old, abled or disabled, male or female) succumb to their fate ordained by the political authorities acting according to a script based on naked revenge against opponents of the government. Both Kabakcioglu and Avialan are only two tragedies that obliviously treated as mere statistics by the government.
What the current rulers of Turkey do only confirms the old adage attributed to Stalin. “One man’s death is a tragedy. A million death is statistics.”
If we break down those high figures to hundreds or thousands, it fittingly embodies what Turkey endures at the moment. People unnecessarily die every week and every month while we helplessly count the toll upward.