Human Rights Watch condemned the apparent use of excessive force by Turkish gendarmerie at the Ankara Closed Prison over the weekend that resulted in the deaths of eleven prisoners and serious injury to many others.

Human Rights Watch called on the Justice Minister Prof Hikmet Sami Turk to ensure that units intervening in the current crisis use only that force which is strictly necessary to perform their duties and take all steps to respect and preserve human life. The group also recommended that the gendarmerie, which has a history of fatal attacks on prisoners should be pulled off guard duties.

Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch declared, "It is inappropriate that assault forces should be used to guard civilian prisoners. To avoid further fatalities, the Justice Ministry should replace Interior Ministry forces for all guard duties in prison, including for intervention during crises."

Official statements attributed the disturbance to the discovery of an escape tunnel by the guards, but prisoners' relatives believe that prisoners' protests at overcrowding sparked the intervention. At least one member of the prison staff was hospitalized. Tension is mounting in other prisons in Turkey including in Canakkale, Bartin, and two Istanbul prisons, where prison staff have been taken hostage during solidarity protests.

Counting yesterday's toll, twenty-seven prisoners have been beaten to death in Turkish prisons since 1995. Most of these deaths occurred when gendarmes were sent into prisons to "restore order," usually with extreme brutality. Warders employed by the Justice Ministry provide the internal security for all prisons in Turkey, but the external perimeter of prisons is guarded by gendarmes under the authority of the Interior Ministry.

These gendarmes are trained for anti-insurgency in southeastern Turkey rather than for the difficult task of dealing with prison disturbances. The gendarmes seem to view such prison unrest as an opportunity to settle accounts with prisoners who are alleged to have connections with illegal armed groups that may be fighting security forces elsewhere in the country. All those killed were prisoners remanded or convicted for offenses under the wide-ranging Anti-Terror Law.

The names of the dead include: Ümit Altintas, Abuzer Çat, Aziz Dönmez, Mahir Emsalsiz, nder Gençaslan, Habib Gül , Zafer Kirbiyik, Erkan zkan, Ahmet Devran Sallan and Halil Türker. The eleventh prisoner is as yet unnamed.