The Turkish government must bring an end to the isolation regime in the new high security prisons and investigate reports of torture and other abuses by gendarmes during the December transfer.
More than 300 prisoners have been on an extended hunger strike to protest the isolation regime in the new "F-type" prisons, and many are believed to be near death.
Human Rights Watch today submitted a 23-page memorandum to the Turkish government documenting abuses committed by gendarmes during the transfer operation, which cost the lives of thirty prisoners in December 2000. The memorandum also documented the ongoing isolation and ill-treatment of prisoners in the new prisons.
"The isolation regime in F-type prisons is physically and psychologically damaging to prisoners and should never have been instituted in the first place," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "The government should not wait for more prisoners to die before it brings the prison into compliance with international norms."
On December 19, 2000, thirty prisoners and two gendarmes were killed when ten thousand armed soldiers entered twenty Turkish prisons to break up a nonviolent protest by inmates and transfer them to the newly constructed F-type prisons. Prisoners reported excessive force, deliberate killings, and torture by gendarmes during the operation and have presented medical evidence-including of head wounds, broken limbs, and ribs-to support their claims. Several prisoners transferred to Kandira F-type prison also made a formal complaint that they had been anally raped with a truncheon by gendarmes. No medical examination was conducted until weeks after the alleged rape, by which time evidence of the assault would have disappeared. No charges have yet been brought for the alleged rape.
"There is a long history of gendarmes using excessive force in Turkish prisons, and many prisoners have died as a result," said Cartner. "It is high time the government conducted a serious investigation into these allegations of abuse."
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the isolation regime in place in these new prisons. At the four F-type prisons that are currently in operation-at Edirne, Kandira, Sincan, and Tekirdag-prisoners may leave their cells only once a week if a member of their immediate family visits. Otherwise, they are held permanently either in single-person or three-person cells in what has been termed "small group isolation." These new cell-based facilities are a stark contrast to the large ward-based system that is typical in older Turkish prisons.
Human Rights Watch emphasized that the F-type regime contravenes international prison standards and has been criticized by intergovernmental bodies such as the Council of Europe. Paradoxically the persistence of isolation contradicts the Turkish government's own stated policy. Prior to the December operation, the Turkish Justice Minister stated that the new F-type prisons would not be opened until legislation was in place to ensure a humane regime. The minister now refuses to implement those reforms unless prisoners abandon their protest hunger strikes.
One hunger striker at Ankara's Sincan F-type prison died on March 22, and further deaths are expected in the forthcoming days. According to official figures, 305 prisoners on hunger strike have accepted only salt, sugar, water, and vitamins-some for more than five months; 122 have been hospitalized with symptoms of advanced malnutrition, including loss of vision, hearing and memory, numbness, vomiting, and diarrhea. The prisoners are protesting against being permanently locked down in their three-person units
Human Rights Watch first addressed the Turkish government in a July 1999 memorandum warning that the planned regime of small group isolation might amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and would expose prisoners to an increased risk of ill-treatment or torture.
Human Rights Watch also documented how the Turkish government has methodically silenced critics of its prison policies. Journalists and human rights defenders who have criticized the handling of the F-type prison transfers and reported on the progress of the hunger strikes have been ill-treated, detained, imprisoned, and prosecuted. Newspapers and magazines that have reported on the prison crisis have been confiscated and broadcasts suspended. Branches of the Turkish Human Rights Association have been closed down, and officials charged with "supporting illegal armed groups." Prisoners' relatives have also been persecuted and subjected to routine humiliation during prison visits.