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Tuesday, January 24, 2017
- Violence has erupted again in the Turkish prison where most rebel Kurdish guerrillas are detained, resulting in the death of 14 inmates up to Thursday, reports here said.
In the southeast city of Diyarbakir which holds mostly Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) convicts, 10 inmates died on Tuesday and another three corpses were found later in prison dormitories. One died in Gaziantep prison to which he had been transferred from Diyarbakir.
Forensic medicine reports say all the deaths were caused by brain damage as a result of strong blows.
The prison has been the centre of unrest since May. Former Minister of Justice Mehmet Agar, who is now Minister of Interior in the new Islamist led cabinet, issued a decree to tighten confinement of jailed Kurdish leaders accused of overseeing terrorist activities from within prison.
Current Minister of Justice Sevket Kazan, upon assuming the job, said he had lifted the “Agar decrees”. But political prisoners particularly keen on Justice Ministry practices of transferring the convicts out of their home areas, stepped up the protest and began a “death fast”. Twelve prisoners lost their lives in July as a result.
Intervention by an ad hoc “Prison Watch Group” comprising prominent intellectuals resulted in an agreement between the Ministry and prisoners. Kazan bowed to public pressure and complied with prisoner demands to stop transfer of inmates out of their home areas of jurisdiction. He also accepted that they should be treated humanely in accordance with accepted standards worldwide.
But after two months, the country’s political prisoners accused the Justice Minister of breaching the “July agreement”.
In this week’s incidents, 25 prisoners were badly wounded. The situation at Diyarbakir remains tense. Visits have been suspended and demonstrators have been attacked by riot police. Human rights delegations from Istanbul and Ankara are conducting investigations into the situation.
The latest bout of violence erupted in Diyarbakir Prison over plans to transfer of 14 prisoners to nearby city of Gaziantep. “Until Tuesday there had been no sign of tension in the prison,” says Mahmut Sakar, chair of the local branch of the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association.
“Events started as the prisoners were visited by their relatives. Visits were abruptly ordered suspended and clouds of smoke rose over the prison building,” he told IPS.
According to Sakar, the incidents were sparked when a group of former PKK members quarreled with other inmates. Troops rushed into the dormitories of the PKK prisoners and began transferring 14 of them to nearby Gaziantep prison.
Prisoner resistance to this was crushed after long hours of violent attacks by guards and riot police armed with guns and clubs who beat and shot the inmates to death, human rights activists said.
“The attack seems as a concerted crack-down on the PKK both inside and outside of the prison,” Sakar said. “During the last two weeks 20 people in downtown Diyarbakir have been kidnapped and extra-judicially killed as military operations in the Kurdish provinces are stepping up.”
On Tuesday, Turkish army Chief of Staff Ismail Hakki Karadayi told journalists in the eastern city of Erzurum: “In the last 40 days at least 1,000 terrorists are eliminated. No organization in the world might be able to survive this blow. The PKK will be finished.”
Sources within the organisation say the incidents in Diyarbakir were part of a “high level plot”. Pointing to simultaneous visits by Chief of Staff Karadayi and Presidnet Suleyman Demirel to the region, a PKK spokerperson said: “The attack heralds further violations in the region.”
The incident in Diyarbakir prison also coincides with resumption of countrywide protest in Turkey’s major high security prisons where in July 12 prisoners lost their lives during a 71- day-long “death fast”.
“The prisoners had already decided to start a ‘three-day- warning boycott’ on Friday,” said lawyer Esber Yagmurdereli, spokesperson for “Prison Watch Group”.
Prisoners omplain they are being denied proper medical treatment. They are also angry at transfer practices that move them out of their home areas of jurisdiction while those previously transferred are yet to be returned. They say they are not being properly treated, and restrictions are placed on visits by their lawyers.
The Ministry of Justice estimates there are some 50,000 people in Turkey’s 643 prisons. Some 8,445 are left-wing or PKK political prisoners and 344 are right-wingers or Islamic fundamentalists.
Of the 8,445 political prisoners, 136 are prisoners of conscience, mostly authors, journalists and writers, convicted by the state security courts for expression of illegal opinion. The others are activists arrested on charges of alleged affiliation with groups from Turkey’s fragmented and suppressed underground left, or convicted of same.
Political prisoners are held in 47 of Turkey’s jails, but the largest numbers are held in the south east’s Diyarbakir prison, with 1,062 inmates, followed by Istanbul’s Bayrampasa prison, with 745 prisoners.
“The situation in Istanbul’s Bayrampasa and Umraniye high security prisons remain tense,” says Ercan Kanar, secretary general of Human Rights Association. “The Ministry has breached almost all points of the agreement reached when the hunger strike was concluded in July.”