Convicts in the earthquake region evacuated with one plastic bag each
Two weeks have passed since the major earthquakes in Maras. Ranging from the inefficiencies of search and rescue efforts to the lack of coordination of aid, many issues have been discussed. However, the matter of prisoners hit by the earthquake while in prison has received little attention. Attorney Yusuf Cakas tells Arti Gercek about the situation of the prisoners during and after the earthquake and calls attention to the lack of verified information.
“THE STATE COULD NOT MANAGE ITS PRISONS DURING THE EARTHQUAKE”
Noting that prisons are enclosed areas under state control, Cakas stated that after the earthquake, no information was given about the condition of the prisoners:
“We saw a huge gap, especially in Maras Turkoglu Prison and Hatay prisons. In a time of such crisis, the state could not manage the prisons either. There are photographs in the press coming out of the Malatya E Type Prison. There are allegations of prisoner escapes, but the Ministry has offered no statement. Again, there are mentions of an attempted riot in Hatay T Type Prison, the death of three prisoners, and the injuries of hundreds of others, but we do not have any concrete data. The Ministry, which is the responsible party, has not made a statement regarding this matter either."
Stating that the prisons in Elbistan and Malatya were evacuated and hundreds of detainees in Hatay were transferred to Antalya prisons, Cakas said that this information did not come from officials, but that it had been obtained through the efforts of lawyers and families.
“THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE ACTS AS IF IT IS NOT THE RELEVANT AUTHORITY”
Cakas said, “The Ministry of Justice is the immediate responsible party in this matter. If we consider the ten provinces hit by earthquakes plus the ones in Elazig, how many prisons does the Ministry have across eleven provinces? How many convicts or detainees are there? How many people have been evacuated, how many have not? We are not being informed, though we should be. We have reached some conclusions by trying to gather information from the families and lawyers who have visited the prisons. In terms of concrete facts, we know that there have been various transfers from the Maras Turkoglu prison to Manavgat S Type prison, Eregli, Kirsehir S Type, Kirikkale and Samsun Kavak S Type, Kirikkale F Type Prison. We know that Samsun Kavak Prison is not even physically prepared to host prisoners, as it has not even been equipped with a canteen. Similarly, we know that the canteen needs of the prisoners in Osmaniye and Islahiye prisons are not adequately met.”
“EACH ALLOWED ONLY ONE PLASTIC BAG”
Attorney Yusuf Cakas pointed out that there were many problems during the transfer of prisoners:
“The prisoner transfers were made between February 7 and 10. The prisoners were told that they could only take one plastic bag of items, with the rest of their belongings to be sent by the authorities later. We know very well based on the past that these belongings will not be sent. A majority of these items are of sentimental value. Letters, books, and the like. These are matters that concern the mental and emotional integrity of a human being. In terms of material belongings, there are refrigerators, televisions, and clothes. The state will again fulfill its responsibilities in a perfunctory manner and will not meet the material needs of those transferred to other prisons even though it should. The primary expectation of the families of the imprisoned is to have contact with the prisoners on a regular basis. Whether through a phone call or a video call, they want to somehow reach those on the inside. There are prisoners who are detained in facilities in the earthquake zone or who have families in the earthquake zone. Everyone wants to contact and communicate with each other, and rightfully so.”
“IF THEY CANNOT MANAGE THE PRISONS, THEN THEY SHOULD EMPTY THE PRISONS”
Cakas also says that although political prisoners have the right to video calls, this right has never been granted and that it should be reinstated as soon as possible:
“While the detainees in Hatay, Maras Turkoglu, and Elbistan were evacuated, those in Elazig, Urfa, Iskenderun, and Islahiye were not. This is information we have gathered ourselves. Not only does the Ministry refuse to take responsibility, but it also denies our statements, saying ‘there is no such thing.’ They go no further than lying and protecting their own staff. Of course, we understand some situations. There was a terrible earthquake. The guards may have left their posts out of fear for their families. Or the prison guards who needed to come for the next shift may have been stuck under rubble or have family under the rubble. We can understand this. But if there are 300,000 people in prison, the government needs to have been able to manage this crisis. And if it cannot, then it needs to empty the prisons.”
“WHY ARE PRISONERS WHO HAVE BEEN TRANSFERRED WITH ONLY A PLASTIC BAG BEING STRIP SEARCHED?”
“We do not know whether there was an attempted riot or not due to the chaos of that situation among the prisoners. The Ministry needs to provide clarification as soon as possible. Why were transfers made from the Turkoglu prison, how many people were transferred, where were they taken? Why are prisoners who have left Turkoglu prison with only a single plastic bag being subjected to strip searches? Why are they being subjected to strip searches in Kirikkale prison? Why are they being subjected to strip searches in Samsun Kavak Prison? The Ministry needs to answer for the ill-treatment during transfer processes of the prisoners who survived an earthquake, who were unable to communicate with their families, and who were made to leave prison without their consent with only a plastic bag in their hands.”