Questions over equal application of Turkey's sick prisoner release policy
By Kadir Devir
Critics claim that the equality principle is not being upheld due to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's preferences in the amnesty choices he has made using his authority for sick inmates and convicts and the attitude of prison administrations and boards toward ill prisoners. "We notice that equality is not applied in the execution system, in prisons, in the court system, and in the implementation of all legal rules," says attorney Nuray Cevirmen.
Erdogan, who became president in 2014, used his power to pardon 15 sick prisoners until 2023 on the grounds of "permanent illness," "permanent disability," and "old age." Among the names Erdogan pardoned are Hayrettin Gul, one perpetrator of the Sivas Massacre, who was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment; Mehmet Emin Alpsoy, who was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment for overseeing Hezbollah's military wing; and İlhan Kilic, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in the February 28 trial.
Erdogan has not utilized his amnesty authority to release any convicts who are communist, socialist, or Kurdish. Despite being unable to remain in prison, hundreds of sick convicts are neither freed nor taken under the amnesty power.
At least 651 seriously ill prisoners await release
According to the Freedom for Sick Prisoners Initiative, at least 1517 sick prisoners are in prisons. At least 651 ill prisoners are imprisoned despite their severe conditions. In the last seven months, 35 ill prisoners died in prison.
Similar diseases have different decisions
Cemal Tanhan, 70, a seriously ill prisoner in Bolu F Type Closed Prison, is among those waiting to be released. Although the report issued by the Forensic Medicine Institution states that Tanhan has many illnesses, the same report says he can stay in prison.
In a similar situation to Tanhan, 71-year-old Mehmet Emin Alpsoy, sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment for overseeing Hezbollah's military wing, was released under Erdogan's amnesty power on the grounds of "husbandhood."
60-year-old Mehmet Elce, arrested in 2015 and held in Antep H Type Closed Prison, is one of the sick prisoners awaiting release.
Despite reports from Antep Dr. Ersin Aslan Training and Research Hospital stating that Elçe "cannot stay in prison," the Forensic Medicine Institution issued a report stating that Elçe can stay in prison. Hayrettin Gul, the perpetrator of the Sivas massacre, who had a similar illness to Elçe, was released by Erdogan on the grounds of 'permanent illness.'
The principle of equality does not work
The Human Rights Association's Executive Committee member and attorney Nuray Cevirmen noted that the equality principle is not implemented in implementing legal standards. They said, "We at the Human Rights Association have been working with ill inmates for a long time. As part of our efforts, we vehemently urge the release of critically ill inmates and postpone their execution until they get better. We assert that convicts who are gravely ill or elderly must be released. Unfortunately, even though all citizens enjoy equality within the bounds of the constitutional equality concept, this is not often the reality. We can observe that the equality principle is not applied in the system of execution, in prisons, in the court system, or the application of all legal principles."
There are significant obstacles due to discriminatory practices
Additionally, highlighting the difficulties that discriminatory acts cause, attorney Cevirmen said: "Many socialists, communists, Kurdish politicians, mayors, lawyers, and members of the opposition are currently incarcerated. Because a prison system has been established. Although there are no legal restrictions on releasing extremely ill inmates, discriminatory practices have created significant barriers. For instance, according to a recent report from the Forensic Medicine Institution, Cemal Tanhan is permitted to remain in custody even though he is not permitted to do so in Bolu. He'll start by returning to the Forensic Medicine Institution; if it's finished soon, we'll wait for the results, but for now, he can't afford to stay behind bars."
Sick prisoners should be released
The translator stressed the necessity of the sick inmates' release and cited the presidential amnesty power regulation circular updated at the start of 2023: "The prosecutor's office once more used law enforcement to conduct an inquiry. This is comparable to the prosecutor's discretion to release or not release detainees based on a determination that doing so would jeopardize public safety, which was introduced to Article 16 in 2013 and to which we have consistently protested. Still, we pushed for the release of inmates within the confines of this circular. But since then, we have seen how these tactics have only been used against some very ill prisoners. As a result, thousands and hundreds of prisoners are ending their lives in prison today because they cannot continue living in prison. We demand that they be treated fairly and without discrimination per the concept of equality for this reason. They have every natural right to this. We therefore demand the unconditional release of all extremely ill inmates."
Who has Erdogan pardoned?
The prisoners pardoned by President Tayyip Erdogan using his authority so far are as follows:
1-Mustafa Akcanli (53) was sentenced to 13 years in prison for forgery of official documents and fraud. In 2015, Akcanli, the first prisoner Erdogan pardoned, was released because of persistent illness.
2-Mustafa Kahraman (45) was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for intentional homicide and ten months for using an unlicensed weapon. In 2012, Bakırköy 9th Criminal Court of First Instance sentenced him to 9 months for deliberate injury to a public official. 45-year-old Mustafa Karaman's remaining sentence was lifted in 2019 with the report of 'permanent illness, disability, and state of old age.'
3-Ugur Fidanci (43) was sentenced to life imprisonment for intentional killing. He was then released on parole. In 2010, he was sentenced to 11 months, 20 days, and five months in prison for insulting a public official and intentional injury. The Forensic Medicine Institution approved the report stating that Ugur Fidanci, 43, was 'in a state of permanent illness.' In 2019, his sentence was pardoned.
4- İsmail İpek (47) was convicted of qualified plunder, deprivation of liberty, resisting a public officer, unauthorized possession of dangerous substances, and carrying a gun without a license. In 2018, these sentences were completed, and he was sentenced to 42 years and 18 months in prison. The remaining sentence of İsmail İpek was lifted in 2019 upon the report of the Forensic Medicine Institution on 'permanent illness, disability, and old age.'
5-Hasan Sen (54) Hasan Sen, who was sentenced to 24 years and seven months in prison by three separate courts for "possession of drugs for drug trafficking" and "threatening with a weapon," was pardoned in 2022."
6-Bilal Konakci (45) Arrested in 2016 within the "FETÖ investigation," Konakci's sentence was pardoned in 2022 on the grounds of "permanent illness and disability."
7- Cetin Saner (84) Former Lieutenant General Saner, sentenced to life imprisonment in the February 28 Case, was pardoned in 2023 because of his "state of old age."
8-Mehmet Emin Alpsoy (76) - Alpsoy's aggravated life imprisonment sentence within the Hizbullah was lifted in 2023 because of his "state of old age."
9-Nihat İliman, İliman, who was in prison for intentional killing, was pardoned in 2023 because of his "state of disability."
10-Sedat Celik, sentenced for drug trafficking, Çelik's sentence was lifted in 2023 because of his disability.
11-Hayrettin Gul (75), convicted of the Sivas Massacre, Gul was pardoned in 2023 on the grounds of "illness," according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision published in the Official Gazette dated September 6, 2023.
12-Ahmet Turan Kilic (86) Kilic, convicted of aggravated life imprisonment in the Sivas Massacre case, was pardoned in 2023 due to "permanent illness."
13- İlhan Kilic (86) Kilic, who was sentenced to life imprisonment as part of the February 28 Trial, was pardoned in 2023 because of his "state of old age."
14- Kenan Deniz (74) Kenan Deniz, sentenced to life imprisonment in the February 28 Case, was pardoned in 2023 because of his "state of old age."
15- Osman Kartal (46) Sentenced to 9 years, 46 months, and 24 days in prison for various crimes, Kartal's sentence was lifted in 2023 due to his "permanent disability."