COVID19Human RightsJournalists in Prison

Constitutional Court claims the pandemic is not a threat in prisons

The Constitutional Court (TCC) issued an interim decision regarding the application for the release of the journalists who have been arrested for reporting about two people being thrown out of a helicopter and tortured by soldiers in Van. The Court ruled that the prison conditions in which the prisoners are held do not pose a threat with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Journalists Cemil Uğur and Şehriban Abi were arrested on October 9 after having reported about Servet Turgut and Osman Şiban being thrown off a helicopter by law enforcement officers in Van. After having evaluated their application for release, the TCC issued its decision on November 20 with the explanation that the journalists “have access to health services [and] there is no information or evidence that their detention poses a serious threat to their life, their physical or psychological well-being.”

The interim decision only pertains to the application for the preventive release of the journalists due to poor health conditions. TCC’s examination regarding whether the applicants’ rights to liberty, security and freedom of expression have been violated is still ongoing.

The lawyers of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) visited the journalists in the first and following weeks of their detention; Mesopotamia Agency (MA) reporter Uğur, Jinnews reporter Abi, MA reporter Adnan Bilen and journalist Nazan Sala stated that measures against the pandemic were not followed in the prison and that the quarantine conditions were used as an excuse for mistreatment.

After their arrest, Uğur and Bilen were not taken to the “normal ward” although their quarantine period had ended. Sala and Abi were taken to a ward in which others had been held before them and which was not cleaned afterwards so that the conditions were unhygienic. The journalists stated that although many COVID-19 cases were detected in neighbouring wards, they were not tested and kept in the place of the highest infection risk.

The lawyers of MLSA, who carried the detention of the journalists to the Constitutional Court, stated that the unlawful interference with the rights of the journalists’ to liberty, security and freedom of expression also brings about vital risks; they declared that the detention of the journalists needs to be ended.

MLSA Co-Director Veysel Ok says that despite many death notifications that come from prisons, no appropriate measures have been taken: “Until now, no proper statistical study about those who lost their lives because of COVID-19 has been conducted. To conduct such a study and provide data is even more difficult in the context of prisons. We all know that the number of positive cases in prisons has increased; that it is very difficult for detainees and convicts to access healthcare. The fact that the Constitutional Court does not take this situation into account is neither legally correct nor appropriate in terms of the respectability of the Constitutional Court. If the Ministry of Health is responsible for measures taken in the streets and workplaces and the deaths that occured because of measures not taken, then the Ministry of Justice, the courts and the administration are responsible for the measures in the prisons and all potential deaths. Moreover, this responsibility for those held in prisons is much greater.”

So far, no indictment has been prepared against Bilen, Sala, Abi and Uğur. The journalists are calling on their colleagues and rights organizations not to allow their case to be forgotten by the public, declaring that the delay of the indictment is used as a justification to extend their detention.