Human RightsJournalists in Prison

MLSA demands release of five jailed journalists due to COVID-19

Lawyers of MLSA, which provides pro bono legal counselling to 56 individuals the majority of whom are journalists filed for the immediate release of journalists Aziz Oruç, Nedim Türfent, Oğuz Usluer, Uğur Yılmaz, Ziya Ataman and activist Patrick Kraicker. All six are represented by MLSA.

The petitions asking for the journalists to be released were submitted to the relevant court or prosecutor’s office on 18 March. The text of the release demand stresses that “poor hygiene conditions in prisons might lead to irreversible damage” given the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawyers referred to Article 56 of the Turkish Constitution, which secures the right to a healthy environment, and called for the six to be released as per the Recommendation Rec(2006)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on European Prison Rules and Article 109 of the Turkish Code of Criminal Procedure which stipulates that it is an obligation of the state to take positive measures to prevent potential damage to inmates.

MLSA clients in prison

The journalists for whom MLSA filed release requests are Türfent, a reporter for the shuttered Dicle News Agency (DİHA), whose conviction for “membership in a terrorist organization” was upheld in October 2019; Usluer, Haberturk TV former news coordinator whose file regarding “membership in a terrorist organization” is under review at Turkey’s Court of Cassation; Uğur Yılmaz, former media manager at the Press Department of Bitlis Municipality, whose file is also under review at Turkey’s Court of Cassation; activist Patrick Kraicker who is a German national; Ataman, a former DİHA reporter, whose file is under review at the Appellate Court , and Aziz Oruç, Roj News editor, who is imprisoned as part of an ongoing investigation where he is charged with “membership in a terrorist organization”.

Imprisoned journalists Türfent and Ataman are held at Van Prison; Oruç at Patnos Prison while journalist Yılmaz is being kept at Elazığ Prison. Journalist Usluer is being held at Silivri Prison and activist Kraicker is at Maltepe Prison.

‘Prisons not prepared for COVID-19’

Experts assert that prisons in Turkey are not prepared to handle the COVID-19 outbreak. Adana Bar Association’s Prison Monitoring Commission President Lawyer Tugay Bek underlined in a statement on 17 March that the prison population exceeds the capacity and a series of releases should take place to secure well being of those behind bars.

Türfent, who is imprisoned, at Van Prison says that necessary measures have not been taken for the new type coronavirus and medical masks are sold at very high prices. While drawing attention to the condition of ill prisoners, Türfent also underlines that disinfectant sprays or hand sanitizers and surgical gloves are not provided despite being demanded by prisoners. It was also noted that special measures for prisoners, who are at higher risk due to their chronic health conditions, have not been taken.

Most recently, Iran, where 17,361 cases of the new type coronavirus have been identified and 1,135 deaths have occured, temporarily freed 85,000 prisoners including political prisoners while 6 died in Italian prison riots that started in protest of the country’s COVID-19 response.

Turkey’s Minister of Health last night announced first death (89) from new coronavirus as the total number of confirmed cases in Turkey increased to 98.

While 282, 709 are imprisoned in Turkey as per the Ministry of Justice Budget Report 2020, The Human Rights Association (IHD) Central Prisons’ Commission announced in 2019 that there are 1,333 prisoners with medical conditions in Turkey, 457 of whom are in critical condition.