The Human Rights Association (İHD), which carries out its activities for the creation of conditions for prisoners to lead their lives in conditions worthy of human dignity, endeavors to monitor and report all the problems in prisons and injustice faced by prisoners. While carrying out these activities, it draws on many sources to collect information and data. With its 27 branches and 7 representative offices, İHD is the largest human rights organization working in Turkey. In addition to the rights violations reports it publishes, İHD also issues reports on rights violations in prisons in cooperation with other non-governmental organizations and bar associations working in the field of human rights.
As in other fields of its work, İHD receives many applications regarding prisons. Some of these applications are lodged directly by prisoners, while others are made by prisoners’ relatives or their lawyers. Applications can be submitted online through the İHD website or directly to its branches and central office. Prisoners and their relatives also apply to İHD via letters. The association immediately informs the relevant public bodies about the applications it receives. The association writes official letters to the Ministry of Justice, the Directorate General of Prisons and Detention Houses (DGPDH), the Human Rights Inquiry Commission of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT), the Ministry of Health, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey (TİHEK), Turkish Medical Association (TMA), the Ministry of Interior Law Enforcement Supervision Commission, the relevant prosecutor’s offices, the relevant prison administrations, provincial health directorates, and other institutions specific to the application and provide the necessary information to eliminate the existing rights violations. Following such notification procedure, İHD also closely follows up any developments and, if need be, sends in attorneys to prisons for conferences with prisoners to the extent of the available means. The association holds press conferences and drafts reports to inform the public following these procedures.
Another resource for İHD in this field is its widespread and extensive network of lawyers. Prisoners’ lawyers contact and apply to İHD regarding the rights violations faced by their clients, and these applications contribute to the collection of data. Lawyers who are part of İHD’s legal and prison commissions also support data collection by interviewing prisoners and preparing reports in line with the applications received by the association.
Another important source of İHD’s annual, periodical, or thematic reports is media reviews. İHD regularly conducts media reviews and collects news articles reported by the media or that are on the agenda in the field of prisons. In addition to the reports it publishes and the work it carries out, İHD also holds meetings with public bodies in order to eliminate rights violations in prisons.
Finally, it should also be noted that İHD collaborates with other civil society organizations that are active in the field of prisons and prisoners’ rights like Association of Lawyers for Freedom (Özgürlük İçin Hukukçular Derneği), Progressive Lawyers’ Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği) and MED Prisoners’ Families Law and Solidarity Associations Federation (MED TUHAD-FED), the TMA, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) and other prisoners’ families associations. Significant information and data are collected as a result of such collaboration.
This report is a compilation of the data collected from the different sources of information mentioned above. It is based on the regular prison reports prepared by İHD branches and regional representative offices and the data obtained during prison visits. The report was also supported by data obtained from other sources.
According to the data at hand, in 2021, 901 prisoners in prisons in different regions of Turkey applied to İHD’s central office alone, either by letter or through their families or lawyers. Considering the applications lodged before İHD’s local branches, it is seen that thousands of applications were submitted to the association. Most of these applications were lodged through letters and some of them consist of applications by more than one prisoner through a single letter.
When the applications lodged before the association are classified according to their content, it is seen that the applications are mostly concentrated on allegations of violations of rights such as the right to health, torture and ill-treatment and discrimination. In addition to these, applications for legal support are also common. Further, it is seen that in 2021, similar to 2020, applications were sent in from prisons due to violations of rights arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. İHD also receives many applications from prisoners due to the fact that their applications for transfer to prisons in regions close to their families are not taken into consideration by the prison administrations.
Applications sent to İHD from prisons mostly allege more than one violation of rights and request help from the association in this regard. Particularly the situation of sick prisoners, isolation, strip searches, usurpation of the right to communication, and many other issues have been the subject of a significant number of applications to İHD. Foreign national prisoners in Turkish prisons also face many rights violations, especially due to the language barrier. Foreign prisoners mostly apply to İHD because they cannot benefit from the right to a fair trial and the right to communication because they do not speak Turkish.
When one studies the map below showing the cities where applications were lodged before the İHD, it is seen that applications were lodged before the association from prisons in all of the cities marked in dark color. As can be understood from the map, it is evident that İHD receives applications from prisons in almost all over Turkey. Even from this map alone, it is evident that rights violations in prisons are not limited to one region, but spread all over Turkey and prisoners are subjected to varying levels of rights violations.
We do know that the problems in Turkish prisons go way beyond those referred to and cited in this report. It is, however, almost impossible to obtain information and data that would crack the whole picture wide open, as is the case with many other rights categories. Therefore data presented in this report is merely a limited one that İHD was able to collect and probably accounts for only the visible part of the iceberg. Despite such limitation, we believe that the applications received by İHD provide us with the opportunity to describe the status quo in prisons and to assess the overall conditions in prisons as these applications reveal the conditions in prisons. We, thus, believe that this report will contribute to both politicians and the activities undertaken by civil society organizations working in the field of prisons.
The report covers major rights violations under such categories as the right to life, allegations of torture and ill-treatment, right to health, right to communication, right to information, disciplinary action and enforcement of sentences, transfer requests and enforced transfers, the right to a fair trial, and other repressive policies. The report specifically focuses on the condition of women prisoners, the COVID-19 pandemic, amendments to the Enforcement Law, and sick prisoners. Our data reveal that violations and problems in prisons are much deeper and systematic. The reader will see that applications incorporating multidimensional violation allegations are provided more than once under different categories in some cases.
The cases of foreign national prisoners, LGBTI+ prisoners, women prisoners with children, and children, who are presented in the report in exemplary accounts but not in detail, need to be studied in further special reports.
CSOs working on prisons are usually in touch with prisoners, prisoners’ families or official representatives. Yet the public’s stand on a certain issue may seriously affect political powers’ activities in that field in democratic societies. Particularly the fact that prisons and rights violations in prisons are not reported enough by different media outlets gives way to the ever-increasing cases of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. Thus, revealing the attitudes, perceptions and expectations of the public about prisons and rights violations in prisons and informing the public about them will only be possible by active monitoring and reporting of these issues. These are also major considerations in the scheduling of İHD’s work on prisons.
İHD will keep on making rights violations in prisons more visible and present them to the public through its work on prisons. We sincerely hope that our efforts will contribute to prisoners’ access to fundamental rights and freedoms.
Click to read the full report: sr202207_İHD-2021PrisonsReport