Sick Prisoners and the COVID-19 Pandemic
31 March 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19) that appears to have first emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019 has spread worldwide in a short period of time and has been described as a global outbreak (pandemic) by the World Health Organization. Turkey’s Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca, has also stated that the first coronavirus case in the country was diagnosed on 11 March 2020. As of 30 March 2020, however, the number of coronavirus cases in the world was over 787,000 while 37,829 persons died. According to official figures there are 10,827 coronavirus cases in Turkey while 168 persons died.
In a joint statement on 20 March 2020, İHD released its views on the COVID-19 pandemic and recommendations on the urgent measures that should be taken in prisons. İHD would like to reiterate that urgent measures have not been taken and the situation is gradually heading towards a more alarming level.
Failure to release sick prisons, an unsolvable problem on Turkey’s agenda for a long time now, has become even more visible precisely during such a period. İHD has long been campaigning for the release of sick prisoners and updated its “List of Critically Sick and Sick Prisoners” compiled by its Central Prisons Committee.
According to the data collected by İHD, there are 1563 sick prisoners in Turkey including 590 in critical condition. İHD would like to especially underline that this figure is in fact much higher.
İHD once more requests that critically sick prisoners should be released and the enforcement of their sentences should be delayed as they face serious risks in this pandemic while non-convicted prisoners should immediately be released.
Problems in the penal system and particularly Law No. 5275 on the Enforcement of Sentences and Security Measures that went into force in 2005 having been based on a non-humanitarian perspective that imposed authority and rules highlighting security rather than the right to life and freedoms along with challenges faced in practice further deteriorate the conditions of prisoners.
The presidential “Bylaw on the Management of Penal Institutions and the Enforcement of Penal and Security Measures” published in the Official Gazette of 29 March 2020 has carried over the current enforcement law’s provisions in violation of prisoners’ rights as was and will lead to new problems in practice. İHD will utilize its legal and legitimate rights on this issue.
International legislation encumbers states with positive obligations on the right to life of persons deprived of their liberty. States are obliged to enable persons deprived of their liberty to have access to right to health on an equal standing with free persons. Law No. 5275 on the enforcement of sentences and the related bylaw are both in major violation of the United Nations’ Mandela Rules. İHD will continue voicing its criticism and recommendations on this issue.
Amendments to the enforcement law, which has long been on the agenda of the political power, should be undertaken in line with the principle of equality of terms in conditional release taking the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration. Such amendments should also include provisions that will enable the rapid release of disadvantaged groups, notably sick prisoners.
İHD, accordingly, recommends the following:
- All the current critically sick prisoners should immediately be released pursuant to medical reports by any full-fledged hospital, their treatments should be maintained with their families and their health insurance should be provided by the state;
- The Forensic Medicine Institute should no longer be the last and sole authority to draft medical reports to delay enforcement of sentences;
- The discretionary power of public prosecutors’ offices should be revoked within the scope of decisions to delay enforcement of sentences due to health problems;
- “Threat to public safety” criterion that prevents sick prisoners to enjoy delays in the enforcement of their sentences should be removed from the law;
- The provision prescribing there could be “no suspension in the enforcement of sentences” under Article 25 of the Law on the Enforcement of Sentences along with Clause 16 of Article 107 that prevent sick prisoners to enjoy delays in the enforcement of their sentences should be repealed;
- An appropriate date should be included in prisoners’ legal status summaries taking into account their ages and medical conditions in line with the ECtHR’s judgment in the case of Kaytan v. Turkey;
- The points made by the ECtHR in its judgment in the case of Gülay Çetin v. Turkey should be complied with and the fact that failure to release sick prisoners is in violation of Article 3 of the ECHR should be remembered;
- The presidential circular letter prescribing the president’s power to pardon prisoners due to their medical conditions should be amended. The Forensic Medicine Institute should no longer be the sole determinant. The president should use his power to pardon critically sick prisoners without discrimination.
Human Rights Association