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Initiated in october 2000 by around 800 detainees, leftwingers and political activists (Carrol, 2001), who were later followed by members of their families as well as human rights militants, the hunger strike changed into a huge protest movement. This was brutally supressed by the police and the miltary in December, when the operation "Back to Life" was launched. This operation was met with resistance from the prisoners and had extremely high costs in terms of human loss - 28 prisoners and 2 soldiers died in the events. In the end, the results of the operation were a success for the Turkish prison authorities - the prisoners were moved into the new facilities and most of the "schools of anarchy," as Turkish president Demirel called them, were closed
The prison population of Turkey was, at that time, of around 72.000 inmates, but the amnesty billed introduced by the government in late 2000 was designed to release almost half of them. Although met with reluctance and even turned down by the Turkish president, the bill was signed during the events of December 2000, which are still being a topic of criticism for Turkey, coming from almost all international bodies. The operation "Back to Life" mentioned above was designed to start moving the prisoners into the new F-type facilities and, on the other hand, to end the hunger strikes and associated protests going on in the prisons. The clashes between armed forces and the prisoners lasted for four days, and the reports coming from the authorities show that the inmates opposed a serious resistance. From the other perspective, the human rights organizations reported numerous abusive episodes of excessive force, of unjustified violence and so on, directed against the prisoners during the riot and later, during the susequent transfer to the F-type prison.
After 2000, the protests and the hunger strikes became epidemically spread within F-type and regular prisons. According to the organization of prisoners' relatives in around ten years (since 1982 and 1993) 122 people died in unlimited hunger strikes known as death fasts (Cooper & Riordan, 1993). Similalrly, 101 prisoners have died after 2000 and more than 400 suffered from unrecoverable effects following hunger strikes (HRW report, 2005).
So far, I have presented a short history of Turkish prisons, in order to start discussing in detail the developments from the last five years, considering that the introduction of F-type prisons constitutes a milestone for this analysis. Where is, one might ask, the big difference between Turkey and Western Europe or U.S. For example, a very interesting perspective of the prison system within the United States, written by Joseph Halinnan (2001), provides us with a fascinating description of the isolation conditions (and their consequences over the prisoners). Moreover, trying to integrate the prison system into a more general analysis of the American society, the author dvelops an interesting conceptual frame - he states that prisons are just an extension of the huge capitalist market where the exchange of goods and assets, whatever shape they might take, are invading any corner of social life. Prisons are no longer designed to punish and/or to rehabilitate offenders, but they become market institutions and their existence is getting disconnected from the original meaning of their creation.
The Turkish prison situation seem to have deep connections with the political, and not economic, activity of the state and of the citizens. Moreover, after the act of sentencing and imprisoning the political activist, the state continues to exercise its power of coercion over the prisoner, in an attempt to disconnect him from the outside world, from its family as well as its political affiliation. I believe this is the reason why isolation regime in Turkey is continuously criticized by all the human rights organizations - mainly because it is not only design to re-educate and reintegrate the inmate within the society, but because the imprisonment is political, on one hand, and because of the huge dose of arbitrary in the detention regime.
I believe that, when speaking about the prisons in Turkey, we have to stress the importance of political prisoners and of the prisoners of conscience and to place the debate within the larger frame of police vs. protestors movements and clashes, of the treatment of detainees and prisoners within the police stations and prisons, of the abuses and ill-treatments which a prisoner can be subject to, particulalry within a prison.
The protest of the inmates against the idea of F-type prisons is, I believe, double layered. On one hand, they were protesting against the interruption of their political activity from within the prisons and against the breach created in their connections, both inside and outside the prisons. However, on the other hand, it might be that they were so violently refusing to be taken out of the community because of the fear of abuse, because the community of other prisoners was also a sort of shelter against police, military or prison guard violence, torture, or bad treatment.
Interesting enough, the Turkish authorities used to place common and political prisoners within the same prisons, without making a difference. The idea of segregating the political prisoners from each other and from the ordinary criminals is a useful tool for diminishing the anti-state activity the prisoners were accused of. Still, when the history of suspicious disappearances, violent supression of street protests and police abuses is flourishingin Turkey, the introduction of isolation regime can only create further suspicions and worries. What will happen with prisoners, particularly with the political ones, when they will be secluded and isolated from their cell-mates?
Another additional concern was raised by how the law was formulated. The provisions of the article 16 of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law state that prisoners are to be kept in their cells almost indefinitely, without providing the circumstances for family visits, number of hours spent outside the cells and even allows that the contacts between the convicts and communication with others can be prevented. Following the concerns expressed by the international organizations and by the Turkish organizations, the prisoners and their families, the Minister of Justice promised to ammend the Law in 2000, even before starting to move the prisoners within the F-type facilities. Nonetheless, the Law was changed as late as in May 2001, after the F-type units were already holding prisoners for more than five months. The ammended article 16 now allows the prisoners the right to participate in communal activities such as sport and education and receive unobstructed visits. However, the wording of the law suggests that these rights will depend on individual prison resources and be provided at the discretion of the prison authorities. The communal activities would also be possible only within the <
Still, the provisions of the above-mentioned article leave space for arbitrary and does not prevent in any way the possibility of abuses or violent treatment against the inmates. And the protests have been going on in the last years as well, and will probably keep going for as long as the political imprisonment will be maintained.
On the other hand, it would not be fair to say that the human rights situation in Turkey is not developing and changing. One of the most careful 'watch-dogs', Human Rights Watch, admits that, for example, that: "as of November 2005 no individuals were known by Human Rights Watch to be serving prison sentences for the non-violent expression of their opinions.." The last political sentence was, from this perspective, that of the writer Cemal Topkinar, who was sentenced to serve one year in prison for his article suggesting that the earthquake from Turkey, from 1999, was a divine punishment inflicted upon the militaries.
As of the end of 2005, there were approximately 3500 political detainees in the Turkish prisons, according to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour report. Nonetheless, the authorities claim that almost all of them were charged with violent offences, mainly affiliation with terrorist organizations, and are not in prison due to speech-related offences. The acces to these prisoners was granted only to a few international organizations, particularly CPT and not in all cases.
Why, it might be asked, is there so much space dedicated to political imprisonment? As stated above, I believe that it is impossible to speak about the conditions from the Turkish prisons and the protests of the prisoners without seriously considering this issue, because the main actors of the protests are the imprisoned political militants. Subsequently, the military interventions against the riots within prison facilities must not disregard the fact that the same troups that might have been displaced in some of the hot areas of Turkey, to fight the separatist movements, the minority organizations and the leftist militatnts can be send within one prison, to fight the same persons they have met before, in open space. Not sooner than November 2005 there was an extrajudiccial execution, carried on by a few gendarmes…[continue]
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