Turkey’s post-coup prison construction boom cost at least $1.3 billion: report

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Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has spent between TL 11.2 billion and TL 13 billion ($1.3 billion to $1.5 billion) for the construction of more than 100 prisons as part of its post-coup building spree, according to an investigative report by independent journalist Noah Blaser published in Foreign Policy.

The report said, citing government sources, that the AKP spent at least $1.3 billion to build some 131 prisons in Turkey between July 2016 and March 2021, with Turkish Ministry of Justice documents and press reports indicating nearly 100 additional facilities under consideration by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government.

“So far, the post-coup building spree is set to increase the total capacity of Turkey’s prisons by more than 70 percent, to at least 320,000 from around 180,000 in 2016. Construction has marked a huge outlay for a struggling economy and cash-strapped government,” Blaser said in the report published on Aug. 8.

The Council of Europe’s 2020 annual report revealed that Turkey had the highest incarceration rate of the 47 Council of Europe (CoE) countries last year, with 357 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants.

According to figures announced by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Abdüllatif Şener earlier in 2021, the AKP government constructed 14 prisons in 2014, 18 in 2015, 38 in 2016, 12 in 2017, 15 in 2018, 26 in 2019 and 18 in 2020, with plans to inaugurate 39 more prisons this year.

The new ones would increase the number of prisons constructed in Turkey in the course of the last eight years to 180, Şener added, noting that the country currently has a total of 355 prisons.

“The current rate of construction is more than double that in the four years before the failed coup—a time when mass arrests and political imprisonment in Turkey were already generating international alarm,” Blaser said, adding that prisons had also grown in size as well as in number since 2016, indicating a massive overall increase in the government’s capacity to punish dissent.

According to Blaser, new prisons would allow Turkey’s government to further increase an inmate population that surged to nearly 300,000 in the first half of 2020 from 180,000 after the failed putsch.

Today, the official number sits at nearly 288,000 although Turkey’s Justice Ministry has released around 190,000 nonpolitical prisoners in two separate amnesties since 2016, with the second one aiming to reduce prison overcrowding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Prisoners of conscience have been barred from release even under the COVID-19 amnesty, with pro-democracy philanthropist Osman Kavala and [pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party] HDP [former] co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş remaining imprisoned despite international outcry. Violent offenders, meanwhile, have been let go, with opposition media chronicling a rash of femicides and domestic violence by inmates released in 2020,” Blaser said.

Mass detentions and arrests have been taking place in Turkey since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The AKP government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding the failed coup, although both Gülen and the movement strongly deny any involvement.

Critics accuse Erdoğan, who embarked on the massive crackdown on the opposition after the coup attempt, of using the incident as a pretext to quash dissent.

Human Rights Watch says people alleged to have links to the Gülen movement is the largest group targeted by Erdoğan.

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