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ECtHR faults Turkey for poor prison conditions in post-coup period

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has faulted Turkey for the poor prison conditions suffered by eight people who were given less than three square meters of living space in overcrowded prisons in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016.

The court combined the applications of 10 people in Turkey who were all jailed in a widespread post-coup crackdown on non-loyalist citizens.

The Strasbourg-based court announced its decision in the case of İlerde et al. v. Turkey, unanimously ruling that Turkey violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which concerns the prohibition of torture, saying no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The court found a violation of this article in the cases of eight of the applicants — Ahmet İlerde, Davut Tek, Aşkın Şanlı, Ruhi Hallaçoğlu, Kemalettin Erel, Harun Altun, Kahraman Yıldırım and Deniz Aktaş — in respect of the periods of detention during which they had less than three square meters of living space.

In their petitions the applicants complained about the overcrowding in prisons, where many people were put in a cell far beyond its capacity, forcing some inmates to sleep on mattresses on the floor or take turns to sleep. They also complained about other conditions in prison such as cold food, inadequate hygiene, inadequate toilets for so many people and restrictions including the banning of sports and social and educational out-of-cell activities.

The court did not find a violation of Article 3 in the two applications filed by Onur Yörük and Metin Kolotooğlu or as regards the remainder of the other applicants’ periods of detention during which they had more than three square meters of living space.

In the case of one of the applicants, Davut Tek, the court also found a violation of Article 8 of the ECHR, which concerns the right to respect for private and family life.

In his application Tek, who was put in a prison far from his family, complained about violation of Article 8 on the grounds that he received fewer visits from his family.

As part of a crackdown launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the aftermath of the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, Turkey jailed tens of thousands of people on terrorism-related charges. Most of them were merely critical of the government and had not engaged in any criminal activity.

The ECtHR ruled that Turkey pay these applicants a total of 57,500 euros, in different amounts to each applicant, in non-pecuniary damages in addition to 1,000 euros to five of the applicants for costs and expenses. The other applicants did not make a claim for costs and expenses.

Turkey remains the leader in the number of prisoners in Europe, according to the 2022 Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations report. In January 2022 Turkey accounted for over a third of all prisoners in CoE member states and a surge of 369 percent in its prison population between 2005 and 2022.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has allocated 8.7 billion lira for the construction of 36 new prisons in the next four years, which will significantly increase Turkey’s already high incarceration rate. The number of Turkish penal institutions will increase to 419 by the end of this year with the opening of 20 new prisons. There were 399 prisons in the country as of January 2023.

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