The death penalty was abolished on the 7 May 2004. The last execution took place in 19841.
The reintroduction of the death penalty has been debated publicly for several years. A referendum aimed at strengthening the president's power took place on the 16 April 2017. When the "Yes" vote won, crowds in Istanbul chanted “Death Penalty”. On this occasion President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, he was prepared to hold a referendum on the reinstatement of the death penalty.
Between 1920 and 1984, 712 people were executed. Hıdır Aslan was the last person to be executed on the 25 October 1984. ↩
Custodial life sentences are set out by the Penal Code as follows:
- Life imprisonment (müebbet hapis in Turkish, La peine de prison à perpétuité simple in French)1
- Aggravated life imprisonment (a ğırlaştırılmışmüebbethapis in Turkish, la peine de prison à perpétuité aggravée in French)2.
Life imprisonment lasts until the death of the convict. It is not applicable to minors. Aggravated life imprisonment lasts until the death of the convict and is enforced under the strict security regime measures as defined in law and legislation.
In February 2014, the Ministry of Justice recorded 1,453 prisoners having been sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment 3. Of these, 126 were convicted of terrorism or organised crime. The Ministry of Justice has since ceased to communicate this kind of information to two organisations: Civil Society in the Penal System (CISST) and Turkey's Center for Prison Studies (TCPS).
The detention regime for prisoners differs according to whether their life sentence is simple or aggravated.
The law states that life imprisonment inmates should have the same conditions of detention and the same rights as other prisoners:
- The right to weekly visits from family members (up to third degree) and from three friends.
- The right to weekly telephone calls
- Access to fresh air during the day
- The opportunity to communicate with other prisoners
Prisoners serving an aggravated life sentence are under a specific detention regime which is more restrictive:
- The right to one-hour visits and fortnightly telephone calls. Family visits are allowed (up to second-degree family members only).4
- One hour of access to fresh air
- Isolation in cells normally used for disciplinary purposes.
- Communication only possible with other prisoners serving an aggravated life sentence when on a walk or during activities. These are granted with good behaviour only.
- Work is strictly forbidden. Prisoners are financially dependent exclusively on their close relatives. Their isolation prevents the exchange of goods with other prisoners. Some prisoners try to sell items to the outside world that they have made themselves.
These conditions of confinement notably affect prisoner’s mental and physical health (see section "health").
Conditional release on parole is possible5 for the following:
- prisoners age 24-30 sentenced to life imprisonment, depending on the crime committed.
- prisoners age 30+ sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment who have committed only one crime.
- prisoners age 36+ sentenced to life imprisonment for organized crime.
A prisoner is released when the disciplinary and administrative council of the prison is in agreement. Parole may be delayed where disciplinary action is required.
Data collected by Civil Society Organisations in the Penal System (CISST) and Turkey's Center for Prison Studies (TCPS) through the law on the Right to Information. ↩
They do not have the right to see nieces and nephews, cousins or friends. ↩
Civil Society in the Penal System/Turkey' s Center for Prison Studies,"Addressing prisoners with special needs: life imprisonment", p.33. ↩
Deaths in detention
The prison authorities do not regularly publish figures on the number of deaths in detention. Human rights organisations often make public the cases they are made aware of.
The Ministry of Justice reported 2,300 deaths in detention during the period 2009-2016. These deaths were, for the most part, a result of the adverse conditions of confinement and inadequate access to health care. The elderly were also affected. The Ministry of Justice announced 283 deaths from natural causes between January and October 2016.
The Ministry of Justice reported 280 suicides from 2012 to October 2017. The number of deaths resulting from ill-treatment by prison staff or from violence between fellow prisoners has not been provided.
Human rights organisations often call into question the credibility of these reports and speak out about suspect deaths.
A report from the Stockholm Freedom Center (SCF), published in March 2017, reported 22 suspect deaths in prison and five in police custody, following the attempted coup d'état.
— Suspicious Deaths
An article in Turkey Purge, dated April 17, 2017, reported 28 suspicious deaths in prison since the attempted coup d’état on 15 July 2016.
24-year-old Mehmet Kil was found dead in Kürkçüler prison. The authorities reported it as suicide. His brother testified to death threats from guards. The member of Parliament,Danış Beştaş, challenged,the authorities regarding the circumstances of his death on the 26 October.
Ill-treatment and violence
The right to not be subjected to torture or ill-treatment is written in the Constitution1. The 2004 Penal Code defines torture as a serious crime. Moreover, any civil servant infringing upon someone's human dignity should incur a prison sentence of 3 to 12 years (Article 94), or up to an aggravated life sentence (Article 95). In spite of these laws, torture is widely practised, and the perpetrators are rarely held accountable.
In October 2016, the Ministry of Justice reported, 457 investigations into charges of ill-treatment in detention in which 39 cases led to fines, and two perpetrators were given prison sentences.
The number of cases of torture and ill-treatment has increased since the attempted coup d'état and the declaration of the state of emergency which followed.
In their report 2017/2017, Amnesty International found data indicating "the widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment of people suspected of participating in the attempted coup d'état". They also reported that soldiers undergo the worst threats to their physical integrity.
The Human Rights Association (Turkish: İnsan Hakları Derneği, IHD) has quoted 428 cases of people in confinement being subjected to severe beatings during the first 11 months of 2017. They affirm that torture and ill-treatment is carried out in most of the country's prisons. The guards employ a range of methods depending on the institution.
Ill-treatment is most often carried out by police officers during vehicle transfers. The vehicles are badly ventilated and prisoners must travel for long hours in hot or cold weather. They are often not informed of their transfer until the last minute. They are not permitted to take personal effects with them (for example, medicine, glasses or books). They are informed that these effects will be sent on to them later but this never happens. They are subjected to strip searches on arrival and are sometimes beaten.
Medical examinations are carried out at the prison itself and no longer in a hospital. An IHD report published in November 2017 indicates that policemen are sometimes present during these medical examinations. The medical personnel's diagnoses are often altered 2.
Mizgin Dag, a 23-year-old student, was attacked, along with her sister Zelal, during their transfer to Tarsus prison. Zelal explained that her sister still had bruises on her arms and face 20 days after being beaten. She was deprived of water for three days after her arrival. She was only permitted to see a doctor two weeks later.
The ill-treatment continues once in prison. Prisoners explain how they have been kept in painful positions for long periods and have been subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings, sexual abuse, and threats of rape. One of the methods of torture is to insert needles into their nipples3.Some prisoners in Silivrihave described the physical and verbal violence they have undergone to their lawyers.
The prisoner Yakup Gündoğan, who was transferred to Van prison, affirmed that a guard said, in May 2017: "I have been given permission to use torture". In the same prison, Recep Adıyaman, who was strip searched with his feet and hands handcuffed round his back, said he was no longer able to sleep because of the pain.
Ibrahim Halil Baran, a Kurdish militant, was in prison in Urfa between January and April 2017. He said he was tortured for 13 days. The anti-terrorist headquarters in Urfa is used to harbour acts of torture. He affirmed he would be able to identify the police officers that tortured him.
Following the 27 November - 2 December 2016 visit, the special United Nations Reporter on torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment confirmed, that a general climate of intimidation and mistrust has been established in the country following the attempted coup d'état. This has prevented complaints about alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment, and hindered subsequent documentation and investigation.
In November 2016 an Executive Decree disbanded three lawyer associations working on police violence and torture. Amnesty International reported on this dissolution.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited a number of prisons in Turkey following the attempted coup d'état. The Turkish government did not allow them to publish their report.
Article 17: "Everyone has the right to life and the right to preserve and develop their physical and spiritual integrity. An individual's physical integrity cannot be infringed without their consent, except in the event of medical need or in statutory cases. They also should not be subjected to medical and scientific examination without their consent. No one must be subjected to torture or ill-treatment; no one must be made to suffer pain or treatment, which infringes their human dignity. […]" ↩
IHD, "Anti-terrorist crackdown in Turkey: excessive and illegal", November 2017, p.33. ↩
Platform for Peace and Justice, "A comprehensive report on the prison conditions in Turkey - In Prison 2017", p.6. ↩
Arbitrary or secret detention
On the 5 February 2018, The militant website, Turkey Purge reported 64,358 people, of whom 319 were journalists, were arrested since the attempted coup d'état in July 2016.
The Turkish authorities have arrested thousands of people suspected of belonging to the Gülen movement. In a report in September 2017, the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) explained the following pretexts used for the arrests:
- Subscription to the newspaper Zaman, an opposition publication, banned on 27 July 2016. Thousands of readers of the newspaper were arrested for this reason.
- Being a customer of the Asya bank, which was seized by the government in May 2015. Twenty-eight of its managers were imprisoned. It is not known how many of its customers have been detained.
- Being a member of a union: thousands of teachers who were members of different trade unions were arrested.
- Being in possession of American dollar bills, which contain secret codes for the members of the Gülen movement.
People have sometimes been arrested in place of a family member. Hacer Korucu, wife of the journalist Bulent Korucu, was held for eight months. The bill of indictment suggested that her husband's actions were a legal reason for arresting his wife. 1.
— The outcomes of the state of emergency
- The maximum period possibleto be held in was extended from 4 to 30 days. Since January 2017, this period has been changed again to seven days, renewable once, for the same length of time. In actual fact, this length of time is often exceeded.
- The law does not permit consultation with a lawyer in the first five days of remand in police custody.
- Communication between lawyer and client can be registered and transmitted to the prosecutorial authorities.
- The right to access a lawyer of one's own choice to consult for advice is limited.
- Some medical examinations are carried out in the presence of police officers.
The usual detention centres were not equipped to accommodate the huge number of people arrested the day after the coup d’état of 15 July, 2016. Thousands of people were placed in stadiums and function rooms and other places with no video surveillance. Some were victims of ill-treatment and abuse. The SCF confirmed, in May 2017, that the Turkish police force made use of the State Water Company (DSİ) buildings as a detention centre. Cases of verbal and physical violence were denied.
These abuses are possible when the independence of judicial power is undermined. The number of judges and prosecutors removed from office since 15 July 2016 was 4,463 on 5th February 2018.
Between July 2016 and December 2017, 570 lawyers were arrested. 1,486 were prosecuted, according to the Arrested Lawyers Initiative (The Arrested Lawyers Initiative). Seventy of them are serving a prison sentence. Master Melih Dikayak, a member of the Izmir Bar,was sentenced to seven years and five months in prison. He was accused of downloading the Bylock messaging application. Using or downloading this is regarded as evidence of membership of the Gulenist movement.
Stockholm Center for Freedom, "Erdogan's rule by royal decree. Turkey' s contempt for the rule of law. Criminal charges on absurd pretexts in Turkey", September 2017, p. 35. ↩