Rights Group Alleges Torture in New Turkish Jails

ANKARA (Reuters)–Human rights group Amnesty International said on Saturday that Turkish prisoners transferred to new small-cell jails had been tortured and kept in isolation for long periods. Turkey denied the charges.

Amnesty made its accusation just weeks after Turkish security forces launched a crackdown on jails across the country to try to end hunger strikes by prisoners protesting against the plans to transfer them from large dormitories to small cells.

At least 30 prisoners and two police officers died in the raids. Authorities say the prisoners who died set themselves on fire rather than end their protest and the justice ministry issued a statement denying torture was used in the raids.

“The prisoners transferred to other prisons were not in any way tortured or badly treated,” the justice ministry said on Saturday. It did not refer specifically to Amnesty’s charges.

The ministry also published what it said was a letter from the brother of an inmate who died in the raids blaming leftist organizations in the jails for the death of his sibling. The ministry did not give name or gender of the inmate.

Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) said eight of its members had been arrested on Saturday when they attempted to read out a declaration about the prisons to the public in the center of Ankara’s commercial district.

After the raids on 20 jails–authorities moved around 1,000 prisoners to new–so-called F-type prisons.

Turkey says the new jails will be easier to control than the dormitories which were often off limits to wardens and run by political groups or criminal gangs. But the protesters say they will be more vulnerable to abuse in the small cells where there are no witnesses to see how they are treated.

Amnesty International said it had spoken to doctors and lawyers who visited the new prisons as well as relatives of prisoners and three inmates who had now been released.

“These sources consistently indicate that the prisoners were beaten and some tortured before–during and after the transfers to the new prisons,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

The government has defended the prison crackdown and the transfers as necessary to regain control of the chaotic facilities and break the stranglehold of political groups accused by Turkey of using the jails as militant training camps.

A radical leftist group whose members are among the hunger strikers claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing which killed one policeman and injured seven people at an Istanbul police station on Wednesday. The bomber also died.

The head of Turkey’s parliamentary Human Rights Commission has said human rights were not abused during the raids and the commission has set up a sub-commission to investigate prisons.

“It is alleged that prisoners were stripped and subjected to rape with a truncheon on arrival at Kandira F-type prison near Izmit–but the claims could not be corroborated because lawyers’ requests for forensic examinations to be carried out received no response,” Amnesty International said.

It said that a regime of solitary and small group isolation was being imposed in the new prisons and many prisoners had gone without human contact for days apart from roll-calls.

“Some prisoners in solitary isolation have not been seen by anyone from the outside world since mid-December,” it said.

The justice ministry says nearly 400 prisoners are continuing a death fast–taking only sugared water and other liquid nutrition. The fasts started over two months ago.

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