The following report was created by Georges Henri Beauthier and Jan Fermon, lawyers at the Brussels Bar, from their 2006 mission to Istanbul in relation to the situation of prisoners in isolation detention in the F-type prisons and to the “hunger strike until death” of lawyer Behic ASCI. The delegation took place between October 21-22, 2006.

Download the full report: Report Istanbul 31.10.06.doc

The authors of the present report are both lawyers at the Brussels Bar (Ordre français des Avocats du Barreau de Bruxelles) and composed the mission that travelled to Istanbul during two days on October 21 and 22.

G-H Beauthier carried a mandate of the Ligue Belge des Droits de l’Homme (Belgian Human Rights League, French speaking section). Jan FERMON carried a mandate of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), an international N.G.O of lawyers in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council [ ECOSOC ].

The authors carried also a letter written by the Brussels bar (Ordre français des Avocats du Barreau de Bruxelles) to the dean of the Istanbul bar association, expressing support for the struggle against the isolation detention that the dean and the bar wage together with the lawyer Behic ASCI.

The mandating organisations and the Brussels Bar had been informed that Behic ASCI , lawyer at the bar of Istanbul had been conducting a hunger strike since April 5, 2006 protesting against the isolation detention in F-type prisons of some of his clients.

At the time the mission travelled to Istanbul Behic ASCI was on a hunger strike for 201 days and was in a critical condition according to his doctors.

Although the mandating organisations do not wish to pronounce themselves on the method  of action  chosen by Behic ASCI, the organisations could not be indifferent to the fact that a lawyer was actually putting his life at stake to express his protest against the conditions in which his clients were detained.

Moreover the organisations were also informed that the bar association of Istanbul issued a statement on  October 13 (Annex 1 to this report) in which the Istanbul bar urges the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Turkey to engage into  a dialogue on the question of the isolation detention of mainly political prisoners.

The mission travelled to Istanbul on October 21 and 22 2006. While previous attempts of similar missions to have a contact with  the authorities or to visit the F-type prisons had been unsuccessful, the authors of the present report decided to concentrate on meetings with representatives of civil society that detained information  about the situation in the F-type prisons and that expressed concerns about this situation.

The mission has met :

  • lawyers of the Istanbul bar active in the support committee for Behic ASCI
  • Selçuk KOZAGACLI, Secretary General of the CHD (Contemporary Lawyers Organisation, an organisation representing 2500 progressive lawyers of all over Turkey)
  • Behic ASCI himself
  • Members of the Halkin Hukuk Burosu, the law office in which Behic ASCI is practising law
  • Hurriyet Sener, chairperson of the IHD (Insan Haklari Dernegi- Istanbul branch . The IHD is affiliated to the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues)
  • Former political prisoners and members of their families active in the Tayad organisation
  • Several members of the Human Rights desk of the professional organisation of doctors
  • Representatives of the committee of artists and cultural workers supporting Behic ASCI

Some background :

The roots of the present situation have to be sought in the initiative taken in the year 2000 by the Turkish government to transfer the prisoners – and at first the prisoners convicted for politically inspired offences – from the old detention facilities in which they were detained in groups of approximately 10 or 15 prisoners in dormitories, to the newly built F-type prisons in which prisoners are detained in individual cells or cells containing at the most 3 detainees.

This plan of the Turkish government had been highly controversial and very much protested by the political prisoners who feared that this shift to detention in isolation would allow the authorities to exercise different types of pressure and ill treatment on the prisoners.

The Turkish government argued that it was merely a modernisation plan aiming at adapting the carceral system to modern European standards.

Political prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest against the initiative of the Turkish government.

Some of these prisoners already went on a hunger strike until death at that time.

On December 19, 2000 the Turkish authorities organised a military type attack against the prisons at 4.30 in the morning.

21 prisons were completely surrounded and isolated from the outside world by thousands of soldiers and policemen. Some sources state that 8.335 soldiers as well as 8 battalions of paramilitary police (jandarma) were involved in the operation. Such an overwhelming use of manpower should have allowed the authorities to organise such an operation with a minimum of violence.

However this was unfortunately not the case and due to the extreme violence used by the state authorities 28 prisoners were killed during this operation.

Bulldozers and explosives were used to demolish the walls of certain cells. Holes were made in the roof of certain buildings and incendiary devices, toxic gasses and chemicals were used to force the prisoners to leave their cells.

6 women were burned alive as a result of this in the prison of Bayrampasa (Istanbul).

Once the prisoners were in the hands of the police or the military many of them were savagely beaten, for some of them resulting in death. The autopsy of some of the deceased prisoners also showed that some had their throats slit.

The family of some of the deceased prisoners undertook legal action and filed a criminal complaint for manslaughter. Up until today no initiatives were taken by the authorities to examine effectively these complaints. The reason for this is that according to the law n. 4483 adopted on December 2, 1999 the Wali  (a kind of regional governor) has to give a preliminary authorisation before the judicial authorities can prosecute a civil servant including police personnel and military personnel.

Such an authorisation has not been granted until now.

As a result of this extremely violent event political prisoners continued the hunger strikes in the prison and when some of them were released temporarily by the Turkish government for medical reasons they continued the hunger strike also outside of the prisons. Symphatisers and members of the  family joined into the hunger strike. The Turkish authorities  refused however (see here after) to conduct any form of dialogue neither with the prisoners, nor with the organisations of the civil society that expressed concern on the matter of the F-type prisons and as a result of this lack of dialogue 122 hunger strikers up until today lost their lives.

The F-type prisons :

From the various discussions the mission conducted with the above mentioned representatives of civil society the following information concerning the F-type prisons can be established :

  • The main aim of the F-type prisons seems to be to isolate prisoners in a maximum way from contacts with other prisoners as well as with the outside world. Detainees in F-type prisons are kept either in individual cells or in cells that provide accommodation for 3 persons at the most. Only a few hours per week detainees have access to facilities such as a library in which some form of contact with other people is possible. Every cell has its individual very small yard in which a prisoner can spend a very short time every day in open air. Even when some of these yards are common to 2 or 3 cells prisoners are only allowed to have access to these yards individually and not together.
  • A military- type discipline is used as an instrument to influence on the prisoners personality. Humiliations and other forms of ill treatment seem to be very common.
  • Further restrictions on social contacts are frequently used as disciplinary sanctions by the prison authorities. Moreover such sanctions are very often excessive. It was reported to the authors of the present report that prisoners had family visits suppressed for more than one year by means of disciplinary sanction. Even contacts with lawyers seem to be hindered at some occasions as a disciplinary sanction.
  • The Turkey government very frequently argued that the F-type prisons are meeting the architectural standard of the modern prisons in Europe and can therefore not be criticised.

However all the representatives of the civil society, met by the mission insisted on the fact that the problem was not at all architectural. The question is not whether prisoners are detained in individual cells or not, the problem is that the isolation as a system in its whole is used for purposes of so-called reeducation of the prisoners, in practice to intimidate them to the point that they abandon all oppositional activity against the present Turkish regime. The aim of such isolation policy seems very clearly to be to break or remould the prisoner’s personality and opinions.

Furthermore the argument of the Turkish authorities about the adaptation of their prison system to modern  European standards does not imply that the suppression of the possibility for prisoners to develop social contacts with a reasonable number of persons of such a large amount of prisoners (approximately 2000) is  necessary in a democratic society  according to the criteria set up by article 8 par.  2 of the European  Human Rights convention.

The Turkish authorities reject any form of dialogue

From the various contacts the mission had during its 2 day visit in Istanbul it very clearly resulted that the Turkish authorities – and more specifically the Minister of Justice – reject any form of dialogue  on the question of the F-type prisons, be it with  representatives of the prisoners or even with the established organisations of the civil society that expressed concern.

  • The members of the Human Rights desk of the professional organisation of doctors explained that they had established in the year 2000 a report based on the study of scientific literature showing that the detention as organised in the F-type prisons was harmful to the mental and physical health of the prisoners and that prisoners should be allowed to develop social contacts with a reasonable minimum number of persons in order to preserve their physical and mental health. The report was ignored by the authorities who did not answer any request of the professional organisation of doctors to be heard on this matter.

Moreover more recently the same professional organisation of doctors, representing all doctors of the Istanbul area,  demanded twice the authorisation of the justice ministry to conduct a large scale scientifical survey  to determine what effect isolation had on the mental and physical health of the prisoners. The project was conceived to meet scientific standards. The Ministry of Justice however in conformity with his former policy to deny that there might be any problem in the isolation detention rejected the demand arguing  that the medical service of the prison was sufficient to handle any health problem (however it was reported to the mission that prisoners do not get adequate medical care in many cases). Individual healthcare was however not at stake in this particular case. The aim of the request was the possibility to examine in a scientific way  the effect on the health of the isolation detention on the whole of the population of the prisoners in the F-type prisons and to be able to have conclusions on the matter based not only on a survey of scientific literature (as already has been done by the professional organisation of doctors) but to find out whether the conclusions of this survey that such isolation detention is harmful to the physical and psychological health of the prisoners, was confirmed in practice.

  • The various lawyers organisations and human rights organisations that were met by the mission, such as the IHD and CHD for the committee of lawyers supporting Behic ASCI confirmed equally that there is obviously no intention on behalf of the justice ministry to engage in any kind of dialogue.
  • When a delegation composed of deans of the bar associations of Istanbul and Ankara, a representative of the  professional organisation of doctors and the Secretary general of the contemporary lawyers association  (CHD) tried to meet the Minister or a representative of the Minister of Justice this was refused with the pretext that the Minister could not meet with anybody else than the bar associations. A promise to meet the bar associations was not honoured.
  • The human rights organisation IHD confirmed that it had been trying to discuss the matter of the F-type prisons and the isolation detention with the Minister for many years since 2000 but without significant result.
  • The appeal launched by the Istanbul bar association (attached to this report) confirms the impression that the authorities do not seem to be willing to depart from their position showing indifference.

The authors of this report believe it is important that the competent Turkish authorities engage immediately in the dialogue on the problems of the isolation detention in F-type prisons. The authorities can not simply ignore the widespread expressions of concern on this matter by human rights organisations, professional organisations of lawyers and doctors, intellectuals, artists etc. It is also difficult to understand that the authorities seem completely indifferent to the fact that 122 persons died upon today protesting against the isolation detention. As said here above the authors of the report and the organisations they represent do not express support for or opposition to the means of action chosen by these protesters and now also by the lawyer Behic ASCI . They are however convinced that a question considered by so many people sufficient to put their life at stake should be looked at seriously and should lead to a form of dialogue between the authorities and the organisations of the civil society.

The demands formulated by Behic ASCI :

The authors of the present report spoke to Behic ASCI on October 21, 2006. It was asked more particularly to Behic ASCI what his precise demands were, and what type of decision by the Minister of Justice would allow him to put an end to his hunger strike until death.

On this matter Behic ASCI indicated clearly that he did not request the return to the previous system of prisons with dormitories. However he requested that practical, effective and concrete solutions should be developed to allow prisoners in isolate detention to have social contacts with a reasonable number of persons. Behic ASCI indicated that several practical solutions existed such as the previously proposed 3 doors-3 key solution in which prisoners of 3 cells would have the possibility during daytime  to spend time together for example in the yard. Other solutions could be to increase dramatically the time during which the prisoners have access to common facilities such as library etc. or to accommodate a second prisoner in the individual cells. A combination of all or some of these is of course also possible. Behic ASCI however indicated that his only demand was a reasonable solution whatever method the Minister would chose to reach the goal.

The authors of the present report had the opportunity to discuss these demands with all the actors of civil society and came to the conclusion that these demands are unanimously supported by these representatives. The demand seems reasonable and moderate and it is therefore difficult to understand why the Turkish authorities even refuse to engage in any form of dialogue concerning these demands.

Recommendations :

On the basis of what is said here above the authors of this report make the following recommendations:

  1. The Turkish authorities should immediately engage in an open and sincere dialogue with the representative organisations and representatives of the civil society such as the human rights organisations, the professional organisations of lawyers and doctors, the lawyers representing the prisoners in isolation detention etc.
  2. the professional organisations of doctors should be allowed immediately to set up a scientific and independent survey on the effects on psychological and physical health of the prisoners. The professionals conducting such a survey should have full access to the F-type prisons and should be able to speak freely and confidentially with the prisoners.
  3. the use of further restrictions of social contacts of the prisoners such as restrictions to the possibility for the families to visit the prisoners etc. as disciplinary sanctions should immediately be abandoned
  4. during the period in which the dialogue with the civil society is conducted and the scientific survey about the effects on the health of the isolation detention is organised, a practical concrete and effective solution should be implemented to allow the prisoners to develop a social life and contact with a reasonable number of other persons
  5. the authors of the report recommend to all human rights organisations and professional organisations of lawyers, doctors etc to write immediately to the Minister of Justice of the Turkish Republic [1] to express concern about the situation and to request immediate actions on the 4 recommendations mentioned here above.

Brussels, October 31, 2006

Jan FERMON  – Georges-Henri BEAUTHIER. [2]

[1] His Excellency , Mr. Cemil Cicek, Minister of Justice of the Turkish Republic
Tel: 0090 312 419 4669
Fax: 0090 312 417 3954
E-mail: cemil.cicek@adalet.gov.tr

[2] For more information jan.fermon@progresslaw.net 0032475441896 or gh@beauthier.be