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Human Rights Report Praises, Criticizes Turkish Prisons - 2001-12-14

A human rights committee based in Strasbourg has issued a report this week on prison conditions in Turkey, where a protest by prisoners has been going on for more than a year. The committee began its investigation last December, at the request of the government.

The Turkish government invited members of the Committee to Prevent Torture, to investigate and assess inmates' claims that they were being mistreated. The committee is affiliated with the Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member.

In its report, the committee had both praise and criticism for the way the prisons are being run. It lauded Turkey's efforts at improving prison conditions and said that new maximum security jails, the basis for most of the complaints by prisoners, were up to European standards in terms of their design. But the committee report was critical of the continued isolation of political prisoners, some of whom had been kept in total isolation for up to six months.

Under Turkey's anti-terrorism laws, prisoners who are unable to prove that they no longer hold political beliefs considered threatening to the Turkish state are kept isolated from other prisoners.

The report also condemned what it described as excessive use of force by military police during the transfer of inmates from one prison to another.

But the new report is unlikely to have any effect on a hunger strike by prisoners that began more than a year ago, in protest over prison conditions, especially the new maximum security cells. Since the strike began, over 40 inmates and their sympathizers have died in hunger strikes. Virtually all of those participating in the strike are members of extreme left-wing groups that the Turkish government considers terrorist.

The strikers, who have been surviving on sugared water and vitamin pills, have vowed to fast until the government agrees to their demands to end their isolation in the maximum security cells. The hunger strikers say the new cells, which hold a maximum of three prisoners, make prisoners vulnerable to abuse by prison wardens.

But the government continues to reject the strikers' demands, and Turkish Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk has ruled out transferring them back to larger dormitory type wards that house up to 100 inmates each. He says he will not "negotiate with terrorists." Turkish authorities say the wards had become indoctrination and training centers for outlawed militant groups.