Toll of neglect in Turkish prisons: Ex-colonel buried by family after 4 years in jail with congestive heart failure

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The family of Barış Avıalan, a former colonel who had been in jail on coup charges since July 18, 2016 in the wake of an abortive putsch until he succumbed to heart failure on Thursday despite a medical report for his urgent release, has buried him in a quiet funeral.

Avıalan suffered from congestive heart failure, which had inflicted significant damage on his visceral organs, resulting in hydrothorax, which turned into ascites, a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. He had also developed cirrhosis and cysts in his kidney and pancreas.

An Ankara court sentenced Avıalan to life imprisonment over his alleged role in a failed coup on July 15, 2016, when rogue soldiers attempted a takeover that left 251 dead and thousands injured.

Avıalan was arrested in a post-coup crackdown along with tens of thousands in what is viewed by observers as a power grab by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His prison sentence was pending appeal.

Citing a medical report urging his release, Avıalan had filed a petition on August 7 to suspend the execution of his prison sentence, but it was rejected on the grounds that his sentence had not yet been finalized by a higher court.

“As a sick and dying person, I need any help I can get from anyone. I am in terrible condition. I am in serious pain,” Avıalan wrote in the petition.

“I have nothing to lose at this point. Can’t move a finger. Not enough oxygen, I barely eat. I have a bloated stomach, a constantly low pulse, and am always dizzy. I can’t sleep. Gendarmes subject me to all manner of degrading treatment. They do everything to make my life miserable. Doctors don’t care. May God help us. For all I know, this is farewell,” Avıalan said in his last communication to his family.

“Three times I filed parliamentary questions concerning Mustafa Barış Avıalan, never received an answer. His heart worked at 15 percent capacity, and he said, ‘I am dying.’ And yet you didn’t care,” Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a rights advocate and deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), tweeted on Friday.

Avıalan’s case is not an isolated one, according to rights groups operating in the country.

More than 20 prisoners have died behind bars in Turkey in 2020, according to figures from the Human Rights Association (İHD).

Last week, newly surfaced postmortem photos of an inmate who died in a quarantine cell under suspicious circumstances had sparked outrage in the country, drawing attention to authorities’ negligent attitude toward political prisoners.

İHD figures indicate that there are currently 1,605 sick prisoners in jail, 604 of whom are seriously ill.

Turkish Minute

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