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Turkish prison banned all communication for jailed Gülen members only for nearly two years

For 565 days, Turkish authorities cut off all communication and banned the delivery of letters and other messages to/from suspected members of the Gülen movement who were jailed in pre-trial detention in notorious Silivri prison in Istanbul.

According to the documents seen by investigators of the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), Istanbul chief public prosecutor ordered the prison authority in Silivri on August 12, 2016 to stop using all communication channels including letters and facsimile messages between members of the Gülen movement and their family members, lawyers and friends. Complying with the order, the Board for Prison Management and Observation Board (Ceza İnfaz Kurumu İdare ve Gözlem Kurulu Başkanlığı) also adopted similar decision on Nov.30, 2016.

A detainee identified only with initials H.O. filed a complaint with Silivri court on the ground that the measure is against the law because its scope and the boundaries are not clearly defined, no reasoned decision was issued to justify the restriction and it violated the freedom of communication. On May 30, 2017 the judge, without even examining the motion in substance, rejected the complaint and claimed that the court does not have a mandate to review the order of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor.

The victim also challenged the judge’s rejection decision in Silivri High Criminal Court which ruled on July 24, 2017 that the lower court’s decision was in line with the law and procedures.

In Nov.2016, Silivri prison authority also limited the frequency of the open contact meeting between jailed members of the Gülen movement and their family members to one in every two months as opposed to once in a month. The plaintiff also challenged this decision, saying that this prevented his communication with his family, negatively impacted his physical and mental health. But the judge rejected the challenge on Feb.6, 2017. The High Criminal Court upheld the judge’s decision on appeal.

According to prison records sent to the court, the plaintiff met with his family in open contact setting for three times between Sept.2016 and April 2017 and six times between April 2017 and Nov.2017.

The plaintiff also filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court on Sept.6, 2017, claiming that his fundamental rights under the Constitution were violated. He said he was subjected to discriminatory policies, could not communicate with his wife and children, could not convey to the media what he was subjected to during his prison time. He had no disciplinary action taken against him while he stayed there.

The court examined the plaintiff’s case on Dec.12, 2018 and decided to reject his claims, siding with the government’s defense line. The Justice Ministry sent a statement to the Constitutional Court, saying first that the complaints have no merits and adding to that restrictions were based on the law if the court decides to accept there was an interreference into plaintiff’s rights. The restrictions were measured and proportional and required under the public order, the ministry underlined.

The Public Prosecutor revoked the restriction on all communication on Feb.27, 2018. The plaintiff was released pending trial on Nov.10, 2017.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in late March 2018 also exposed the details of torture cases in Turkey last year and called on the Turkish government to enforce its proclaimed policy of zero tolerance for torture.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement. “Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner said.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since 2016. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.