Riot with second fire hits Şanlıurfa prison
ŞANLIURFA / ANKARA / ISTANBUL
A second fire broke out yesterday at a prison in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, where 13 inmates had died in a previous fire on June 16. DHA photo
A second fire broke out yesterday at a prison in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, where 13 inmates had died in a previous fire on June 16.
Veli Ağbaba, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told reporters in front of the prison that the fire started in the juvenile ward.
“The juvenile inmates are burning their beds; protests that began yesterday continue now,” Ağbaba said, adding that the fire that killed 13 inmates was a result of a protest against the crowdedness of the prison, not a fight among inmates as earlier reported.
There were no reports of injuries or casualties from the fire, however live television footage showed wounded prisoners being carried out of the prison to ambulances and fire trucks arriving at the prison. Police used pressurized water and tear gas to disperse crowds in front of the prison while gunshots from inside the prison were heard.
The fire was continuing late yesterday when the Hürriyet Daily News went to print.
Before the second fire, Akif Bakkal, the director of Şanlıurfa Prison was reassigned to another city yesterday while autopsies of the cadavers of the 13 inmates had reportedly been completed.
During a mutiny at Şanlıurfa Prison in southeastern Turkey on June 17, 13 prisoners – only three of them convicted – died in a fire started by inmates. There were claims that the fight that led to the fire was triggered by an argument over ventilators and where inmates were to sleep. There were 18 prisoners staying in the 6-person-capacity cell where the fight erupted.
The prime minister and the justice minister have vowed to shed light on the issue. It was claimed that Bakkal had been removed from his post after the incident, however, the Justice Ministry did not give information about the city to which he had been reassigned. The bodies of the inmates were reportedly to be handed over to the families by June 18.
Şanlıurfa’s chief prosecutor, Mustafa Yalçın, has started a criminal investigation regarding the incident and has begun to collect statements from the prisoners and guards who witnessed the fire.
Delegations from both the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is primarily focused on the Kurdish issue, have visited the prison to make examinations. Hundreds of people have swept to the prison to see close relatives who are imprisoned. The relatives of the prisoners objected to the authorities’ statement that they would not be allowed to have the “free visitation” which had been announced for 15 days following June 17.
Only 200 out of 1,000 convicted
The Şanlıurfa Prison fire has sparked a fresh debate on overcrowding and poor conditions in prisons and the increasing number of lengthy pre-trial detentions.
The number of prisoners has increased to 132,000 from 69,000 over the last 10 years, and those 132,000 inmates are staying in Turkey’s prisons, which had a total capacity of 125,000 people as of April 2012, according to information given by Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin. Over 36,400 of the prisoners are detainees awaiting trial while over 95,600 have been convicted. The legal process of one-fourth of the convicted has not been concluded as their appeals are being heard at the Supreme Court of Appeals, according to statistics. The conditions at the Şanlıurfa prison are no different from the others, as only 200 of every 1,000 inmates are convicted. Many inmates and their lawyers have issued petitions to human rights organizations complaining about overcrowding in prisons.
Government’s ‘second Uludere’
The fire, which claimed the lives of 13 inmates, was allegedly triggered by a protest by inmates who rebelled against the bad conditions of the prison. It was reported that there was no air conditioning in the prison, where the high temperature is more than 40 degrees and beds were shared by three prisoners. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu visited the Şanlıurfa prison after the tragedy on Sunday. Speaking to reporters yesterday, he described the prison fire as a “second Uludere incident,” referring last year’s botched air strike near the Iraqi border that killed 34 civilians. Tanrıkulu said the Şanlıurfa Bar Association had warned Ergin about the conditions of the prison in a report about the poor conditions of the prison.
He said 800 of the 1,000 inmates in Urfa Prison were detainees awaiting trial.