The Turkish government decided Saturday to postpone controversial prison reforms which have provoked hunger strikes by hundreds of prisoners across the country, Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk said.
"The opening of type F prisons has been postponed until there is a social consensus on these establishments," Turk said, referring to a new type of prison planned by the government to improve security by separating scores of prisoners into small cells holding a maximum of three inmates.
"The plan will be reassessed so that these establishments satisfy all contemporary and universal criteria on detention," Turk stressed, suggesting the new prisons could be opened in coming months and calling on hundreds of inmates to end a hunger strike protest against the reforms.
The European Union has made improvement of jail conditions one of the conditions before opening negotiations for Turkish membership of the Union, but prisoners and human rights groups fear the proposed reforms might lead to isolation of inmates.
Some 203 inmates in different prisons have been on full hunger strike, some for over 50 days, and some 300 other prisoners and their relatives are taking only small amounts of water with sugar.
Warning against the hunger strikes, Turk said: "We do not wish the lives of any of our citizens to be threatened or for them to suffer in future due to their present actions."
He recalled that prison hunger strike action in 1996 had led to the deaths of 12 left wing extremist prisoners.
The Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) said Saturday three of the hunger strikers were in a critical condition but refusing treatment.
The proposed reforms are aimed at boosting security in Turkish jails, where prisoners are housed with up to 60 people to a dormitory and where riots and hostage-taking frequently spark deadly crackdowns by security forces.
Human rights groups have criticized the plans, saying they would lead to further isolation for prisoners.
Turk said the government would cooperate with NGOs such as the Turkish barristers' association and the doctors' association to examine the situation and prepare a new official report on the disputed jails.
In Vienna, some 800 people demonstrated peacefully in front of the Turkish embassy on Saturday as a mark of solidarity with the Turkish prisoners on hunger strike – ANKARA (AFP)
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