Turkey\'s Wraps up Bloody Jail Crackdown with 27 Dead

Published December 22nd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Turkey concluded Friday a nationwide crackdown on hunger-striking leftists in scores of jails after a four-day tense stand-off with armed prisoners that left 27 dead. 

The breakthrough in the operation came as paramilitary troops took control of the Umraniye jail in Istanbul, the only institution where 423 inmates were holding off authorities since the security operation began on Tuesday. 

"The inmates have ended their resistance and surrendered to security forces at Umraniye prison", on the city's Asian side, Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk told reporters here. 

Hundreds of paramilitary troops launched dawn raids on 20 prisons across Turkey on Tuesday to end a two-month hunger-strike in protest at government plans to introduce new jails with three prisoner cells instead of the existing large dormitories of up to 60 people. 

The inmates are fiercely opposed to the new jails, known as F-type jails, because they fear they will be more vulnerable to maltreatment and torture when isolated in smaller units. 

Although officials have stressed that the "rescue" operation was aimed at saving the lives of the hunger-strikers, the death toll of the crackdown reached 27 with more than 130 injured. 

Turk said that three more inmates died at Umraniye prison during the tense stand-off in addition to an inmate who was shot dead there Tuesday after he set himself ablaze and walked towards soldiers. 

Another prisoner, a 33-year-old woman in Usak jail in the west of the country, died in hospital Friday due to extensive burns after setting herself alight the previous day. 

Turk said that most of the prisoners had burned themselves to death, but nonetheless thanked security forces for a successful end to the operation. 

Nevertheless the saga is likely to further tarnish Ankara's already poor human rights record. 

Turkey has already come under heavy criticism from rights groups, who have questioned the official toll and the exact circumstances of how prisoners died. 

Ankara, which became a candidate for European Union membership in December 1999, is obliged to improve human rights and democratic institutions before it can open accession talks with Brussels. 

In November, the European Commission issued a calendar of reforms for Turkey and urged the Ankara government to bring detention conditions in prison upto international norms. 

Ankara's latest crackdown to restore state control over its unruly jails is unlikely to impress European countries, which have flinched in horror at previous heavy-handed security operations in Turkish jails ending in bloodshed. 

The four-day crackdown, ironically named "Return to Life", has seen paramilitary troops using tear gas and smoke bombs to subdue the protesting inmates, while bulldozers smashed gaping holes in prison walls to help penetrate security forces. 

Turkish officials, on the other hand, claim that the inmates were resisting soldiers with firearms, flame-throwers made of gas canisters, homemade pipe bombs and sharp objects. 

Ankara maintains that packed dormitories are the main cause of frequent riots and hostage-taking incidents in its unruly prisons where inmates make use of lax security and smuggle in weapons. 

"From now on, our duty is to rapidly take the necessary physical steps and legal moves to prevent a repeat of these incidents," Turk said. 

During Operation "Return to Life", Turkey broke a previous promise of not opening the F-type jails until a social consensus was reached on the design and transferred more than 500 prisoners to three of the new compounds. 

The move is likely to further enrage the hunger-striking inmates, who were demanding the government scrap the new jails completely. 

According to a non-governmental organization, hundreds of hunger strikers Turkey claims to have "rescued" were refusing forcible feeding at hospitals and pursuing their deadly protest -- ANKARA (AFP)  



© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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