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Ex-officer is struggling to live in prison

Mustafa Ozcan Cay, a former staff colonel convicted on coup charges, was denied release from prison by Turkey’s Constitutional Court despite his inability to perform even the most basic tasks such as eating, drinking and using the bathroom without assistance due to advanced stage multiple sclerosis (MS). 

Cay served in various national and NATO posts. In 2013, following complaints of a limp, he was diagnosed with MS, a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord that causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. His treatments were going so well that he could even play some sports. Yet, that all changed with his arrest following an abortive coup in July 2016.

Cay was the duty officer on the night of the coup attempt at the Istanbul-based War Academies, graduate schools training staff officers. He was detained and later convicted on coup charges by an Istanbul court.

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During his time in prison, he wasn’t given his medication for nearly two years and he wasn’t treated even after MS attacks despite countless requests to the prison administration. Instead of providing him the care he needed, the prison administration only gave him general health screenings during this time. Experts say untreated cases can progress into a more aggressive form of the disease. This was exactly what happened to Cay.

He was finally sent to a fully equipped hospital after he lost the ability to walk. Even then, things didn’t go smoothly. He had to go back and forth between the hospital and the prison several times due to incomplete administrative procedures without being seen by a doctor. Moreover, he wasn’t given the physical therapy he needed.

Prison conditions are very unaccommodating for a person with so many physical limitations. There are no toilet seats, all restrooms have squat toilets. His fellow inmates made a makeshift toilet seat for him out of a plastic chair. He currently uses adult diapers and a urinary catheter.

Yet, despite all his difficulties, Cay was denied release by the Constitutional Court with the reasoning that he had access to medical care and that there was no evidence showing that his staying in prison posed a serious risk of bodily or mental harm.

The violation of prison inmates’ basic rights in Turkey is one of the topics raised frequently by activists and human rights defenders. Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and an MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), says critically ill political prisoners are not released from prison “until it reaches the point of no return.” He depicted the deaths of seriously ill prisoners in Turkey who are not released in time to receive proper medical treatment as acts of “murder” committed by the state.

According to Gergerlioğlu, sick prisoners are released when the authorities realize they will die soon. “They don’t want to be held responsible if an inmate dies in prison. So they release them in a hurry when they realize the prisoner is near death.” 

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