Turkey begins vaccinating prisoners following criticism

Turkey has begun vaccinating its prison population against COVID-19, the Justice Ministry said on Thursday.

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses said in a statement that prisoners aged over 65 and those suffering with chronic health conditions would receive the vaccine first in line with Health Ministry guidelines.

Turkey began the staged roll out of a mass inoculation programme on Jan. 14, and has already completed the vaccination of over-65s according to the Health Ministry.

But on Thursday, the lawyer of imprisoned writer Ahmet Altan said he had not been given access to a jab despite being 70 years old.

“In the name of incarcerated persons above the age of 65, I am reminding the authorities of their duties, and sharing with the public the gravity (of the situation),” Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu said in a social media post. 

Turkey has released around one-third of its prison population since April in an effort to decrease the risk of COVID-19 spreading through overcrowding. 

Prior to the pandemic, Turkey’s prisons held as many as 300,000 inmates, one of the largest populations in the world.

However, journalists and political prisoners were exempted from the amnesty, a decision widely condemned by human rights groups.

Alongside Altan, those continuing to be held in prison include the former leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.

Demirtaş, 47, is at particular risk of COVID-19 due to a history of heart disease and respiratory isuees, according to his lawyers.

The Justice Ministry said there were currently 240 COVID-19 cases in 55 of its 372 penal intuitions.