A convict and 12 arrestees died and five were injured during a fire that broke out in a prison ward reserved for political prisoners and criminals in the district of Eyyübiye in the southeastern province of Urfa on June 16, according to Urfa Governor Celalettin Güvenç.
Press reports indicate that over 1,000 convicts and arrestees reside in the prison whose maximum capacity equals no more than 245. Among the prisoners in the Urfa E-Type Closed Jail is also İbrahim Ayhan, the Urfa deputy of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP.)
Initial press reports also said rioting convicts had started the incident after they began chanting slogans, but Governor Güvenç denied the claims and said the incident had to do with a fight rather than a prison riot.
"Unfortunately, criminal convicts in a ward of 18 started quarreling at around 20.00, and this quarrel gave into a fight," said Governor Güvenç.
The governor's office thus announced the names of the 13 prisoners who lost their lives in the fire: Fuat Yıldız, Sinan Özalp, Suphi Köksal, Yunus Eşkili, Mehmet Emin Gerçek, Hüseyin Kıskanç, Mehmet Satış, Şükrü Üldez, İbrahim Halil Kaya, Mustafa Kemal Kılıç, Taner Şimşek, İmam Bakır Tek and Mehmet Arslantay.
Wounded prisoners in handcuffs
Prisoners Cevat Yılmaz, Yusuf Aydemir, Vedat Taştan, Abit Aytekin and Mustafa Demir who were located in the ward's restroom section were consequently hurried off to hospital, but the prisoners' acquaintances were incensed by the fact that some of the wounded were still in handcuffs while they were lying on the stretchers.
Lawyer Benek: "[Fire] a consequence of rights violations"
BDP deputy İbrahim Ayhan's lawyer Bekir Benek also met with his client after officials extinguished the fire.
"12, 16 or even 30 prisoners reside in wards of six, while two people [sleep] over a single bed. Under such circumstances, these rights violations have led to a significant accumulation in a place as hot as Urfa. The current situation in Ward C-15 was a consequence of this. In the end, this amounts to a massacre," Benek said.
Benek also added his client had repeatedly notified the Justice Ministry and other officials in writing regarding the rights violations in the prison, but to no avail.
Police employs tear gas to fend off prisoners' acquaintances
Urfa Police Chief Mehmet Likoğlu and Provincial Gendarmerie Commander Col. Emin Dursun also arrived on the scene to obtain further information.
Prisoners' acquaintances also arrived in force, with some 500 people gathering before the prison after news of the incident broke out. Police forces then surrounded the prison grounds, however, and fended off the prisoners' acquaintances who were anxious about their relatives' condition with tear gas.
PM Erdoğan: "Ward not fit for 18 people"
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also told journalists at Ankara's Esenboğa Airport prior to his trip to Mexico that he had inquired the Justice Minister, the Urfa deputy of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the governor of the province about the matter.
"Our governor toured around the ward and examined [the scene.] Reliable information about this issue will surface following inspections," he said, adding that he had also spoken to one of the survivors.
"First, a fight broke out between the inmates. Then they started the fire following the fight. I got away by breaking outside," Prime Minister Erdoğan said the survivor told him.
"Five people are in hospital, but it is said they are not in critical condition. I hope those five people will make it alright. 13 people have unfortunately died due to the fire, however. The governor said something to the effect that the ward's capacity is not fit for 18 [people.] I will ask our Justice Minister to examine all this," he said. (AS)