13 Prisoners Die in Turkish Prison Fire
Thirteen prisoners died, five were injured seriously enough to require hospitalization and three guards suffered burns during a prison fire at the Suliufa prison near in southeast Turkey in June 2012. The prison is the largest in the mostly-Kurdish and Arabic-speaking city near the border with Syria.
There is large section for political prisoners, but the fire broke out in a cell-like dormitory holding regular criminal prisoners. Political prisoners include those active in opposition parties, such as Ibrahim Ayhan, a legislator from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Also included are persons associated with the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) who are accused of terrorism. Government officials deny any political motivation or riot.
"They set fire to the dormitory and unfortunately 13 of the 18 people held there lost their lives," according to provincial governor Celalettin Guvenc. "There was absolutely no confrontation with guards or soldiers. This has nothing to do with political prisoners."
According to prison authorities, the dormitory was designed to hold 8 (some officials say 12) prisoners, but was crowded with 18. During a fight between the prisoners in the dormitory, the prisoners set fire to a barricade of mattresses, beds and other furniture used to block the entrance. The five survivors crowded into the dormitory's bathroom and closed the door.
The prison was designed to hold 350 (some government officials say 600) but had a population of 1,057 at the time of the fire. Although the fire triggered a large deployment of police and fire-fighting forces, the government is investigating why the response was delayed.
"Why [the firefighters] weren't there on time, what caused the fighting, why were these people killed? All of these will be investigated," said Guvenc.
Relatives of the prisoners who heard about the fire rushed to the prison in the hopes of discovering the fate of their loved ones. As they gathered outside the prison, police opened fire on them using tear gas and water cannons. Some of them responded by throwing rocks at police.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin admitted that Turkey has a prison overcrowding problem, but noted that the government planned to build 196 additional prisons in the near future to reduce crowding.
Sources: Associated Press, AI Jazerra, New York Post, Chicago Tribune
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