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Kurdish politician's plight highlights Turkey's indifference to critically ill inmates

Aysel Tugluk, who defended PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in his trial decades ago, is now suffering from advanced dementia behind bars, despite widespread calls for her release.
Pro-Kurdish lawmaker Leyla Zana is embraced by lawmaker Aysel Tugluk (R) as she arrives at the parliament in Ankara on Oct. 1, 2011.

Aysel Tugluk, a slight brunette with high cheekbones, eagle eyes and long, dark hair, garnered much curiosity during the courtroom trial of Abdullah Ocalan, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader who has been serving a life sentence since 1999 in a prison on Imrali Island off the coast of Istanbul. She was among the more than 50 lawyers defending Ocalan, who was captured in Nairobi, Kenya, in February of that year with the help of the CIA. She was also the most fearless and spirited. This reporter was present at two of the hearings.

Today, 56-year-old Tugluk is languishing in a Turkish jail and serving out a 10-year sentence on specious terrorism charges. She is in the advanced stages of dementia. A shadow of her former combative self, she has severe memory loss and is incapable of tending to her most basic needs. Tugluk must be freed immediately in order to receive proper physical and medical care, which is unavailable in prison. That was the formal opinion delivered by a committee of nine physicians at a government hospital in the western province of Kocaeli in February following seven months of exhaustive testing. However, its opinion was shot down eight months later by the state-run Forensic Medicine Institute (FMI) in Istanbul, which treated her illness “as if it was some kind of a joke and appeared to suggest that she was faking her condition,” said Reyhan Yalcindag, a prominent human rights lawyer who has known Tugluk for 25 years and is part of her legal team. The chief prosecutor’s office ruled that she would remain in jail.

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