Press Release No: Individual Application 31/17
08.11.2017

PRESS RELEASE CONCERNING THE JUDGMENT FINDING A VIOLATION OF RIGHT TO LIFE OF SUICIDAL PRISONER DUE TO LACK OF NECESSARY MEASURES

On 21 September 2017, the Second Section of the Constitutional Court found a violation of the prohibition of ill-treatment guaranteed in Article 17 of the Constitution in the individual application lodged by Serfinaz Öztürk (no. 2014/18274).

The Facts

The applicant is the mother of U.Ö. who was born in 1981 and died by suicide on 20 March 2014 while serving his prison sentence.

On 7 and 17 March 2014, the prison psychologist diagnosed U.Ö. with passive suicidal ideation. U.Ö. was examined at a psychiatric hospital next day, on March 18. He was diagnosed with psychotic disorders at the hospital, he was prescribed medication and was asked to revisit the hospital in two weeks for a check-up.

On 20 March 2014, U.Ö. was taken out of the prison to attend a hearing as an accused. After the hearing, he was again taken to his ward at 2.45 p.m. There was no other prisoner in the ward during that time as other prisoners were working in the textile mill.

After the applicant had been taken to the ward, another prisoner was taken there at 4.10 p.m. accompanied by a guardian. The prisoner informed the officers that U.Ö. had hanged himself by a clothesline available in the ward. It was then understood that U.Ö. had lost his life.

Before his death, U.Ö. had applied to the prison administration on 20 March 2014 and requested the medications prescribed for him at the hospital. The medications in question were bought from a private pharmacy on 20 March 2014; however, they could not be given to U.Ö. as he had committed suicide on the same day.

The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation. Within this scope, an incident scene investigation, a post-mortem examination, and an autopsy were carried out. As a result of the classical autopsy performed for the purpose of determining the exact cause of death, it was found that the death had resulted from hanging. The Prosecutor’s Office sent a letter to the prison administration and requested information as to the number of prisoners held there, the number of prisoners who had passive suicidal ideation, and whether there was any special measures applied for those having passive suicidal ideation.

The administration stated in its response that they acted in accordance with the reports received from the relevant hospitals concerning the prisoners and that due to the high number of prisoners, the physical structure of the institution, and the insufficient number of expert staff, they did not take any special measure with respect to the prisoners who had suicidal thoughts without having active suicidal ideation.

The Prosecutor’s Office took the statements of the responsible officers and some of the prison guardians as suspects. They denied any negligence or malice in the incident. The Prosecutor’s Office issued a decision of non-prosecution due to the lack of sufficient evidence and suspicion that the public authorities in question abused or neglected their duties. The applicant contested the decision before the Magistrate Judge’s Office, but it was refused with no right of appeal.

The Applicant’s Allegations

The applicant alleged that although the authorities were aware of the tendency of the applicant’s son to commit suicide, they did not take necessary measures in this respect, which resulted in his son’s death, and that public officers who had responsibility for the incident were not indicted, and that thereby the right to life safeguarded by Article 17 of the Constitution was violated. The applicant requested that an effective criminal investigation be conducted against those who are responsible.

The Constitutional Court’s Assessment

In brief, the Constitutional Court made the following assessments:

In the present case, it appears that U.Ö. had tendency to commit suicide to the extent that it attracted attention of the prison officers. This was also supported with reports issued by the hospital indicating that U.Ö. was suffering from psychotic disorders and had passive suicidal ideation. Therefore, it must be acknowledged that the authorities were aware, or at least should have been aware,of the risk on the part of U.Ö. to harm himself.

In the circumstances of the concrete case, it is clear that certain measures for protecting U.Ö.’s health and avoiding self-harm should have been taken. First of all, it must be noted that in some cases it might lead to unfavourable results to let a person suffering from psychological disorders to decide whether to pursue the required treatment. U.Ö. was referred to the hospital due to his tendency to commit suicide and was examined accordingly. However, he was not provided any support concerning the necessary treatment for him, and then he committed a suicide and died.

The system set up to protect the lives and health of the prisoners must be effective not only in theory but also in practice. As the diagnosis made for U.Ö. and the treatment recommended in this respect were not given due importance, no additional special measures were taken to protect his life. U.Ö. was not put into the special wards designated for prisoners suffering from such problems, and no other measures were taken to protect his right to life. Furthermore, he was not even provided with the medications recommended for him, and he was put in a ward alone, where a clothesline that might have made his suicide easier was available.

Considering all these facts, it is concluded in the present case that the conditions were not appropriate in terms of protecting the lives and health of prisoners and that the measures necessary for the protection of U.Ö.’s life were not taken.

It is also concluded that in the criminal investigation, the Prosecutor’s Office did not make any assessment concerning the delay in obtaining the medications prescribed for U.Ö. Besides, in the course of the investigation, it was not examined whether the failure to take additional special measures in the relevant prison in respect of the prisoners having passive suicidal ideation was medically appropriate or not. However, under the procedural aspect of the right to life in terms of the obligation to conduct an effective investigation, it would be more acceptable to conclude an investigation concerning such incidents upon inquiring the concept of passive suicidal ideation and upon determining whether it is appropriate not to take additional measures for prisoners with such health problems.

Consequently, the Constitutional Court found a violation with respect to protection of life enshrined in article 17 of the Constitution as well as the procedural aspect of the right to life.

This press release prepared by the General Secretariat intends to inform the public and has no binding effect.

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