Diyarbakir Prison


Diyarbakır Prison is a prison located in Diyarbakır, south-east Turkey. Although it was originally built in 1980 as an E-type prison by the Ministry of Justice, the prison was swiftly handed over to the military after the 1980 Turkish Coup d’etat. After the transfer took place, the facility became a Martial Law Military Prison, and remained that way until it was given back to the Ministry of Justice in 1988.

After the military coup of September 1980, the generals abolished parliament, suspended the constitution and banned all political parties and unions. More than 30,000 people were jailed within the first four months after the coup, leading to prisons such as Diyarbakır becoming severely overcrowded. Diyarbakır became notorious for the cruelty inflicted upon the inmates and dire living conditions. The period dating between 1981 – 1984 is known as the “period of barbarity” and refers to the systematic torture administered which cost multiple prisoners their lives.

Diyarbakır Prison

Whilst the official capacity of Diyarbakır prison is 744, it is often overcrowded. In 1996, it had a capacity of 650 inmates, but was found to be holding 942. The Diyarbakır Type D prison is specifically for political prisoners and has the capacity of 688 prisoners.


According to reports, torture and cruelty were commonplace at Diyarbakır prison. The following list is complied of a selection of methods and punishments which were inflicted up on the inmates:

Physical beatings, pulling of hair, being stripped naked, being blindfolded and hosed down with freezing water, solitary confinement, constant surveillance and intimidation, death threats, sleep deprivation, water and food deprivation, falaka (foot whipping), Palestinian hangings (hanging by the arms) excessive exercise in extreme weather conditions, crushing of limbs and genitals, electric shocks, burning with cigarettes, extraction of nails and teeth, forcing prisoners to beat/ rape one another, bathing in the prison sewers, and even the obligation to salute the Captain’s dog, a German Shepard called “Jo” who was allegedly  trained to bite the genitalia of naked prisoners.

The former Major of Diyarbakır, Mendi Zana, who spent a total of 16 years as an inmate in the prison claimed after the military coup claimed:

“When a new prisoner arrived at the prison, Captain Esat met him at the entrance and then turned to a guard and said, ‘Prepare him a bath; then take him to the dormitory.’ This was a ritual. So almost twenty guards accompanied the prisoner. He received a good welcoming thrashing, and then he was dragged, unconscious, to the ‘bath,’ a bathtub full of shit in which they left him for a few hours.”

Countless testimonies have arisen regarding the cruel treatments administered at the prison, including several women. One women described her living conditions: “We were 75 women in a ward for 25 prisoners. As women we are not equal to men, but in Diyarbakır dungeon we were equal relating to torture, isolation, military drill etc. For years we did in prison what soldiers do in their barracks.”


During the military occupation of Diyarbakır, the death count drastically increased. Prisoners died during interrogations and as a direct result of the poor conditions of the facility. A staggering 299 people died whist incarcerated at Diyarbakır, and although reports do not indicate what happened to all of the prisoners, we do know that 14 of them died whilst on hunger strikes, 16 were shot to death during escape attempts, and 43 inmates committed suicide.

One of the most famous protests in Diyarbakır history took place in May 1982, when four prisoners who belonged to the PKK (Mahmut Zengin, Eşref Anyık, Ferhat Kutay and Necmi Öner) set themselves on fire. Since then, they have all become important figures in the Kurdish culture and remain martyrs.

Prison deaths which occurred between 1981 and 1984:

*Please note this list may be incomplete

Name Date of Death Cause of Death
Ali Erek 20/04/81 Hunger Strike
Abdurrahman Cecen 27/04/81 Tortured
Ali Saribal 13/11/81 Tortured
Ibis Ural 27/12/81 Tortured
Cemal Kilic 23/02/82 Tortured
Onder Demirok 08/03/82 Tortured
Mazlum Dogan 21/03/82 Suicide in protest of torture
Kenan Ciftci 21/04/82 Tortured
Mahmut Zengin 17/05/82 Set himself on fire
Esref Anyik 17/05/82 Set himself on fire
Ferhat Kutay 17/05/82 Set himself on fire
Necmi Oner 17/05/82 Set himself on fire
Mehmet Ali Eraslan 09/06/82 Beaten to death
Bedii Tan 14/07/82 Beaten to death
Aziz Ozbay 23/08/82 Tortured
Kemal Pir 07/09/82 Hunger strike
M. Hayri Durmus 12/09/82 Hunger strike
Akif Yilmaz 15/09/82 Hunger strike
Ali Cicek 17/19/82 Hunger strike
Seyithan Sak 21/11/82 Beaten to death
Aziz Buyukerta 22/12/82 Tortured
Ramazan Yayan 13/01/83 Beaten to death
Mehmet Emin Akpinar 25/01/83 Beaten to death
Medet Ozadem 20/05/83 Beaten to death
Ismet Kiran 01/11/83 Tortured
Necmettin Buyukkaya 23/01/84 Beaten to death
Remzi Ayturk 28/01/84 Suicide
Cemal Arat 02/03/84 Hunger Strike
Orhan Keskin 05/03/84 Hunger strike
Halil Ibrahim Baturalp 27/04/84 Beaten to death
Mehmet Kalkan 14/06/84 Died during interrogation

Brutality at Diyarbakir Prison

On 24 September 1996, a special team unit, gendarmes and prison officers stormed the prison, killing 10 inmates and wounding a further 46. There are several conflicting reports which serve to make what exactly happened unclear.

The official version of the incident procured by the government indicates an uprising in the prison, forcing the officers to behave in such a manner. The press at the time speculated that it was an attempt to transfer the most dangerous prisoners to another prison which resulted in the inmates refusal and uprising. However, it was clear from the lack of inmate reports that all was not as it seemed. The inmates visitation rights were revoked shortly after the incident, banning families and lawyers from speaking with the prisoners.

The human rights group, Prisons Overnight Committee visited Diyarbakir prison, and despite many delays and refusals, they were finally permitted to speak with several inmates who witnessed the incident. They were told that the 24 September was the visitation day for halls 18 and 29. The first group of prisoners had met with their families and returned back to their cells without incident. The second group were called, and began making their way to the visitation hall, when a group of prisoners stopped at hall 35 and asked the inmates inside for a large container to carry their food in.

Diyarbakır Prison Walls

Prison guards informed the inmates they this was not permitted, and an argument broke out. The argument was quickly settled, and yet the chief guard decided to lock the prisoners in the walkway as punishment. Unfortunately, there were 30 inmates in the walkway at the time who were on their way to the visitation hall, and a further three who were on their way back from visiting the prison doctor. The inmates were all kept in the walkway for over five hours.

Whilst the inmates were trapped, their representatives attempted to negotiate with the guards to send them back to their cells, but no agreement was reached. The guards began to verbally harass the prisoners until about 3.30pm, when the inmates were attacked from both sides of the walkway by the prison authorities.

Diyarbakır Prison Outside

Regardless of the version of events, the Secretary of the Diyarbakir Chamber of Medicine, Dr. Necdet Ipekyuz declared the following consequences of the brutality:

“Of the 33 victims, 10 were dead. Ten injured ones were treated in Diyarbakır State Hospital and 13 injured inmates were transferred to Gaziantep State Hospital. All killings were the result of head injuries. On the day of the incident, two prison guards visited the hospital at about 10 am. They had very light bruises. The doctors on duty did not know why these guards were sent to the hospital for such minor things. Just before the attack on the inmates, the hospital staff received a call from the district attorney’s office. The staff was told to be ready for an emergency to receive a large group of injured inmates.”

Trial and Sentencing

The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee declared after their investigation that “30 soldiers and 38 police officers, who exceeded the limits of their authority, had caused deaths.” They applied to the Prime Ministry and Ministries of Justice and Interior with the request that 38 police officers and 29 soldiers be prosecuted as a result of the barbaric violence which took place in September 1996.The Diyarbakır Public Prosecution Office launched a trial in January 1997 against 35 police officers and 30 soldiers.

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