The Turkish Democracy Project’s new report has found that Turkey’s fast-growing incarceration system, with 131 prisons built between 2016 and 2021 and a further 100 still under construction, is benefitting Erdogan affiliates who grow rich through penitentiary construction projects.

By tracking state tenders for new prisons, the Turkish Democracy Project (TDP) has found that businesses linked to Erdogan and the President’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) disproportionately benefit from multi-million dollar contracts, often awarded through non-competitive government tenders. Rec İnşaat, a favorite contractor of Erdogan, has been awarded 266 million liras to build a 203,000 square meter prison. Rec İnşaat is a subsidiary of Ronesans Holding, whose CEO Erman Ilıcak featured heavily in the Pandora Papers.

Erdogan’s rapid expansion of the Turkish prison system comes at a time when an increasing number of dissidents, activists and journalists are being incarcerated on trumped-up charges. With 300,000 Turks currently imprisoned, Turkey holds the joint-first incarceration rate, alongside Russia, within the Council of Europe. Turkey is also the world’s most prolific jailer of journalists, with 1,389 years of jail time handed down to journalists since 2016.

Commenting on the rising rate of prison construction and connections to Erdogan’s regime, Madeleine Joelson, executive director of the Turkish Democracy Project said:

“This research reveals the deeply unethical connection between the government’s mass-incarceration policies and its determination to enrich businesses associated with the President and the AKP. Making your friends rich by putting your political opponents in jail is an almost perfect synopsis of Erdogan’s particular brand of autocracy. More worrying still is that this process is picking up speed. Next year’s presidential election looks increasingly like the last opportunity to dismantle Erdogan’s mass-incarceration regime.”