Turkey considering release of 100,000 inmates charged with non-terror offenses

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People pass by a new 70-foot-long mural by anonymous British artist Banksy on March 16, 2018 that was unveiled on March 15, 2018 at the corner of Houston and Bowery in New York, to draw attention to the imprisonment of Zehra Dogan, a Kurdish painter from Turkey. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Turkey’s ruling party is preparing a bill to release “as many prisoners as possible” from jails amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a party official.

However, rights activists have criticized the fact that the proposed legislation would exclude inmates charged with terrorist offenses. Turkey’s prison population dramatically increased after a 2016 coup attempt, with the government using counterterrorism laws to suppress dissidents.

“The public must know that many of those who were charged with terrorism are kept in prison due to criticism of the government,” Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and deputy, tweeted on Friday, criticizing the proposed regulation.

According to Mehmet Muş, a group deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the bill will be submitted to parliament next week after consultation with other political parties.

Muş underlined that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is willing to keep the scope of the legislation as wide as possible, adding that it will exclude sexual offenders, inmates convicted of first degree murder, drug traffickers and those who charged with organized crime or terrorism.

While a convict currently serves only two-thirds of the sentence handed down by the court, the new legislation will decrease it to half of the punishment.

It also foresees putting elderly inmates and mothers with newborns under house arrest instead of into prison wards.

Turkish prisons host more than 300,000 inmates, with nearly 50,000 of them charged with terrorism. According to the Euronews Turkish service, the new regulation would free some 100,000 prisoners.

“For this regulation to be fair, those who were not directly involved in violence must be considered within the scope of the regulation,” Keram Altıparmak, a leading human rights activist and law scholar, said.

Despite some reports suggesting that a number of prisons were under quarantine due to coronavirus fears, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül on Friday announced that there was no case of coronavirus in the prison system, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey so far has four confirmed deaths from coronavirus, and 359 cases.

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