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Turkey’s attempt to protect inmates from coronavirus must include political prisoners: HRW

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Turkey’s efforts to protect prisoners amid the coronavirus outbreak should include all inmates, including those charged with violation of anti-terror laws, which may include strong opposition to the government, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb said in an opinion piece on Monday.

Following the increasing danger posed by the global coronavirus pandemic, the government last week worked on a draft law that “could help up to 100,000 prisoners out of a prison population in Turkey close to 300,000, but will exclude thousands of inmates on trial or sentenced for terrorism offenses or crimes against the state,” according to Sinclair-Webb.

“While a welcome step, it is important that prisoners who are not serving time for acts of violence but instead are jailed for little more than their political views can benefit. There should be no discrimination on the basis of political opinion,” Sinclair-Webb wrote on the rights watchdog’s website.

“Terrorism may sound like the gravest of offenses, but in Turkey, the government misuses the charge for political ends,” she added. “Many inmates are placed in lengthy pretrial detention or sentenced without evidence that they committed violent acts, incited violence, or provided logistical help to outlawed armed groups Among them are journalists like Ahmet Altan, politicians like Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdağ, human rights defenders like Osman Kavala, and thousands of dismissed civil servants, teachers, and others punished for association with the Fethullah Gülen movement.”

“Human Rights Watch has worked for years on the misuse of terrorism laws in Turkey, including how courts defined exercising the right to assembly as a terrorism offense, and how media, politicians, and lawyers have all been targeted.”

Bar associations, human rights platforms and rights defenders have been urging the government to include political inmates in the draft law, worried by the lack of hygiene and medical treatment facilities in Turkey’s prisons.

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