AKP unveils bill to reduce prison population amid pandemic, excludes inmates charged with ‘terrorism’

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Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on Tuesday revealed a jointly drafted bill allowing the partial release of the country’s incarcerated population as a measure against the COVID-19 outbreak, Euronews Turkish service reported.

The long-awaited bill regulating criminal enforcement laws was submitted to the office of the speaker for parliamentary review and presented to the public during a press briefing held by AKP deputy group chairman Cahit Özkan.

Özkan said the bill prescribes a reduction by half of prison sentences while stressing that terrorism-related crimes, sexual crimes, drug trafficking, murder and domestic violence will be excluded.

“We are making it possible for those above the age of 65, women with children of up to 6 years and patients unable to care for themselves to serve their sentences in their homes under certain conditions,” he said.

“At present, some 45,000 people are expected to benefit from the reduction in sentences. With the addition of those who will be transferred from prisons to their homes due to the pandemic, the number will reach 90,000.”

Turkey’s prisons have been described by observers as notoriously overcrowded, with reports claiming them to be operating at 133 to 150 percent capacity. In addition various reports have highlighted problems with hygiene and medical treatment capabilities.

Over the past few weeks rights groups in Turkey and outside the country have strongly urged the government to release some of the prisoners, particularly those considered to be in high risk groups, to avoid an imminent disaster related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rights defenders also raised concerns over a possible exclusion of those held in pretrial detention or convicted on charges of terrorism, pointing out that the country’s vague anti-terror laws allowed the mass incarceration of people with no history of violence for alleged membership in terrorist organizations.

Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, who has recently suffered some health problems, and 70-year-old journalist Ahmet Altan are among those imprisoned on terrorism-related charges due to their publications or public statements.

The country’s terrorism-related prisoners also include thousands of people with alleged links to the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of staging a failed coup in July 2016. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

Many Gülen sympathizers were arrested and sentenced to prison simply for having ties to the faith-based group, based on evidence such as bank accounts, union membership, newspaper subscriptions — activities that were considered legal at the time and were retroactively criminalized after the attempted coup.

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