European lawyers group urges Erdoğan to release imprisoned lawyers amid COVID-19 outbreak

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The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) on Thursday released an open letter addressed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for the release of more than 300 lawyers currently held behind bars in Turkey.

“We understand that an amendment in the penal system in Turkey has been discussed on 31 March to release a large number of prisoners in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Turkish prisons,” the letter read. “However, it is reported that those who have been imprisoned for certain charges including terror-related accusations are exempted from benefiting from this regulation.”

The association noted that a large number of the imprisoned lawyers were detained or sentenced based solely on their professional activities.

“Therefore, the CCBE urges your excellency to release all imprisoned lawyers as they should not be considered as terrorist. Not relieving these prisoners would constitute a huge responsibility for the State since it is almost impossible to secure the conditions of protection against COVID19 in prisons.”

“In addition, the CCBE asks that you take all necessary measures to guarantee that all lawyers in Turkey are able to carry out their professional duties without fear of reprisal, hindrance, intimidation or harassment, in order to preserve the independence, integrity of the administration of justice and the rule of law.”

On Tuesday Erdoğan’s ruling party announced a bill allowing the partial release of prisoners in order to relieve the country’s overcrowded prisons amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The bill drew criticism from rights groups for excluding those in pretrial detention or awaiting appeal as well as those imprisoned on terrorism-related charges. Several NGOs released joint statements stressing that people imprisoned for terrorism over non-violent activities due to the country’s vague anti-terror laws should be included in the measures against the pandemic.

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