A temporary release to ease overcrowding in Turkish prisons during the coronavirus pandemic that was announced in April 2020, affecting some 90,000 prisoners, will come to an end for 80,000 of them on May 31 and will not be extended, the Türkiye daily reported on Thursday, citing government sources.
Amendments to the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures were approved in parliament on April 13, 2020 after the justice minister announced that 17 prisoners in five prisons had contracted COVID-19 and three had died.
The law, which allowed for the temporary release of up to 90,000 prisoners out of its prison population of some 300,000 inmates, drew criticism from within and without Turkey for categorically excluding political prisoners, some of whom are in particular risk groups due to their age or preexisting conditions, as well as for failing to address pretrial detentions at all. Inmates in minimum security prisons or who were eligible for transfer to those prisons and others who were sentenced to judicial probation benefited from the temporary release.
The pandemic-related release, which has been renewed 12 times since April 2020, will not be extended further since COVID-19 infections are decreasing in Turkey and is expected to end on May 31, Türkiye said, citing sources from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
The daily also said some 80,000 prisoners would be notified that they had to return to prison and serve the rest of their sentences as of May 31 and that those who failed to appear would be considered fugitives and the subject of arrest warrants.
The temporary release did not apply to several categories of inmates, including those held in pretrial detention as well political prisoners convicted under controversial counterterrorism laws such as journalists, lawyers and political and human rights activists and even those at heightened risk including older prisoners and those with underlying health conditions convicted under counterterrorism laws.
Among those released was notorious Turkish mafia boss Alaattin Çakıcı, known for his ties to Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Çakıcı had been convicted of establishing and leading a criminal organization, ordering a murder, instigating assault and insulting Erdoğan.