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9,000 inmates who benefited from COVID-19 release have failed to return to prison

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Some 9,000 inmates in Turkey who were allowed temporary release from prison as part of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic had not returned to prison as of the scheduled date, the Haber Global news website reported.

A total of 19,159 inmates in open, or minimum security, prisons, benefited from the temporary release from prison based on a law passed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), in April 2020, shortly after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Turkey.

The law aimed to ease overcrowding in jails and protect detainees from the coronavirus.

Among the 19,159 inmates in open prisons who were granted temporary release, 9,056 of them had not returned as of the Aug. 15 deadline.

If these inmates who are currently at large are apprehended, they will be sent instead to closed, or maximum security, prisons since they have not turned themselves in on time.

Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç said in a recent statement that inmates from open prisons who were granted COVID-19 leave and have not fully served their sentences should turn themselves in by Aug. 15, or they will be jailed in closed prisons.

The government has extended the duration of the inmates’ temporary release several times, setting the deadline for the last extension at July 31. The inmates were given two weeks to return to prison.

A total of 100,774 inmates who had five years or fewer left to serve to be eligible for release from prison on judicial probation benefited from the COVID-19 leave from prisons.

The Turkish government was criticized at the time for not allowing the release of prisoners who were jailed on politically motivated charges. The prisoners held in pretrial detention; those convicted under Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws including journalists, lawyers, political and human rights activists who have been imprisoned merely for speaking out; and even those at heightened risk including older prisoners and those with underlying health conditions convicted under anti-terrorism laws were not allowed to benefit from the prison release law.

Meanwhile, jailed journalist Barış Pehlivan wrote in a column for the Cumhuriyet daily from Marmara Prison, formerly known as Silivri Prison, this week that 1,100 inmates from that prison alone who had benefited from the COVID-19 prison release law had not turned themselves back in.

Pehlivan was sent to jail earlier this month to serve a sentence on charges of exposing classified intelligence documents due to his coverage of the funeral of a Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) officer in Libya.

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