Turkey: Release those unfairly imprisoned and most at risk
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As COVID-19 spreads at an alarming rate across Turkey, the lives of thousands of prisoners and staff in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons are at increased risk. On 13 April, Parliament passed a law that would allow the early release of up to 90,000 prisoners. However, the law excludes many prisoners that should qualify for early release, including journalists, human rights defenders and others imprisoned unfairly under anti-terror laws simply for exercising their rights, and people in pre-trial detention. According to official figures, three prisoners have died, and 17 prisoners and 79 prison staff have tested positive as of 17 April 2020.
Please send a message to the Minister of Justice. Include some of these points:
- Welcome the law passed on 13 April to allow the early release of up to 90,000 prisoners. You could add that, in the context of the deadly spread of COVID-19 across Turkey, any decrease of numbers of prisoners in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons is a good step.
- Criticize the fact that the law fails to include many persons who should qualify for early release, and a result is putting the lives of thousands of prisoners and staff at serious risk.
- Urge him to immediately release unjustly imprisoned people including journalists, human rights defenders, activists, and others jailed unfairly under anti-terror laws simply for exercising their rights.
- Call on him to urgently consider releasing those held in prison on pre-trial detention who have not been convicted of any offence and those who are at particular risk in prison from COVID-19 where their health cannot be guaranteed.
- Seek assurances that those who cannot be released have access to medical attention and healthcare to the same standards that are available in the community, including when it comes to testing, prevention, and treatment of COVID-19.
- Request guarantees that prison staff and healthcare workers have access to adequate information, equipment, training, and support to protect themselves.
Write to (there is no mail service to Turkey during the pandemic)
Minister of Justice
Mr Abdülhamit Gül
06659 Ankara, Turkey
Fax: 011 90 0312 419 3370
Salutation: Dear Minister
The law passed by Parliament on 13 April is part of the reform package under the government’s Judicial Reform Strategy revealed last summer. The long-awaited judicial package was finally brought to Turkey’s Parliament on 31 March and considered by the Justice Commission on 2 and 3 April. The law, which is expected to enable the early release of up to 90,000 prisoners, allows certain categories of convicted prisoners to qualify for earlier release or to be transferred to house arrest, depending on vulnerability and length of sentence. These include those over 65 years old, women with young children and prisoners with serious illnesses. Those currently serving their sentences in an open prison will also be eligible to be transferred to house arrest for two months, with the possibility of extending this for up to two further periods of two months. Moreover, the sentences of convicted prisoners to be reduced by half but those serving a sentence under anti-terrorism laws, for crimes against the state, murder, sexual and drug related offences are excluded from this measure.
This new law excludes far too many prisoners that should qualify for early release, including journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, opposition politicians and activists and others imprisoned simply for exercising their rights. It also excludes prisoners on pre-trial detention from the possibility of early release. In Turkey, pre-trial detention is used routinely and punitively, violating the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to liberty. The discriminatory nature of the new measures is likely to be challenged at the Constitutional Court.
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