- The Turkish prison system has a capacity of 200,000 inmates, but has been overcrowded for years.
- Turkey has registered more than 15,000 cases of the new coronavirus, and 277 deaths, as of Wednesday.
- The proposal does not apply to journalists or political prisoners, charged with the catch-all crime of "terrorism."
Turkey is preparing a new law to reduce the sentences and release about 90,000 prisoners to limit the spread of covid-19 in prisons. The measure is controversial as it excludes journalists and political prisoners. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002, forwarded to Parliament the draft law aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, owing to the danger posed by the covid-19 pandemic.
The Turkish prison system has a capacity of 200,000 inmates, but has been overcrowded for years. Today, around 280,000 people are in Turkish prisons. Of them, about a fifth are serving petty prison sentences.
Turkey has registered more than 15,000 cases of the new coronavirus, and 277 deaths, as of Wednesday. A reported 333 people have recovered from the coronavirus. The pandemic is still spreading in Turkey, and has accelerated penal reform efforts. This has been on the agenda of political parties since 2018, to shorten sentences and free up space.
“Around 45,000 people will benefit from the temporary and permanent amendments,” said Cahit Özkan, deputy parliamentary group leader for the AKP. “This figure will increase to 90,000 with those that will be put under house arrest from open prisons due to the pandemic.” He added that the reform does not include people convicted of sex crimes, violence against women, drug-related crimes, murder, or terrorism.
The main opposition party, the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), is in favor of reform to east the prison system. However, the CHP is opposed to the fact that the proposal does not allow the release of imprisoned journalists or politicians on charges of “terrorism.” Several civil organizations have been campaigning for several days for the partial amnesty to be extended to dozens of journalists, activists or politicians, who are being tried on the generic charge of “terrorism,” with no association to violent crimes.
Ilhan Cihaner, a member of the CHP, said that initially, the proposal will be applied to people already sentenced. It also provides for the release of detainees in pre-trial detention if they are ill, pregnant women, or people who are unable to be alone in prison. In the past 15 years, the number of prisoners in Turkey has quadrupled, reaching about 340 prisoners per 100,000 people, more than three times the European average.
The new coronavirus, responsible for the covid-19 pandemic, has infected more than 921,000 people worldwide, with more than 46,000 deaths. More than 193,000 people have reported to have recovered worldwide, however.
After appearing in China in December, the outbreak spread worldwide, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a pandemic situation. Several countries worldwide have put in place measures to combat the pandemic, including the enactment of curfews, a ban on overcrowding, as well as borders closures.