Turkey to debate release of prisoners to stem spread of coronavirus

Turkey's Parliament

Turkey’s parliament is to debate a controversial bill on Tuesday for the early release of tens of thousands of inmates in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus in prisons.

The measure proposed by the ruling party has drawn criticism from rights group for whom it excludes – opposition politicians, journalists, academics, civil servants and lawyers accused of terrorism-related charges.

It’s also not applicable to those in pre-trial detention, such as pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, 46, philanthropist Osman Kavala, 62, and journalist and author Ahmet Altan, 67.

The pandemic “risks turning a prison sentence into a death sentence,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe, and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Prisoners who have been jailed for little more than their political views should be able to benefit from the early release law.”

About 90,000 inmates could be eligible for either parole or house arrest, according to the proposal by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

It excludes those convicted for terrorism, sex or drug offenses, murder, and violence against women, AKP deputy chair Cahit Ozkan said. It covers inmates over 65 years, women with children aged 6 and below, and those who are critically ill.

Turkey has more than 260,000 prisoners. The authorities are yet to disclose confirmed coronavirus cases in jails.

On Monday, the nationwide death toll from COVID-19 disease climbed by 75 to 649, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, with the number of positive cases rising to 30,217.

The amnesty bill is expected to pass as the AKP and its allies hold a majority in parliament. (NAN)

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