Because Turkey releases tens of thousands of criminals from prison because of the corona danger, but political prisoners are not released, the opposition goes to the constitutional court. The opposition, but also human rights activists, criticizes the fact that around tens of thousands of political prisoners are exempted from the punishment resulting from a judicial reform. Therefore, she now wants to have them checked. Ozturk Turkdogan, head of the Turkish Human Rights Association, said the Eastern Herald Newspaper: “This law tramples on the basic values. This keeps prisoners like Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtash and numerous journalists and other people in prison.”
Parliament passed the Judicial Reform Act on Tuesday. This will release tens of thousands of prisoners by the end of May or put them under house arrest; the first prisoners have already been released. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had described the reform as an expression of the state’s efforts for justice. To the prisoners affected by the sentence, he said: “I believe that these citizens will not disappoint the state and society.” He added, “I know we have to do a lot more to ensure justice that is a never-ending concern for humanity.”
Prisons as a breeding ground for the coronavirus
The background to the controversial release from prison is that overcrowded prisons are a breeding ground for the coronavirus. Turkey has a very high prisoner rate with 300,000 prisoners, and the hygienic conditions in the prisons are poor. Around 80 detainees are said to be ill, three have died. In addition, there are dozens of infected prison guards and members of the judiciary.
In addition to political prisoners, the judicial reform also excludes terrorists, murderers, drug criminals, sex offenders and other persons responsible for violence against women. Prisoners who are over 65 and chronically ill as well as mothers with young children are placed under house arrest. At the beginning of the debate, there was a discussion about even releasing certain sex offenders. This had led to a public outcry.
It is striking, however, that political prisoners, some of whom have not even been convicted, remain fundamentally excluded. After the attempted coup in 2016, tens of thousands of military officers, police officers, civil servants, and teachers, as well as media and authors, were arrested. Among them are well-known authors such as the writer Ahmet Altan, who won the Geschwister-Scholl Prize in 2019.
“”When the virus arrives in prisons, it will spread like wildfire,” Altan said in a newspaper letter from detention.
The cultural patron Osman Kavala has also been in custody since 2017, against whom various allegations are under investigation and whose acquittal has been overturned. Another prominent prisoner is the Kurdish opposition politician Selahattin Demirtash. According to his wife, the former co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish party HDP is chronically ill and particularly at risk of the corona.
The allegation against many of those detained for political reasons is mostly to support terrorist groups. Because of the coup by parts of the army, the judiciary primarily persecutes people who are said to be close to the network of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. The terrorist allegation often also refers to alleged proximity to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is run as a terrorist organization in many countries. The accusation of being close to the PKK is often raised against politicians of the pro-Kurdish party HDP.
The initiative to have the law examined by the Constitutional Court comes from the social democratic opposition party CHP. CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu said the TEH: “This law shows the government’s political preferences: journalists, politicians, academics, or those who attended Gulen schools or had their money at Gulenist banks remain in prison.” In view of the high risk of corona in the detention centers, the political prisoners were “sentenced to death”.