By Damon Mitchell • 14 April 2020 • 13:49
TURKEY’S parliament has approved the release of around 90,000 inmates in a move to decongest the system for fear that Covid-19 could spread through its prisons. The problem, the opposition and human rights organisations complain, is that tens of thousands of politically convicted people, including dozens of journalists currently behind bars, are left out of the plan.
This amnesty is actually a reform of several laws that affect criminal prosecution and the penal system and that had been in preparation for some time, but whose work has been accelerated due to the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.
In Turkey, more than 60,000 infected with Covid-19 have already been detected and some 1,300 deaths have been registered, three of them from prisoners, according to data from the Ministry of Justice. In addition, 17 inmates and 79 prison system employees have tested positive.
A recent Council of Europe report reveals that Turkish prisons are among the most overcrowded on the continent. Turkey’s prison population is 286,000, it has doubled in the past seven years due to purges and persecution by the opposition, but the official places in its 385 prisons are only 235,000. This causes, denounces Human Rights Watch (HRW), many inmates to have to sleep on mattresses on the floor, they lack hygiene materials, and cannot be kept at a safe distance to avoid contagion. Masks have not been distributed among the inmates either, and not all guards wear them.
The problem, argues Emma Sinclair-Webb of HRW, is that “Turkey abuses anti-terrorism laws. Anyone who criticises the government can be condemned by these laws.” Among them are at least a hundred journalists; hundreds of mayors, councillors, local officials and former MPs and thousands of professors, judges, police and officials accused of being behind the 2016 coup attempt. “Turkey is probably the country with the most convicted of terrorism in the world. Some of these people suffer from serious illnesses and do not have access to treatment in prisons,” complains Sinclair-Webb. “For them, the Covid-19 can be a death sentence.”
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