One of the statements that characterized the parliamentary committee debate on the general amnesty bill was, “There is no definition for political crimes in our penal code.” This sentence from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) group deputy chairman was included in the minutes of the Justice Committee. It was a total rejection of the “amnesty for political crimes” demand frequently brought up by civil society group and opposition political parties.

Starting with the President, the ruling AKP and its political supporters in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) frequently declare that this amnesty excludes perpetrators of “violence against women.” But this is only a claim, and women’s organizations totally it. The reasoning has always been the same: There is no category defining crimes covering violence to women in our penal code.

The Alimony Rights Women Platform sent a petition to the parliamentary justice committee wishing to present its above evaluation along with other opinions and proposals related to troublesome articles in the bill. Now in the days of the coronavirus, it was possible to participate over teleconference. This was rejected. Those sentences of the Women Platform that invalidated the claim that “amnesty did not cover sex crimes and violence against women” were not able to be included in the committee.     

The bill (2/2762), known as the execution package or the amnesty law, has 70 articles. It was endorsed in the committee after an 18-hour meeting that started on 11:00 a.m. on Friday, April 3. The governing party and its partner seemed to be in a rush. The bill they could not submit for years because they feared political reprisals was passed in the committee due to the opportunity provided by the coronavirus.

Reactions are proliferating. There are countless social media actions, with posters racing one another to produce a trending-topic. There are those who support each other, but we have also seen those rights activists who try to silence others. The weirdest aspect has been that the intelligentsia, justifiably demanding amnesty for thought crimes, emphasized equality in amnesty with no reference to sex crimes and masculine violence. There is no definition in the name of thought crimes in the law. While asking for equality in the execution regime and wanting to fill this gap, it would have been a realistic expectation that they would also voice the fact that the life, pride and bodily security of women and children are parts of human rights law. But it seems otherwise. Anyway, the government is playing its own tune without listening to anyone.

The general amnesty in 2000 known in public as “Rahşan amnesty,” named after then prime minister Bülent Ecevit’s wife Rahşan Ecevit, should be the one to be most remembered these days. PM Bülent Ecevit admitted he was never happy with it.

The biggest supporter of that general amnesty in 2000, and the architect of this amnesty, is MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli. Time will show us whether or not Bahçeli will be happy to pardon drug dealers, rapists and abusers for the sake of the release of one person, Abdullah Çakıcı.

Well, nobody really cares whether or not he or the others will be happy. While the life, pride, safety and future of women and children are at risk, it is of no value whether law makers are happy or not. It is of no value whether they are ashamed or not.

The parliamentary justice committee may see it as a success that they have without hesitation rejected almost 100 proposals submitted by opposition parties and accepted the five proposals submitted by AKP representatives. The committee has made the already complicated bill more opaque. They should be given an award for this.

In particular, the 6th paragraph added to the 9th temporary article of the bill by the proposal is the one that has the widest coverage. All criminals, except terrorists but including child sex abusers, will have the right to transfer to an open prison. The applications to transfer to open prisons will be collected until the end of the year. Until Dec. 31, 2020, all convicts except for thought crime offenders, who have been included in the terrorist bag, will be able apply to be transferred to open prisons.

If anybody asks what is wrong with this, they should be reminded of the easiness for convicts to take leaves in open prisons. Well, it does not end there. The bill authorizes the Ministry of Justice to give two-month leaves to all convicts in open prisons until May 31. Not over yet. The bill again prevents any penalties for those convicts on leave who are unable to return due to the coronavirus epidemic. More to come. The bill also authorizes the ministry to prolong the two-month leaves three times.

In short, while the situation is like this, government members and their supporters still cling to the claim that sexual crimes and crimes of violence against women are not covered by this amnesty. For those who support this document of shame, let us repeat, the following will happen if this bill is approved:    

– All convicts except for terror and organized crimes will be able to apply to be transferred to open prisons until December 31, 2020, no matter whether they meet the condition that they are in the last year of their sentences.

  • The Ministry of Justice will be able to grant two-month leaves to all prisoners in open prisons until May 31 because of the epidemic.

– For those convicts on leave who were not able to return due to the coronavirus epidemic, no penal action will be taken. Full stop.

The bill is now at the general assembly of the parliament for discussions. We expect that, as experienced in committee discussions, the government and its supporters will rush and keep the debate running uninterrupted so that it becomes a law in the shortest possible time.

In brief, including the child sexual abusers, sexual offenders and other offenders of violence against women are indeed within the scope of the amnesty. Those who have used their right to thought and expression are outside the scope of the amnesty. I don’t know if one can imagine a bigger shame than this bill for the parliament.

What I know is the parliament and the parliamentarians will have to first violate their own dignity before passing this law that violates the dignity of women and children.