Thanks to the latest parole law by AKP and MHP, thousands of prisoners have been released and thousands more will be freed in the coming weeks. As I wrote last week, the new law is not designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. In fact, it favors convicts who were involved with organized crime, attempted murder, and other violent crimes.
While journalists, lawyers, students, political figures are kept in prison, mafia leader Alaattin Çakıcı has started to enjoy his newfound freedom at a ranch house. HDP’s former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş suffers from chronic diseases, writer Ahmet Altan is 70 years old, and journalist Aziz Oruç needs medical treatment, but they remain in jail.
The parole law is not only discriminatory and contradictory to constitutional law, it also poses a great threat to women whose abusive spouses are imprisoned. Most of them are getting out, while others will be transferred to open prisons, where they will be able to be granted temporary leave outside the prison. And some of them are heading back home.
Even after a divorce, addresses may remain unchanged. This means the abusive husband or ex can show up at the doorstep of women who have nowhere else to go. Since there are social distancing and isolation measures being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s almost impossible for many women and children to protect themselves or to seek refuge.
A few days ago, a horrific murder took place in Gaziantep. Müslüm Aslan was in prison for stabbing his wife. When he was released, he went to see his children, who were staying at their grandparent’s house with their mother. He took them home, tortured and beat his 9-year-old daughter to death in front of his two sons.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of women fear for their life. But few voices are heard. Zeliha Erdemir, a victim of domestic abuse, talked to daily Cumhuriyet. Her abusive ex husband is to be released in May. Zeliha fears for her life: “Do I have to be killed? They cannot pardon him. I know that he will show up at my doorstep the minute he is released. If something happens to me, the state is responsible.”
Prominent lawyer and feminist Hülya Gülbahar points out that the parole law is very complicated and arbitrary: “Who will be released and on what grounds? For instance, a man who claims to have acted for his ‘honor’ might be pardoned as well. What’s more worrying is that women are not informed on when/if their abusers are released. The Ministry of Justice puts convicts in buses and delivers them directly to their addresses. Meaning, they can show up without notice. Most of them are filled with feelings of revenge when they get out. He holds the woman responsible and strikes back again. We have seen so many cases like that.”
Since the convicts are also not tested for COVID-19, their release poses a threat to their families as well. Ironically, this is the least of the concerns of women in Turkey who are subjected to domestic violence.