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Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu has slammed the government’s penal reform package for excluding politicians and activists.

“Fair decisions must be adopted on the issue of a possible amnesty and sentence reductions via taking citizens’ health into account,” Tanrıkulu said on April 1.

A Turkish penal reform bill reducing the sentences of thousands of prisoners was submitted to the Parliament’s Speaker Office on March 31, with debate set to start on April 7.

Speaking to reporters in parliament, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy chair Cahit Özkan said the bill had been co-prepared with the party’s ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“We have excluded sex crimes that offend the public conscience as well as drug crimes, murder in the first degree, crimes of violence to women and terrorist crimes,” he said, adding that some 90,000 inmates are expected to be released.

Tanrıkulu said that the bill is insufficient due to excluding journalists, lawyers and politicians for whom a conviction verdict wasn’t issued.

“Pregnant inmates and those who have children shouldn’t be ignored,” the deputy said.

Calling on the government to prepare a new draft bill that includes citizens imprisoned on political grounds, Tanrıkulu questioned the reason for why precautions adopted around the world to prevent prisoners from being infected with coronavirus aren’t implemented in Turkey.

“The AKP is responsible for the people who have been imprisoned for long years without indictments prepared and for whom allegations are unknown,” Tanrıkulu said.

The lawmaker also said that coronavirus precautions are not enough in prisons, adding that plenty of jails are at overcapacity.

“Mass deaths can taken place if the outbreak spreads to prisons,” he said.

“The judiciary will be responsible for deaths in prisons in terms of the ‘right to life’ if prisoners are not released on conditions of judicial control that would replace imprisonment. It’s unacceptable in terms of law and human rights to leave politicians and activists out of the draft,” Tanrıkulu added.

Turkey should protect all prisoners from pandemic: Human Rights Watch

Last week, Human Rights Watch pointed to the exclusion of terrorism charges.

“Terrorism may sound like the gravest of offenses, but in Turkey, the government misuses the charge for political ends. Many inmates are placed in lengthy pretrial detention or sentenced without evidence that they committed violent acts, incited violence or provided logistical help to outlawed armed groups,” Human Rights Watch’s Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb said.

“Among them are journalists like Ahmet Altan, politicians like Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, human rights defenders like Osman Kavala, and thousands of dismissed civil servants, teachers, and others punished for association with the Fethullah Gülen movement,” she added.

“There should be no discrimination on the basis of political opinion.”