A government bill seeking to free approximately 90,000 of the country’s nearly 300,000 inmates was submitted to the Turkish Parliament’s Speaker Office on March 31. The penal reform was fast-tracked amid concerns over coronavirus outbreak in Turkey’s overcrowded jails.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Group Deputy Chair Cahit Özkan held a press conference regarding the legal amendment on March 31 in the Parliament.
Özkan said that the AKP prepared a 70-article draft bill seeking to change 11 different laws in the Turkish Penal Code. “With Covid-19 and considering the prisons, the need to take some precautions has arisen,” Özkan said.
The legal amendment will halve the sentence issued to inmates, except for those behind bars over charges related to terrorism, drugs, violence against women and children, sexual abuse and deliberate murder.
Özkan said that prisoners over the age of 65, women having a child between the ages 0-6 and sick inmates who are unable to take care of themselves will be released and put under house arrest under certain conditions.
He said that inmates serving their sentence in lower-security “open” prisons will also benefit from a temporary regulation amid the coronavirus outbreak. Such inmates will be put under house arrest for two months, with the Justice Ministry having the right to extend this duration two more times.
“Currently, 45,000 inmates are benefitting [from the legal amendment]. Also, with the inmates who will be transferred from open prisons to house arrests due to the epidemic, this figure will reach approximately 90,000,” Özkan said.
The bill will initially face hearings in the Parliament’s Justice Committee on April 2. Afterwards, it will be brought to the agenda of the General Assembly of the Parliament on April 7.
The AKP and its Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) prepared the bill and they hold a majority in the 600-seat assembly so it should become law.
The bill was welcomed by the opposition and human rights groups, however it has been criticized for its exclusion of prisoners who are jailed for their political opinions.
Several human rights and press freedom groups, including Reporters without Borders and Amnesty International, have urged Turkey to release jailed political activists, most of whom are held in custody over terrorism charges.
“We remain concerned that journalists, human rights defenders and others imprisoned for simply exercising their rights, and others who should be released, will remain behind bars in the package of measures as currently conceived by the government,” they said in a statement on March 30.
They mentioned high-profile journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan, Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, and businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala among those jailed.