Filiz Gazi / DUVAR

On April 14, a 70-article piece of legislation, supported by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its coalition partner, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), passed in parliament. This law, which was drawn up for preventing the spread of coronavirus in prisons, enable as many as 90,000 prisoners to be released, including gang leaders and robbers.

According to main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul deputy İbrahim Kaboğlu, who also chairs the Constitutional Law Research Association, the law in question is unconstitutional for three reasons: first, it exempts those who are being held behind bars pending trial, which is already in violation of their rights to be tried while not in prison. Secondly, laws that grant amnesty are supposed to apply to political prisoners, while this law effectively does the opposite, and frees many of those guilty of standard criminal offenses. 

The third constitutional problem with the law has to do with the nature of those who are charged with terror crimes in Turkey, Kaboğlu said:

“There is contiguity between political crimes and thought crimes in Turkey, which I term ‘imaginary’ crimes. The other exception has to do with terror crimes — that was tossed in the bag as well. However, there needs to be a distinction made on this subject. Those who have not committed any violence essentially belong in the political or thought crime category,” said Kaboğlu. 

Many of the politicians and journalists in jail in Turkey, including the former co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksedağ, have been convicted of or are being tried for terror-related crimes. Critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) argue that this is a means for the government to demonize and target their opponents, and that anyone who criticizes the government or is considered a political threat can be deemed a terrorist in Turkey today, where the judiciary is controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP. 

İbrahim Kaboğlu

“These are elected officials, human rights advocates, civil society representatives. This is why this prison sentence law is actually an amnesty law. It is full of contradictions. It is in violation of the equality principle, and is in violation of the constitution,” Kaboğlu said. 

Among those who have been released following the passage of the law include Alaattin Çakıcı, an infamous mafia leader and convicted murderer known for his close ties to the MHP and its leader Devlet Bahçeli, who had previously visited him in prison and campaigned for his release. 

Çakıcı, who was freed on April 16, is among a number of notorious criminals and far-right nationalists who were utilized by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) in the 1980s and 1990s to target and kill members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), other leftists, and people seen as opponents of the state. 

Meanwhile, on April 24, Mustafa Koçak died in a prison in Izmir after 297 days of being on a hunger strike that he insisted on continuing until his death. Koçak was a leftist activist convicted of providing the weapon that was used to take a prosecutor hostage, who was killed after a police standoff. The prosecutor, Mehmet Selim Kiraz, was investigating the killing of Berkin Elvan, a teenager who was shot in the head with a tear gas canister in the Okmeydanı neighborhood of Istanbul in 2013, and who became a symbol of the Gezi Park Protests.  

Kiraz’s office was stormed by members of the banned leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) in 2015, who managed to get past security in the courthouse. There was no physical evidence against Koçak, only the witness statements of two people, one of whom later recanted his testimony after fleeing the country, saying it was given under torture.