The number of inmates with university degrees in Turkey increased more than twofold between 2016 and 2020, reaching 20,333, EuroNews Turkish reported, citing data released by Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).
University graduates made up only 8.1 percent of Turkey’s prison population in 2016, while that rate went up to 20.33 percent in 2020. Four hundred sixty inmates in Turkish prisons have doctorates and 2,371 have master’s degrees.
The dramatic increase reflects the increasing number of political prisoners in the country in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and jailed 96,000 people due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, which it accuses of being behind the attempt. As of February 2020, a total of 622,646 people had been the subject of investigation and 301,932 had been detained for alleged ties to the movement.
The crackdown also targeted political opponents of the government, Kurdish activists and human rights defenders, among others. According to Council of Europe’s “Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations for 2020,” out of 30,524 prisoners convicted on terrorism charges in CoE member states, 29,827 were in Turkey alone.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.
Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the 2016 coup attempt that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
According to the statistics, the total number of inmates in Turkish penal institutions was 266,831 as of the end of 2020, an 8.5 percent decrease compared to the previous year. The decrease was mainly due to a law that allowed the early release of some 90,000 inmates in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. Yet, Turkish prisons are still at overcapacity according to the statistics. The penal institutions have a capacity of 245,200 inmates, some 20,000 fewer than the number of inmates.