The Turkish parliament on April 14 passed an early parole bill that will reduce the inmate population in the country’s overcrowded prisons.
Conceived as a measure against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic to penal facilities, the bill contains the possibility of early parole and house arrest for a broad range of offenders yet excludes inmates charged with or convicted of sex and drug crimes, first degree murder and domestic violence as well as crimes related to terrorism.
Accordingly, a broad range of dissidents indicted or convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted anti-terrorism laws will not benefit from the bill. Tens of thousands of journalists, lawyers, politicians, academics, human right defenders and civil servants were jailed on dubious terrorism charges, in particular after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, eliciting criticism from the international community.
The bill, drafted and introduced by the Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), was passed just after midnight with 279 votes for and 51 against. According to estimates up to 90,000 inmates will benefit from the bill. The bill has must still be approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and published in the Official Gazette to take effect.
Under the legislation some 75,000 inmates in “open” prisons will be sent home on parole until May 31 in a move to reduce the risk posed by the coronavirus outbreak to prisons. The minister of justice can extend that period twice by a maximum of two months on each occasion if the outbreak persists.
With the new measure the length of time that must be spent in prison is reduced from two-thirds to half the sentence with the exception of such crimes as voluntary manslaughter, inflicting intentional injury, injury to a child, elderly person or a spouse, sexual violence, drug production and/or trafficking, espionage and terrorism.
Violations of the National Intelligence Agency Act are also excluded from the scope of the legislation due to a motion offered during deliberations in parliament’s general assembly. Thus, if journalists Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan and Murat Ağırel, imprisoned earlier this year for reporting the death of Turkish intelligence operatives in Libya, are to be sentenced, they will not benefit from the law.
The new legislation further provides that pregnant women, women with newborn infants, women accompanied by children aged 6 and younger and prisoners over 65 with designated health conditions can be released to house arrest or on parole. The law also allows for the removal from prison of those with communicable diseases.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül admitted on April 13 that the virus had reached prisons, with 17 confirmed cases among inmates, including three deaths. He said 79 prison employees had also tested positive, along with 80 judges and prosecutors, judicial personnel and forensic medicine staff.
Main opposition CHP to take law to top court
During deliberations in parliament the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) objected to the bill, demanding that it include political prisoners as well.
CHP deputy parliament group leader Engin Özkoç announced at a press conference on April 13 that the party will appeal to the Constitutional Court for cancelation of the new law.
HDP deputy and prominent human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu described the law as “discriminatory” in a speech in parliament and criticized the exclusion of prisoners charged with “thought crimes.”