Left Behind to Die: COVID-19 in Turkish Prisons and Discrimination Against Political Prisoners

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This report focuses on amendments made to the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures in order to decrease Turkey’s prison population to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law on April 14, 2020 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the pandemic. The legislation excluded political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws and prompted calls from the UN and the EU for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.

Part of a series of reports prepared by SCF’s team of legal experts, the report details how the Turkish government continues to pursue a political agenda even during its fight against the virus.

“The amendments made to the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures go against the basic principles of the rule of law,” said Dr. Merve R. Kayıkçı, research director at the Stockholm Center for Freedom. “Understanding the discriminatory aspects of the amendments is important to get a better grasp of the Erdoğan government’s ongoing crackdown on its perceived opponents. Erdoğan has always made use of crises to further weaken the opposition, and the COVID-19 crisis has been no exception.”

The report begins by providing an overview of the general state of prisons in Turkey. It then moves on to explore how the concept of “terrorism offenses” has been instrumentalized and misused as a pretext to oppress and criminalize political dissidents, for the most part since an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016.

It further examines the blatantly discriminatory amendments to the Law on the Execution of Sentences in light of basic principles of the rule of law. Finally, it provides a discussion of the government’s responsibility, particularly in terms of the right to life resulting from the discriminatory nature of the amendments.

About the Stockholm Center for Freedom

SCF is a non-profit advocacy organization that promotes the rule of law, democracy and human rights with a special focus on Turkey.

Committed to serving as a reference source by providing a broad perspective on rights violations in Turkey, SCF monitors daily developments, documents individual cases of the infringement of fundamental rights and publishes comprehensive reports on human rights issues.

SCF is a member of the Alliance Against Genocide, an international coalition working to exert pressure on the UN, regional organizations and national governments to act on early warning signs and take action to prevent genocide.

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