Three Democratic members of the US House of Representatives have recently sent letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that he urge the Turkish government to apply prison release policies equitably in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In separate letters to Pompeo, Members of the House Yvette D. Clarke, Alan Lowenthal and Thomas R. Suozzi all pointed to the serious risk faced by incarcerated populations of contracting COVID-19. The legislators also voiced concern about the failure of the Turkish government to afford equal legal treatment to all prisoners within the context of a recent release bill.
The legislation was passed by the Turkish parliament in mid-April to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded prisons. Providing the possibility of early parole or house arrest to inmates, the law explicitly excludes tens of thousands of political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted counterterrorism laws.
Citing the US State Department’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Congressman Suozzi of New York questioned whether all political prisoners in Turkey have engaged in or been affiliates of acts of terror or treason. In his letter dated May 20, 2020 Suozzi went on to urge Secretary Pompeo to “engage the Turkish government to institute policies to protect susceptible populations, such as incarcerated individuals, in Turkey.”
In his June 1 letter Congressman Lowenthal of California called attention to the Turkish government’s “troubling record of incarcerating domestic critics under broad and unjust criteria.” Lowenthal asked Secretary Pompeo to urge the Turkish government for an equitable application of release policies and raise the issue directly with his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, “particularly in the context of any discussions of US financial or other material assistance to Turkey.”
In her June 8 letter Congresswoman Clarke of New York also urged Secretary Pompeo to express “the United States’ dissatisfaction with Turkey’s decision to exclude such persons [political prisoners] from its humanitarian release law, and to apply pressure on Ankara to reverse course and amend the statute.”
There have been similar moves by other members of the US Congress in the face of the deepening COVID-19 crisis in Turkey. On June 11 Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel and Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Europe William R. Keating sent a joint letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan voicing similar concerns. Likewise, on May 27, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney sent a letter to Secretary Pompeo urging the US government to ask the Turkish government to release political prisoners excluded from the scope of the release law.