PACE calls for urgent action to amend early release law to include political prisoners

Several Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteurs have urged Turkish authorities to take the necessary legal steps to redress injustice emanating from the exclusion of political prisoners from the scope of early release legislation passed by parliament on April 14.

Previously, the PACE monitoring co-rapporteurs for Turkey, Thomas Hammarberg of Sweden and John Howell of the United Kingdom, as well as Boriss Cilevičs of Latvia, rapporteur on “Should politicians be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandates?” had welcomed the adoption on April 14 of the Criminal Enforcement Law, allowing the early or conditional release of 90,000 prisoners to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in overcrowded prisons, but now regret its discriminatory approach with regard to certain groups of prisoners.

“The adoption of urgently-needed measures to safeguard the health of prisoners, detained persons and prison staff is to be welcomed. However, we deeply regret that the Turkish parliament has not treated in the same manner detained politicians, journalists, academics and other civil society activists charged with ‘terrorism’ in unfair trials, and has not allowed them to enjoy equal sanitary preventive measures,” said the rapporteurs.

“We remain in full solidarity with the Turkish people and authorities in their fight against the pandemic. It would be to the credit of the Turkish authorities to adopt a humanitarian approach and not to inflict deliberate and additional harm on those detained on political grounds, especially those facing serious health problems. We therefore urge them to ensure that these prisoners are also released,” they added.

“We remind the authorities that Turkey, as a Council of Europe member State, must take full and serious account of the recommendations issued by the CPT, the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee, on the fight against COVID-19 in places of detention, as well as previous rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the politically-motivated detentions of, among others, leading politician Mr Demirtas and philanthropist Mr Kavala, including the need to release them. Their fate is shared by many other Turkish citizens who remain detained or imprisoned for opinions they have expressed. In the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, this situation is all the more unbearable.”

“We therefore expect the Turkish authorities to take the necessary legal steps to redress this injustice. We have been informed that the opposition has seized the Constitutional Court, which we would expect to take a swift decision guided by the values and norms of the Council of Europe. We also hope the Turkish parliament, which is currently celebrating its 100th Anniversary, to make full use of its oversight powers and to monitor the effects of the law,” they urged.

In a move to curb the coronavirus pandemic’s spread to the country’s overcrowded prisons, the Turkish parliament on April 14 passed legislation that provides the possibility of early parole or house arrest to prison inmates but which excludes political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human right defenders convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted counterterrorism laws. The move elicited strong criticism from the international community, including the Council of Europe (CoE).

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