Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, a UN special rapporteur called on member states to release inmates who were unlawfully imprisoned, including political prisoners.
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings Agnes Callamard issued a dispatch on May 6 on the responsibilities of states with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak and protection of the right to life in places of detention. Callamard recommended that governments release “prisoners whose incarceration is illegal or arbitrary under international law, including all children, prisoners of conscience, religious prisoners as well as political prisoners.”
“With more than 11 million prisoners and other detainees held worldwide in often overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without access to adequate health care and unable to practice self-and-mutual protection measures, the real and present risk is that for many, detention during the Covid-19 pandemic may become effectively a death sentence,” the special rapporteur warned.
“Places of detention are or will be a possible disaster zone and ought to be treated as such,” she added.
In her report Callamard recommended that governments, among others, release “all prisoners whose incarceration is illegal or arbitrary under international law, including all children, prisoners of conscience, religious prisoners as well as political prisoners, to “reduce the overall size of the prison populations” and to “consider alternatives to pre-trial detention such as bail, release under judicial control, or others.”
Tens of thousands of political prisoners including politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders have been convicted under Turkey’s controversial and broadly interpreted counterterrorism laws.
The Turkish Parliament in April adopted legislation on the execution of sentences as a measure against the spread of the coronavirus to the country’s overcrowded prisons. The law includes the possibility of early parole or house arrest for a broad range of offenders, yet excluded political prisoners from its scope.