The number of inmates in Turkey’s prisons who were either in pre-trial detention or convicted of a crime was 291,546 in 2019, a 10.1 percent increase over the previous year, according to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).
TurkStat prepares a report on the prison population every November. According to the report 96 percent of the inmates were men, while 4 percent were women. The report states that there were 13,015 minors in juvenile detention facilities. The data showed that theft was the most frequent crime committed in Turkey, followed by assault and the sale of illegal drugs.
The report excluded statistics concerning the percentage of political prisoners. This raises doubts about the report since a purge of thousands of dissidents in the aftermath of a July 2016 coup attempt has filled Turkey’s prisons, which today are overcrowded with tens of thousands of political prisoners.
Turkey’s parliament passed a law in April that allowed the release of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding in prisons and protect detainees from COVID-19. The bill excluded people imprisoned on terrorism charges. The report did not reflect how these developments affected the percentage of the prison population.
Amnesty International and 26 other rights groups and civil society organizations from Turkey and around the world released a joint statement in March calling for the release of Turkey’s political prisoners, particularly those with a high risk of complications due to COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus.
The statement echoed previous calls on the Turkish government by rights defenders to relieve the overcrowded prisons and protect the lives of prisoners who are at high risk of infection. “In Turkey, anti-terrorism legislation is vague and abused in trumped up cases against journalists, opposition political activists, lawyers, human rights defenders and others expressing dissenting opinions,” the statement said.
Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on followers of the Gülen movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations.” The purge mainly targeted people who were allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement but included other people from a wide variety of backgrounds as well.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding the coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.