Turkey’s parliament voted early on April 14, Tuesday, to release 90,000 prisoners from overcrowded jails in the country. 45,000 of these prisoners are to be released temporarily under judicial oversight till the end of May. Their term of parole can be extended by the justice ministry twice at the maximum for a two-month period each time. Another 45,000 prisoners will be released permanently.
The law was passed with a simple majority of 279 votes in favor and 51 against in the 600-seat Turkish parliament. The enactment comes as an attempt to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country’s prisons.
By November 2019, Turkey had more than 286,000 prisoners across its various jails with an average occupancy rate of 118, according to the World Prison Brief.
As per the Turkish justice ministry, 19 prisoners and at least 159 prison personnel, judges and prosecutors have already tested positive for COVID-19. Three prisoners have died due to the virus.
The bill was prepared by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the main opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). People who are charged under certain categories of crimes will not be eligible for release under the act. These include cases related to sexual violence and violence against women, drug related crimes and terrorism, among others.
While the act to decongest prisons has been welcomed, some opposition members objected to the omission of political prisoners arrested during the 2016 coup attempt against president Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the list of selected prisoners to be released.
Around 50,000 prisoners charged with “terrorism”, many of whom are political dissidents, have been excluded from the list.
Turkey is the second most COVID-19 affected country in West Asia after Iran, with more than 61,000 reported cases and more than 12,00 deaths by April 13.