The Turkish parliament passed a legal amendment on Tuesday to release thousands of prisoners in an effort to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The bill was introduced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party), as well as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The same day that the law was passed, the death toll in Turkey from COVID-19 had reached 1,296 people. A few days prior, Turkey’s COVID-19 infection rate had been declared as the fastest rising in the world. As of Monday, 17 prisoners in Turkey had tested positive for COVID-19, three had died and 79 prison personnel had tested positive.
Under this law, approximately 45,000 prisoners will be temporarily released under judicial control until the end of May. If needed, the Ministry of Justice will have the ability to extend this period in two-month increments. However, Naci Bostanci, the parliamentary chairman of the AK Party, said:
[Prisoners] will serve their terms. … People will be punished if they commit a crime but we have to look at it from the perspective of rehabilitation and how such sentences will impact their lives in the long term.
Approximately another 45,000 prisoners will be released permanently, under a separate part of the legislation, to reduce overcrowding in the prisons in general.
The following crimes will not qualify for either a temporary nor a permanent release: deliberate manslaughter; intentional injury; injury to a child, an elderly person, or a spouse; sexual violence crimes; drug production and trade; state espionage; crimes against state intelligence services; and violations of the National Intelligence Agency Act and Anti-Terrorism Act. This last exception has been highly debated, as many journalists will remain incarcerated under terrorism charges.
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