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International NGOs urge Turkey to include political prisoners in early parole bill

Silivri Prison in İstanbul has become a symbol of Turkey, the biggest jailer of journalists around the world. / AFP PHOTO / Yasin AKGUL

Sixteen international NGOs on Wednesday released a joint statement calling on the Turkish government to refrain from discriminating against political prisoners in its bill aimed at relieving overcrowded prisons in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The signatory NGOs included the International Federation of Journalists, the Open Dialogue Foundation, the Media and Law Studies Association, the International Observatory of Human Rights, the Platform for Peace and Justice and a number of others, mostly based in Europe.

The statement highlighted the unhealthy prison conditions in the country and the overcrowding in prison facilities reported to be operating at 131 percent capacity.

“The undersigned organizations call on the Turkish government to avoid any discriminatory exemption, respect the fundamental human rights of all prisoners and ensure that all measures necessary to protect them from all kinds of harms including the COVID-19 pandemic are immediately taken,” the statement read.

“Prisoners who are elderly, sick, disabled and with children should be released from prisons immediately.”

Several reports in the Turkish media over the past week have revealed that the Turkish government is working on a bill allowing the release of some of the prison population. While details still are not clear, the reports underlined that those imprisoned on terrorism-related charges would be excluded from the scope of the legislation.

Turkey’s anti-terror laws have been criticized for allowing the terrorism-based prosecution of non-violent activities. Thousands of journalists, writers, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, academics, teachers, doctors and others are standing trial or have been convicted of terrorism.

As Turkey has confirmed increasing numbers of cases of COVID-19, human rights groups have been pointing to the risks associated with the overcrowding and hygiene problems in the country’s correctional institutions.

Member of parliament Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu has launched a signature campaign calling on the government to include political prisoners in the bill and to urgently release all high risk individuals without discrimination.

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