Turkey: Release unfairly imprisoned people and most at risk from COVID-19

Turkey: Release unfairly imprisoned people and most at risk from COVID-19

While the deadly COVID-19 pandemic is spreading at an alarming rate across Turkey, the lives of thousands of prisoners and staff in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons are at serious risk. Last week, the government announced its intention to introduce a law that could lead to the early release of up to 100,000 prisoners. This is a welcome step, but it is not enough.

Far too many prisoners are excluded from this draft law, including those who should not be in prisons in the first place; journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, academics and opposition politicians, who are imprisoned simply for doing their jobs or exercising their rights. They must be all released immediately and unconditionally.

Many of these people have been arbitrarily imprisoned under anti-terrorism laws despite absence of evidence that they supported violence.

International law requires that imprisonment pending trial should be an exception. However, in Turkey, pre-trial detention is used routinely and punitively. Turkish authorities should consider releasing all those held in pre-trial detention, in line with the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to liberty. Yet people in pre-trial detention are excluded from release under the draft law.

The authorities should also seriously consider releasing prisoners who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, such as older prisoners and those with serious medical conditions and ensure that those who cannot be released have access to medical attention and healthcare to the same standards that are available in the community, including when it comes to testing, prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Take action now - Send an email and urge Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül to include imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders and others imprisoned for exercising their rights, people in pre-trial detention and others at particular risk from COVID-19 for release.

Call on him to ensure all necessary measures to protect the right to health of all prisoners are taken without discrimination.