The Turkish government is planning to release tens of thousands of convicted criminals in an apparent move to free up some jail cell space for coup detainees in its bursting prison system, which was in dire condition as it is.
Authorities have detained and arrested more than 23,400 people since the failed military coup attempt last month, while killing at least 270. The suspects allegedly involved in the rebellion include scores of police officers, judges, teachers, civil servants, journalists and soldiers.
The government decree, issued under the country’s three-month state of emergency, will grant early release to 38,000 prisoners. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said only those who committed crimes before July 1 — two weeks before the failed coup attempt — are eligible for early release, noting the move was “not an amnesty.”
The conditional release will only apply to inmates who have two years or less to serve of their prison terms and who have served at least half of their sentences. However, those guilty of murder, abuse and terrorism against state will not be released, along with the thousands jailed in the post-coup crackdown.
“There have been thousands of arrests and of course there will only be more arrests,” Senem Doganoglu, a lawyer with the Ankara-based Human Rights Association, told The Wall Street Journal. “Pragmatically, they’ve decided to use this as a way of relieving the prison system.”
Turkey’s prison system has a capacity of more than 187,000 inmates, but has been housing more than 213,500 prisoners as of mid-August, according to state news agency Anadolu.
The inhumane condition of Turkish jails came under scrutiny recently after human rights nonprofit group, Amnesty International, reported that coup detainees were being subjected to the barbaric acts of physical abuse — including rape.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has unsurprisingly denied the allegation of torture.