Penal reform to see prisoners released early on coronavirus fears - Hürriyet

Turkish lawmakers have rushed to draft legislation that would release a large number of people held in Turkish prisons as the country scrambles to contain the fallout from the coronavirus, Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper reported on Friday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered a group from his ruling Justice and Development Party’s parliamentary party to begin work on the penal reform bill after chairing a high-level meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, Hürriyet said.

The reform will see the release of a large portion of Turkey’s prison population, which numbers approximately 300,000 people, by easing punishments, excluding those found guilty of serious crimes including terrorism, sexual offences and murder.

The exemption of those imprisoned on terrorism charges would be “highly problematic,” said Human Rights Watch’s Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb in a tweet, since “many inmates face sham trials, shouldn't be in jail.”

If the report that terror inmates will be excluded is true, she said, “that would leave out all journalists, politicians, rights defenders, dismissed public officials facing bogus terror charges and unfair politicised trials, among them sick and older people.”

Hürriyet reported that a penal reform was already in the works, but the risk of mass infections in prison facilities had made the new legislation an urgent priority for the government, and the bill would likely reach parliament next week.

It will see the portion of sentences required to be spent in prison reduced from two-thirds to half and allow prisons to serve one-fifth of their sentences on probation, the newspaper said.

New mothers will not be placed in prison until one-and-a-half years after giving birth, and prisoners over 70 years of age will be released two years before their sentence ends, Hürriyet cited the draft law as saying. Those over 75 will be released four years before the end of their sentences, it said.