Politicians appeal to Turkey's Erdoğan to release jailed dissidents

Turkey’s overcrowded prisons, which watchdogs say with 300,000 inmates are more than 10 percent above capacity, are at severe risk from the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has prepared a bill of legal amendments that, if passed, will relax sentencing and see nearly one third of prisoners released on parole or to house arrest.

But as well as people convicted of premeditated murder and sex offences, the bill excludes thousands of people in jail on terror charges. Rights groups say that many of those the government calls terrorists are in jail for their political activities or dissident views.

A group of leading politicians, lawyers and writers has addressed a call to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanding that those inmates’ lives are also protected from the coronavirus pandemic. Their petition is printed in full below.

To Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

President of the Republic of Turkey

The “Bill of Law on the Administration of Sentences and Security Measures”, long envisaged as an amendment to the sentencing regime, has been brought before Turkey’s parliament.

Given our current circumstances, we are compelled by our conscience and our responsibility as citizens to send you this appeal.

The bill’s contents make it clear that warnings have been ignored, and its provisions completely contradict the principle of equality in the application of law which is accepted as a standard of universal human rights.

The timing of the bill is of course significant. It has clearly been brought onto the agenda because of the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when the whole country has been told to stay at home.

The pandemic poses a great risk to prisons. With such a risk at hand, it is imperative to meet individuals’ demands to be in a healthy environment and be protected from risk; protecting the right to life is the most important fundamental human right.

The necessary measures must be determined and enacted as quickly as possible. The statements on standards made by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, Members of the European Parliament and U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner for Human Rights and their calls to Turkey must be heeded as a matter of urgency.

The prisons in our country are full of journalists, writers, politicians, human rights defenders, civil society leaders and dissidents, held because of questionable arrest warrants and convictions. These people have been arrested or sentenced, on account of their own conscience, for terror offences to which they have no connection. Sadly, the bill has been prepared without taking this fact into account.

If the reform under discussion is implemented, it will both lead to irreparable consequences in prisons, which are particularly at risk, and deeply undermine the public conscience and society’s sense of justice. 

We wish to invite the parliamentary justice commission that will discuss the bill, parliament’s general assembly and all political parties to take steps on these matters, to remind them of their historic responsibilities, and to directly present our concerns and recommendations to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Parliamentary Speaker Mustafa Şentop, and all relevant officials. 


Ahmet Türk, Celal Doğan, Kezban Hatemi, Nesrin Nas, Oya Baydar, Rıza Türmen, Zülfü Livaneli on behalf of Tarhan Erdem