In Turkey's prisons COVID-19 threatens many lives
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 remain at serious risk. On 13 April, Parliament passed a law that is expected to enable the early release of up to 90,000 prisoners. But far too many people including journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, opposition politicians and activists and others imprisoned simply for exercising their rights, will be left behind bars.
According to the Minister of Justice, three prisoners have died, and 17 prisoners and 79 prison staff have tested positive so far. This is a crucial time to call for the immediate release of all those who are at heightened risk of infection and those who should not be in prison in the first place.
Countless people are arbitrarily imprisoned serving lengthy sentences under anti-terrorism laws despite absence of evidence that they supported violence. They are not eligible for early release under the new measures.
International law requires that imprisonment pending trial should be an exception. However, in Turkey, pre-trial detention is used routinely and punitively. In line with the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to liberty, prisoners held on pre-trial detention, currently excluded under the new law, should be considered for release.
The authorities should also release 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.