U.S. congresswoman urges State Dept to request change in Turkey’s prisoner amnesty law

Turkey’s exclusion of thousands of political prisoners in its recent amnesty law to release inmates to avoid an outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons is a violation of international human rights laws, said U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney in a letter to State Secretary Mike Pompeo.

Turkey passed a law on April 14 to release of up to 90,000 prisoners, or about a third of the incarcerated population, by expanding the criteria for granting early release. However, the epidemic mitigation measure did not cover thousands of people who were in pre-trial detention or imprisoned under Turkey’s broadly defined anti-terror laws.

Among the excluded inmates are lawyers, journalists, politicians, teachers, civil servants, artists and human rights defenders.

In the letter posted on the Democratic Party member’s Twitter account on Thursday, Maloney urged Pompeo to publicly press the Turkish government to amend the amnesty law and release political prisoners “on humanitarian grounds.”

“It is abundantly clear with the exclusion of these political prisoners that the Turkish government is discriminating against certain prisoners on the basis of their political views, in clear violation of its obligations under international human rights laws,” Maloney wrote.

“Many of these prisoners have been detained and falsely charged with supporting terrorism for simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

The letter came after a report by the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency announced 107 positive cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus at Turkey’s Silivri Prison, where many inmates wait for their trials on charges of terrorism. Fifteen wards in the prison complex are currently under quarantine, and one prisoner has died after contracting the virus.

Overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons has made social distancing, good hygiene, and other key measures to minimise transmission of the coronavirus among inmates next to impossible. Inmates have also reported issues with the quality of food and medical care they receive, and a lack of precautions implemented by prison administrations.