04/18/2020, 08.00
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COVID-19: Parliament approves bill releasing prisoners, except activists and political prisoners

Up to 90,000 prisoners will be released, including paedophiles and sexual offenders. An organised crime boss is already free. The amnesty excludes people convicted or awaiting trial in connection with the failed 2016 coup or for criticising the country's leaders.

Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Turkish Parliament on Tuesday passed a bill that will allow some 90,000 prisoners to walk free as part of the government’s fight against the COVID-19 epidemic.

The beneficiaries include dangerous criminals, like multiple killers and organised crime bosses but no one convicted of "political crimes" or held in connection with the failed coup of July 2016.

A thousand prisoners have already been freed, including Alaattin Çakıcı whose release has already sparked controversy and a wave of protests.

A notorious mafia boss in the 1980s, he was convicted of setting up a criminal organisation, masterminding several murders (including his wife in front of her son), and insulting the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The decision to release inmates to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the country’s overcrowded and unhealthy prisons has been hotly debated in parliament but also in wider society.  a debate

Parliament approved the bill tabled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), amid opposition parties’ complaints that it excludes thousands of people jailed for terrorism, activism or criticism of the current ruling party and president.

The coronavirus issue is a delicate issue around which a political struggle is taking place, in particular between President Erdoğan and the mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu, of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

In late March, the authorities arrested and held for a few days a doctor who had reported "thousands of infections,” a claim that did not correspond with official figures.

Tens of thousands of political prisoners, already sentenced or awaiting trial for "terrorism or subversive activity" are excluded from the amnesty. They are in jail for criticising Erdoğan himself or for having links with the movement of exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, a former Erdoğan ally, considered the mastermind of the 2016 "coup".

Those tried for opinion-related offences remain in the cell, but people like Emre Esmer, a drunk driver who got nine years for killing a 19-year-old man in March 2019, are out. People convicted of sex crimes and paedophiles are also likely to come out if they served three quarters of their sentence.

So far, three inmates have died from the novel coronavirus in Turkish prisons. According to official sources, just under 75,000 people have tested positive for the virus, with the official death toll at 1,600.

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