Turkey MPs back law freeing thousands of prisoners over coronavirus

Ankara (AFP) –


The Turkish parliament on Tuesday approved a law that allows for the release tens of thousands of prisoners as a safety measure against the coronavirus outbreak.

"The draft has become law after being accepted," the official Twitter account for the parliament's general assembly said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have criticised the law because detainees charged under controversial anti-terrorism laws are not included.

The rights groups also have condemned the exclusion of people including journalists, politicians and lawyers in pre-trial detention.

This includes people jailed while awaiting a date for their trial to begin, those waiting for a formal indictment or suspects currently being tried.

"Many people who are in prison because they exercised their rights -- they didn't commit any crime -- they're excluded because the government chooses to use its very flexible, and overly broad and vague counter-terrorism laws," Amnesty's Andrew Gardner told AFP.

Among them are businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas.

The law passed with a 279-51 majority, Amnesty campaigner in Turkey Milena Buyum tweeted.

She added that after several days of debates in parliament, including some which lasted until the early hours, "not one of the opposition's amendments have been accepted".

When the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) presented the bill, it said some 45,000 people would be released under the law that provides early release on parole and the number would rise to 90,000 with those to be put under house arrest.

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul on Monday said three prisoners had died from COVID-19 after a total of 17 convicts were infected with the disease.

While 13 prisoners are in hospital and in a good condition, one convict with chronic diseases is in intensive care, Gul said.

Turkey has recorded over 61,000 cases of infection while nearly 1,300 people have died, according to health ministry figures published on Monday.