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Overcrowded prisons: Turkey starts releasing 38,000 jailed for pre-coup crimes

Overcrowded prisons: Turkey starts releasing 38,000 jailed for pre-coup crimes

ISTANBUL: Turkey on Wednesday began freeing the first of some 38,000 prisoners not linked to the failed coup who are to be released in a move aimed at relieving pressure on prisons overcrowded with putsch suspects.

The parole decision came as Turkey presses on with the biggest purge in its modern history after the July 15 bid by rogue elements in the military to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the release was “not an amnesty” but the measure could eventually apply to almost half of the Turkish prison population which has swelled to over 200,000 since the attempted coup. It will not apply to convicts guilty of murder, terrorism or state security crimes, or the thousands detained after the putsch.

“The regulation refers to crimes committed before July 1, 2016. The crimes committed after July 1, 2016 are outside its scope,” Bozdag said on Twitter.

“As a result of this regulation, approximately 38,000 people will be released from closed and open prisons at the first stage.” According to Turkish officials, over 35,000 people have been detained since the coup attempt although almost 11,600 of them have since been released. The state-run Anadolu Agency said the first convicts began to be released from Istanbul’s Silviri prison hours after the announcement.

One of the freed prisoners Turgay Aydin, was quoted as thanking Erdogan and saying: “I am very happy because I am released from prison. I was not expecting it.” Bozdag said in an interview with A-Haber television that the parole could in the end apply to 99,000 out of Turkey’s current total prison population of 214,000. According to Anadolu, the total capacity of Turkey’s prisons is for 187,351 people.

Hurriyet columnist Akif Beki wrote on August 11 that “prisons are jam-packed” amid the post-coup purge and asked: “How can that many be arrested without making any space?” Turkey is in the throes of a three-month state of emergency imposed after the coup, which the authorities describe as an attempt by the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen to overthrow the existing order.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2016

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