Turkey on Wednesday said it would free 38,000 prisoners not linked to the failed coup in a move apparently aimed at releasing pressure on prisons filled to bursting with suspects from the putsch.
The announcement came as Turkey presses on with the biggest purge in its modern history after the failed July 15 coup by rogue elements in the military, whose shockwaves are still being felt one month on.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said in a series of messages on Twitter that the release was “not an amnesty” and the convicts were not being pardoned but released on parole.
It will not apply to convicts guilty of murder, terrorism or state security crimes, or the thousands jailed after the putsch which took place on July 15.
“The regulation refers to crimes committed before July 1, 2016. The crimes committed after July 1, 2016 are outside its scope,” Bozdag said.
“As a result of this regulation, approximately 38,000 people will be released from closed and open prisons at the first stage.”
The timing means that it is impossible that anyone detained for complicity in the coup can be released as part of the mass parole move.
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.
– ‘Prisons jam-packed’ –
The state-run Anadolu Agency said that as of August 16 there were of 213,499 people in Turkish prisons while the total capacity was only for 187,351 people.
Prison numbers in Turkey had risen exponentially in recent years but that those detained after the coup still make up a significant proportion of the prison population.
It is likely that releasing convicts not linked to the coup will make room for the alleged coup plotters who still face trials and heavy jail sentences.
Hurriyet columnist Akif Beki wrote on August 11 that “prisons are jam packed” and asked: “How can that many be arrested without making any space?” he asked.
Bozdag, however, did not outline his reasoning for the move.
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 oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power.
Gulen vehemently rejects the charges but Turkey has embarked on a relentless drive to expel what Erdogan calls his “virus” from all public institutions.
In the latest move Wednesday, the authorities fired another 2,692 civil servants mostly from the police, the official gazette announced. Some 75,000 people have already been dismissed from their jobs over alleged links to Gulen.
– Biden to visit –
Turkey has pressed the United States to extradite Gulen to face trial back home, with Turkish prosecutors already demanding a symbolically tough punishment of two life sentences and 1,900 years in jail.
US Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Ankara next week, the White House announced, in the highest ranking visit to Turkey by any Western official since the coup.
Turkey has been deeply upset by what it has described as the lack of solidarity shown by Western leaders in the wake of the coup and is sure to press Biden on the extradition issue.
With concern also surging over the authorities’ attitude on press freedom, security forces sealed and raided the premises of the pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem following a court order to shut it down.
A Turkish official said that the closure had nothing to do with the state of emergency but because the court found the paper was acting as a mouthpiece for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
But Ozgur Gudem said in a statement on its website that two dozen people were detained in the police raid on its offices. Meanwhile its board member Asli Erdogan — a prominent writer — was detained in a police raid on her home, Turkish media said.