Thirty-two bar associations in Turkey, including those in Istanbul and the capital Ankara, issued a joint statement calling for immediate action for prisoners in Turkey in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
Authorities were being urged to release prisoners whose trials are ongoing, with the bar associations saying in their statement that the current policy of detaining people pending the outcome of their trials had been abused in recent times.
Such a policy must be abandoned in the face of imminent danger to the health of arrestees, the lawyers said.
They also called for the amendment of laws and bylaws to allow for the release of convicts who fall into high-risk groups such as the elderly and the sick.
According to Human Rights Association statistics, in December, there were 1,334 sick prisoners in the country’s prisons, 457 of whom were in serious condition.
Underlining the guidelines to fight the outbreak such as isolation in a sanitary environment, the lawyers’ statement claimed that the status quo in prisons is far from meeting the mandatory minimums to curb the spread of the virus.
The statement also called for other measures, such as equipping prison officials with the necessary tools to sustain a sanitary environment in penitentiaries and allocating more phone call time for prisoners to make up for the canceled visits.
Families and lawyers of Turkish prisoners have been demanding their release since the country confirmed the first coronavirus case last week. The Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Wednesday that the number of cases rose to 191, and a second patient had succumbed to the disease.
Authorities in neighboring Iran, one of the epicenters of COVID-19 outside China, decided to release nearly 85,000 inmates temporarily, a spokesman for its judiciary said on Tuesday, in response to the coronavirus epidemic.
Turkey’s prisons are overcrowded due to mass arrests that have followed a July 2016 failed coup.
According to the Justice Ministry, the country’s prisons had a 218,950-inmate capacity and an estimated total inmate population of 286,000.
This condition creates the perfect circumstances for the virus to spread, according to the World Health Organization, as crowded indoor gatherings are being canceled worldwide.