Jailed opposition leader’s wife calls for inmates’ release over COVID-19 worries

A jailed opposition party leader’s wife has called for the immediate release for inmates in Turkey in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

The call by the wife of Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who is currently behind bars, comes as the ruling AK Party works on a draft bill that will reportedly free nearly 100,000 inmates.

Basak Demirtas called on the Turkish authorities on Friday to suspend the imprisonments and to immediately release the prisoners, including her husband, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This [the release] is required by universal law, as well as humanity. What is on all of us is to raise our voice [against the imprisonments amid the epidemic] before facing death in prisons,” Demirtas said in video footage released on her Twitter account.

Like many, she was not allowed to visit her husband for the first time during the 176 weeks he has been in jail because of precautionary measures taken in the prisons against the pandemic.

Including the ban on prison visits, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has started taking stricter measures since last week against the spread of the virus, such as suspension of education at schools and universities, cancellation of all congregational or collective worship.

Ankara also postponed all matches of soccer, basketball, volleyball, and handball, which were among the last to continue playing matches. 

The former HDP leader’s wife also added that the precautionary ban on the visits in the prisons is insufficient, referring to the unhealthy conditions there.

While crowded indoor gatherings are being canceled worldwide as they create the perfect conditions for the virus to spread, families of Turkish prisoners are demanding the release of their loved ones over worries of deadly novel coronavirus contagion.

Earlier this week, the Edirne High-Security Prison, where Selahattin Demirtas is kept, was alleged to have been quarantined. However, the Edirne Prosecutors’ Office later denied the claims.

On Friday, Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul further stated that there had been no reports of any inmates contracting the coronavirus in the Turkish prisons.

Ever since a failed coup in July 2016, Turkey’s prisons have been overcrowded, with the number of inmates reaching 286,000 while the capacity is only 218,950, according to the ministry of justice.

The number increased following the putsch with the arrest of tens of thousands over terrorism charges, including journalists, academics, judiciary&security personnel, public officers, businesspeople.

The Justice Minister signaled on Friday that a law had been prepared to release around 100,000 prisoners.

On Wednesday, following the declaration of a 21-point economic package in a bid to curb the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Turkey’s economy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the justice minister to complete the preparation for the legislation, according to a report by daily Milliyet.

The law, which is expected to be brought to the parliament next week, will reportedly free nearly 100,000 prisoners, excluding those who were sentenced over sexual assault, narcotics, terrorism and recurring offenses.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, an HDP MP and prominent rights advocate, reacted to the alleged scope of the draft law on Twitter.

“[The inmates who are] women with child, patients, elders, and the handicapped should be the first [to be freed]. You cannot say ‘there is no release for terrorists’ after deeming thought crime as terror and sending people to prisons. Do justice and treat equally!” the MP tweeted.

Turkey’s death toll from the coronavirus has reached 9 and a total of 670 people have been confirmed infected across the country as of late Friday.

The pro-Kurdish leader Demirtas, one of Turkey’s best-known politicians, has been in prison since November 4, 2016, on a number of offenses that include terror-related ones, facing 142 years in prison if found guilty in the main case.

The AKP accuses the HDP of having connections to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a separatist Kurdish group that has waged a decades-long armed struggle against the Turkish state.

Turkish lawyers demand urgent action for inmates over COVID-19 outbreak

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