Former Turkish President Abdullah Gul has called on the Turkish government to include political prisoners and journalists in an amnesty bill that is set to go before the country’s parliament in an attempt to release around 90,000 inmates amid the spread of the fatal coronavirus (COVID-19).
Answering questions from columnist Murat Sabuncu from the T24 news portal, the former president joined the chorus of calls for non-discriminatory amnesty bill, addressing essentially Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“I believe that if the planned [amnesty] regulation on in the [penal] execution bill includes thought crimes with no hate, violence or terror [offenses], as well as media workers, it will address the feelings of equality and justice among the public during these tough times that we all are going through,” Gul said.
An inclusive approach in the upcoming provision would serve society’s good in terms of unity and solidarity, while also increasing the country’s image in the international world, Gul said.
“It is an obvious necessity for the regulation to include not only the convicted but also the arrested [with pending trials] in order to go through the current virus threat with minimum pain and loss,” the former president asserted.
Gul reportedly said he sees the regulation as an “opportunity” for normalization in the country where all political parties should work for it in close cooperation.
Sabuncu, known for his close link to Gul said in his column that he did not know how the call would be reacted to by Erdogan.
“If the [amnesty] bill is restricted only to ‘crimes against the persons and society’, we will face a situation that cannot be accepted legally and conscientiously. Moreover, such discrimination [by excluding many from the amnesty] threatens this time not only the freedom but also the lives [of the prisoners amid the virus spread],” Sabuncu wrote in his column.
Opposition parties and human rights organizations have been criticizing the AKP’s judicial reform package which excludes various of Erdogan’s dissident factions from the amnesty.
Erdogan has also been criticized by many for “mass and arbitrary arrests” as part of a crackdown targeting his opponents following an abortive coup in 2016.
Currently, 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.
On March 24 a Turkish Twitter user condemned Gul’s silence in a tweet.
“Dear Gul! Don’t you have anything to say about the execution bill? Or about innocent people who are now in prisons over [the AKP-] coined charges of a terror organization and about their lives under the threat of the epidemic,” the Twitter user said.
Sn @cbabdullahgul Sn @bulent_arinc
İnfaz yasasıyla ilgili söyleyeceğiniz bir şey yok mu❓,Ya da uyduruk terör örgütü yaftasıyla şu an cezaevlerindeki masum insanlar için ve onların salgın yüzünden tehlikede olan hayatları için.
— Mağdur Khk'lı (@MagdurumKhk) March 24, 2020
A founding member of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has ruled Turkey since 2002, Gul served as prime minister, deputy PM and then foreign minister before becoming AKP’s first president, a role he held from 2007 to 2014.
Gul has been criticized for his apparent acquiescence to Erdogan and for staying silent against the AKP policies during his tenure as president.
He, however, argues that he had always voiced his thoughts against the AKP’s wrong policies.
In February, Gul criticized the policies of his successor, speaking out against the executive presidential system.
Gul was also known for his support to Ali Babacan, another former AKP figure who once served as the AKP deputy PM, in his preparation for another new political party, Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA).
However, Gul was not declared among the founders of the DEVA last month when the party was unveiled.
In December, another one-time close ally of Erdogan, former PM Ahmet Davutoglu, established the Future Party to rival the AKP.