Turkey has announced the first coronavirus cases and related deaths in its 286,000 prison population.
The announcement on Monday by the country’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul comes as Turkey’s Parliament considers a prison release bill that is aimed at easing overcrowding in jails and protecting inmates from the virus.
In a press release issued on Monday, Gul revealed that three Turkish inmates died from the virus while receiving treatment in hospital, while 17 others in five prisons had contracted the virus.
— T.C. Adalet Bakanlığı (@adalet_bakanlik) April 13, 2020
The minister said those with the virus, including the three deceased, were inmates of Turkey’s open prisons, where inmates can have permits to leave the prisons once or twice a month.
He said no coronavirus cases had so far been reported in closed prisons.
Gul provided no details on the whereabouts of the deaths and the 17 cases, only saying the necessary precautions had been taken in all prisons.
He said 13 of the 17 infected inmates were in a good medical condition, while one was in an intensive care unit due to his ailing health.
Gul also said 14 judges, 32 prosecutors, 79 wardens, and 34 staff at forensic medicine institutions had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a Member of Human Rights Inquiry Committee, reacted to the minister on his Twitter account, accusing him of covering up the deaths and corona cases in Turkish prisons.
Günlerdir vaka açıklıyorum, vakaları ilk açıklayan vekilim!
Günlerdir @abdulhamitgul vakaları gizliyordu,sonunda açıklamak zorunda kaldı!
Çünkü reddedilemeyecek haldeydi..!
Açıkladığı 17 mahkum vaka,(1' i yoğun bakım), açıkta diyor, ya 79 cezaevi çalışanı hangi cezaevinde.!?
— Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu (@gergerliogluof) April 13, 2020
“For days, I have been revealing the [corona] cases [in the Turkish prisons]. I am the first lawmaker announcing them. [The minister] Gul had been covering [up] the cases. Finally, he had to announce because the cases are too high to hide,” Gergerlioglu claimed.
The HDP MP also questioned the minister’s remarks on the whereabouts of the cases.
“[The minister] says that 17 confirmed cases are in the open prisons. Well, where are [the contracted] 79 wardens [then]? [Are they in open prisons too?],” the MP asked, referring to the alleged undisclosed cases in the closed prisons.
The minister’s statement came as the Turkish parliament is discussing a prisoner release law that will free around 90,000, almost one-third of the inmates in Turkey.
Many have been criticizing the draft law as it excludes political prisoners from release, including those awaiting trial or found guilty of terrorism. Most of the excluded are journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians, human rights defenders, and dismissed public officials who were jailed following a failed coup in July 2016.
According to the recent ministry of justice figures, Turkey’s prisons are overcrowded, with the number of inmates reaching 286,000, while the capacity is only 218,950.
In many countries, crowded indoor gatherings are being canceled as they create the perfect conditions for the virus to spread, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Turkey has nearly 57,000 confirmed corona cases and a death toll of 1,198, according to the statistics released by the country’s health ministry on Sunday.