Turkish deputy launches campaign for release of prisoners over coronavirus concerns

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Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, deputy, in parliament.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of parliament and one of Turkey’s most prominent human rights defenders, has submitted legislation for the postponement of prison sentences due to the worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the Medyascope news website reported on Monday.

In an interview with Medyascope, he said there are nearly 300,000 people in Turkey’s prisons, a number far above the country’s prison capacity. He pointed out that the problem of overcrowding in prison led to a scabies outbreak in the past.

Gergerlioğlu called in particular for the release of prisoners with a high risk of complications. “Sick and elderly inmates as well as pregnant women and mothers should be evacuated as a priority,” he told Medyascope.

“We have seen overcrowded prison wards during our visits. There was mold and humidity. People could not even breathe!”

He also pointed to imprisoned cancer patients, whose immune systems have presumably been weakened by their condition.

“It does not seem possible for prison administrations to manage such a crisis under these circumstances,” he tweeted on Monday.

“You are taking drastic measures for the general population, but not for the prisons. This is a huge wrongdoing!” he tweeted. “You cannot leave these people alone behind bars with a deadly disease.”

He also gave the example of Iran, where he said some 70,000 inmates were released due to the epidemic.

He also submitted a parliamentary question directed to the Ministry of Justice about the health conditions in the country’s prisons.

On Monday morning Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül made a presentation on the subject, stating that no inmate has thus far tested positive for the coronavirus and that meetings with lawyers have been restricted as part of measures to contain the epidemic.

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