New law puts Turkish justice under question
Following four-week intense legislation activities, the Turkish Parliament went on recess until early June. The most important amendment the Turkish lawmakers did was on the law on criminal sentence executions which paved the way for the release of more than 90,000 inmates from prisons.
Considered by many as an amnesty law, the controversial legislation has triggered a serious, widespread and multidimensional political and social discussion in the country. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) based the need for a drastic overhaul of the criminal execution law on deteriorated conditions of the Turkish prisons due to overcrowding and on avoiding the spread of the coronavirus.
With the release of around 90,000 inmates, one-third of the Turkish prisons has now been emptied, giving an opportunity for the government to ameliorate the conditions of the prisoners.
The mass release of the prisoners through an amnesty law is not welcomed in any country. It tarnishes the sense of justice and plants the concern of impunity into the minds of the people. Plus, prison sentences would turn out to be less deterrent as execution periods for ordinary crimes are decreased.
In the political front, there are more substantial angles. First, releasing inmates from the prisons should not be seen as the only way to keep the prisons in better shape. A substantial judicial reform to prevent long detention periods and to implement detention as an exceptional measure would be much more effective.
Second, keeping journalists, academics and activists behind bars while freeing criminals has not only hurt the public opinion’s conscience, but also the already broken image of Turkey.
“The legal amendments by the Turkish Parliament allowing the release of 90,000 prisoners, but excluding those imprisoned for their political activities and citizens in pre-trial detention is a great disappointment. We had hoped that the Turkish Parliament would adopt a fair, responsible and non-discriminatory law that would save lives from being lost in overcrowded Turkish prisons,” read a statement issued by European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey, Nacho Sánchez Amor, and chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, Sergey Lagodinsky.
It was interesting and concerning to observe that government lawmakers introduced a last-minute amendment to abandon the proposal of regulation of the execution of the crimes against the National Intelligence Agency Law to half, which is implemented as two-thirds execution. The objective of the removal of this provision from the drafted law was to prevent four journalists from benefiting the amnesty.
As a result of this move, a court in Istanbul has turned down the appeals made by journalists Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan, Murat Ağırel and Hülya Kılınç who wanted to be released. These journalists were detained a few weeks ago on charges of exposing the identity of a martyred intelligence official in Libya.
Along with these journos, hundreds of prisoners of thought are also exempted from the amnesty as they are charged with crimes against the state or terrorism. That takes us to another key problem.
The Turkish Penal Code draws a very broad and vague definition of terrorism. This has been an issue of discussion between Turkey and the European Union as part of the visa liberalization process since mid-2016. The Justice Ministry has long been working on different formulations with the contribution of the Council of Europe, but no concrete result yielded so far.
Last week’s release of tens of thousands of criminals has inflicted yet another blow on the already eroded justice in Turkey.
Furthermore, keeping journalists who have not yet been sentenced in prisons has unfortunately doubled the blow.