Coronavirus: human rights organisations urge Turkey to release political prisoners during pandemic

Turkey has 10,827 total infections of Covid-19 and 168 deaths

German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel and his wife, Dilek Mayaturk Yucel, are pictured in front of their home after Deniz Yucel was released from prison in Istanbul, Turkey, February 16, 2018. Depo Photos via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. TURKEY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN TURKEY.

Amnesty International and 25 other organisations on Monday urged Turkey to release jailed political activists as part of a bill under consideration to contain the coronavirus spread.

With 10,827 Covid-19 cases reported in Turkey, Ankara is seriously studying a draft law to release up to 100,000 imates, a third of its estimated prison population.

Human rights and press freedom groups Including Reporters withour Borders released a statement on Monday advocating for imprisoned journalists and activists.

“We remain concerned that journalists, human rights defenders and others imprisoned for simply exercising their rights, and others who should be released, will remain behind bars in the package of measures as currently conceived by the government,” they said.

They mentioned high-profile journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan, Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, and businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala among those jailed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says Turkey is the second biggest jailer of journalists in the world after China.

It estimated in December that 47 journalists were in Turkish jails.

“We, the undersigned, call on the government and Parliament to respect the principle of non-discrimination in the measures taken to lessen the grave health risk in prisons,” the statement by the 26 organisations said.

Last week, Human Rights Watch welcomed the prisoners’ release bill but said there should be no discrimination on the basis of political opinion.

Other groups such as Human Rights Solidarity urged the release of political inmates and warned that the prisoner population included thousands of children with their mothers.

The number of patients with Covid-19 is rising rapidly in Turkey, which now has the 12th highest number of cases globally. There were 1,608 new cases reported on Monday.

The state is urging people to stay home. Turkey’s usually crowded squares, such as Taksim in Istanbul, have had the greatest police presence.

Turkey also reported 37 people dying from the virus on Monday, taking its toll to 168.