Turkey : ICJ urges extension of alternatives to detention for prison population amid COVID-19 crisis

The ICJ is calling on the Turkish Parliament to extend the planned provision of alternatives to detention in response to the COVID-19 crisis to all those imprisoned for non-violent crimes who do not pose a current threat to members of the public, regardless of the nature of the offences for which they have been charged.

In particular, alternatives to detention should apply to all those detainees who are particularly at risk at losing their life or suffering severe health effects from COVID-19.

Measures to protect the right to life, the right to health and other human rights must apply equally and without discrimination in line with Turkey’s international legal obligations.

The government have announced the tabling of a draft law to reduce the prison population that has been under discussion in recent months. The process has been accelerated with the purported aim of addressing the serious health risk that an outbreak of COVID-19 contagion would pose to the prison population. However, the draft law has not been adapted to address the health crisis and contains several shortcomings.

The new measures would grant alternatives to detention, including house arrest or early parole to an estimated one-third of the prison population.

This welcome move is however limited by the exclusion of those convicted or under trial for terrorism offences or offences against the State.

“In Turkey, terrorism offences and offences against the State have long been abused to arrest, try and jail human rights defenders, lawyers, judges and political opponents,” said Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Adviser for the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme. “The rights to life and health of these groups are now at particular risk.”

The ICJ considers that it is also essential that all detainees who are members of a group whose life or health may be at risk because of COVID-19 have either access to alternatives to detention, if they do not pose a current threat to public safety, or, otherwise, to detention conditions that may preserve them as far as possible from such risk.

 “The State has a non-derogable obligation to protect the right to life of all its prison population, without discrimination of any sort,” Massimo Frigo added.