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Turkey Excludes Jailed Journalists From COVID-19 Release Plan

FILE - Press freedom activists read opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet during a demonstration in solidarity with the jailed members of the newspaper outside a courthouse, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 28, 2017.

Turkey’s government has excluded journalists from a plan to free approximately one-third of prisoners in response to the coronavirus.

If passed, the law would allow for prisoners to be released early to house arrest or other probationary measures, according to the Council of Europe (COE) platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists.

Press freedom groups including the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are pressing Turkey and other countries to release jailed journalists as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread.

In a statement published Monday, CPJ said that at least 250 journalists are currently jailed across the globe.

Last week, the World Health Organization warned that prisons and close-quartered detention facilities are among the most difficult places to contain an outbreak.

“CPJ has long held the view that jailing journalists for what they publish, broadcast, or write is a violation of international law,” Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, was quoted as saying in the statement.

Noting the spread of COVID-19 through prisons, Simon said world leaders should take “decisive action to free all journalists behind bars, as a matter of life and death.”

Turkey’s proposal excludes those imprisoned on terrorism-related charges, according to the COE journalism safety platform.

Ankara shut down dozens of news agencies in the wake of an attempted coup in 2016 and had 47 journalists in jail, most on terrorism-related charges, according to the CPJ numbers.

“The independence and courage of these journalists has already cost them their liberty. Now it may cost them their lives,” Oliver Money-Kyrle, IPI’s head of Europe advocacy and programs, said in a statement on Turkey’s draft law.

“Continued imprisonment would almost certainly reduce access to urgent medical care,” he added.

Turkey’s draft law is expected to be passed within days, Amnesty International reported.

Other countries with coronavirus cases and where CPJ data show high numbers of jailed journalists include China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Middle East rights groups, including the Washington-based Tahir Institute for Middle East Policy, called on governments in the region to order the immediate release of nonviolent offenders, including “those whose continued detention is not justified.”