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Turkey to Free 38,000 Inmates to Make Room for Coup Detainees


FILE - Turkish gendarmes work outside the Silivri prison complex near Istanbul, Turkey, Aug. 5, 2016.

Turkey is set to release 38,000 prisoners in an apparent move to make space for thousands of people arrested as part of an investigation into last month's failed coup. Meanwhile, more putsch-related dismissals and arrests are taking place, despite calls for proportionality from Ankara’s Western allies.

In a tweet Wednesday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag announced the release of the prisoners sanctioned by a government decree under the current Emergency Rule.

No reason was given for the early release, but in a statement an official said only non-violent prisoners would be freed and they would remain under supervision.

Nearly 20,000 people have been arrested since last month’s coup attempt.

Human rights groups in Turkey have claimed the prisons are so overcrowded that detainees are being forced to sleep in shifts.

Overcrowding at issue

Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner of London-based Amnesty International said even before the latest detentions, Turkey was facing chronic prison overcrowding.

"The concerns we have had regarding prisons, especially recently, following the huge numbers of detentions following the coup attempt, is overcrowding in prisons. From that perspective, it is possible the large number of releases will help this situation," Gardner said.

But observers say the mass release of prisoners is a sign there will be no let-up in the ongoing crackdown. The government has vowed to root out all those who supported the failed military takeover. More than 240 people died resisting the coup.

FILE - Soldiers suspected of being involved in the coup attempt are escorted by policemen as they arrive at a courthouse in the resort town of Marmaris, Turkey, July 17, 2016.
FILE - Soldiers suspected of being involved in the coup attempt are escorted by policemen as they arrive at a courthouse in the resort town of Marmaris, Turkey, July 17, 2016.

Amnesty International’s Gardner said there also are concerns about the treatment of those being detained.

"Especially after the first week of the coup attempt there were very serious allegations of ill-treatment in places of detention. Now there are concerning reports of arbitrary practices in prison, including some accounts of ill treatment in prisons, which are very concerning. But also we have heard reports of people being beaten during transfer from courthouse to prison. We have heard cases of people being beaten during transfer from one prison to another," Gardner said.

Concerns about rule of law violations

Bozdag has dismissed allegations of mistreatment; but opposition parties are voicing concern for the rule of law to be respected, a call echoed by Turkey’s Western allies.

There are also concerns over the growing numbers of detentions and the more than 70,000 dismissals of people working for the Turkish State. This week, nearly 300 people working in Istanbul’s law courts were detained and arrest warrants issued for scores of businessmen.

The head of international relations for the Turkish presidency, Ayse Sozen Usluer, said due process will be observed.

"This is just a precaution taken in Turkey. This does not mean everybody will be in the judiciary process or they will be sentenced. Or they can even go back to their work," Usluer said.

The government warns the ongoing crackdown will continue, and with room in prisons being created for 40,000 more people, more arrests are expected.