Coronavirus: Sex offenders and domestic abusers in Turkey could be released under draft measures

Maya Oppenheim
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Men jailed for committing sex offences and domestic abuse in Turkey could be released from prison under draft proposals suggested to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

Campaigners warned the suggested measures would put women’s lives at grave risk and they had already left women deeply frightened.

Politicians from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party and the allied Nationalist Movement Party proposed a law to opposition party members on Tuesday which would allow around 100,000 of the country’s 300,000 prisoners to walk free.

A copy of the draft law, acquired by online publication Al-Monitor, revealed political prisoners and inmates convicted of terrorism and murder would not be released under the proposals.

The draft measures would mean inmates convicted of sexual assault, gender-based violence and drug trafficking who have served two-thirds of their sentences would be released but would be under probation.

Burcu Karakas, a prominent feminist journalist based in Istanbul, told The Independent the measures were set to be discussed in parliament next week.

Ms Karakas added: “If this bill is passed in parliament, it will be a nightmare for many women in Turkey. Women’s lives would be put at risk. I just talked to a woman who was physically abused by her ex-boyfriend. He attempted to kill her. She lost one of her eyes and has been through several operations. She is freaking out that he is going to be released from prison.

“She said she is crying like crazy and having nightmares. If this bill passes, this guy is going to be released. He said to her ‘when I leave prison, the first thing I am going to do is finish this business’. There are thousands of cases like this.

“But the women’s movement in Turkey is very strong and powerful. There has been a social media campaign against the prison measures. Women know how to raise their voice. I want to believe they are going to prevent this from happening.”

The first known prisoner to contract coronavirus in Turkey was diagnosed in Sincan prison in Ankara, the country’s second-largest city, on Tuesday and has been taken to intensive care since then.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East and North Africa Consultant at Equality Now, an NGO which promotes the rights of women and girls, said: ”The coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on criminal justice systems around the world. It is extremely concerning that in Turkey, the response has been to put forward a draft law that would allow reduced punishments for sex offenders and convicts of gender-based violence, including domestic violence.

“Police and women’s rights organisations around the world are reporting sizeable increases in domestic abuse since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. This includes Turkey, where women’s rights organisations are already receiving more calls to helplines. With quarantining lasting for weeks and potentially months, vulnerable women and children are facing an unprecedented situation in which they are in lockdown at home in stressful circumstances with offenders, placing them at greater risk of psychological, sexual, and physical abuse.

“This is accompanied by a reduction in support services, with women’s rights organisations, health care providers, courts, and police unable to function as normal. At this difficult time, the Turkish government should be doing all it can to provide additional protection and support to those at risk of gender-based violence, not reducing the amount of prison time served by perpetrators so that they are released into the community where they are able to re-offend.”

Ms Abu-Dayyeh called for Turkey to “strike the right balance” between safeguarding members of the public and the welfare of its prison population – adding that “sex offenders, violent inmates, and domestic violence offenders” should be barred from the inmates being considered for early release or reduced sentencing.

Coronavirus has killed 75 in Turkey so far, which has a total population of around 83 million, after cases skyrocketed in a fortnight to 3,629.

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