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Turkey releases almost 34,000 prisoners 'to make space for more coup plotters'

Only inmates convicted before 1 July were freed under the scheme

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 02 September 2016 10:14 BST
A supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves a flag against an electronic billboard during a rally in Kizilay Square on 18 July, 2016 in Ankara, Turkey
A supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves a flag against an electronic billboard during a rally in Kizilay Square on 18 July, 2016 in Ankara, Turkey (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Almost 34,000 inmates have been released from prisons in Turkey in a suspected move to free up space for thousands of people detained over a failed coup.

The move appeared to be part of measures announced last month to allow the release of inmates unrelated to the attempt to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Those who had served half their sentence were eligible, with crimes such as murder and rape excluded from the scheme.

Analysts suspect the mass release is a move to make room in Turkey’s overcrowded jails to allow the imprisonment of more alleged coup plotters.

Bekir Bozdag, the justice minister, said 33,838 prisoners convicted before 1 July who had demonstrated “good behaviour” were released on Thursday evening.

Turkey’s failed coup strains relations with the West

The United Nations and EU have raised concern over a series of purges and crackdowns following the attempt on 15 July, which sparked the detention of more than 40,000 people.

Those arrested include civil servants and academics accused of supporting the Gulen movement, which authorities blame for the coup, and thousands of public sector workers have been suspended or sacked.

More than 130 media outlets have been shut down, with dozens of journalists detained, while prisoners have reported torture and abuse.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warned last month that the purges may violate international law.

“While we understand the sense of crisis in Turkey, we are concerned that the government’s steps to limit a broad range of human rights guarantees go beyond what can be justified in light of the current situation,” experts said in a joint statement.

“Turkey is going through a critical period. Derogation measures must not be used in a way that will push the country deeper into crisis.”

The amnesty came amid continuing disputes between the Turkish government and EU over a deal struck earlier this year to reduce refugee crossings over the Aegean Sea.

Mr Erdogan said his administration had only received a small fraction of the €6 billion (£5 billion) pledged in support of 3 million refugees Turkey currently hosts.

“What happened? The support given until now is €183 million," he said on Friday.

“And they did not give it to us, they gave it to Unicef. No country can stand alone in this crisis. Unfortunately the promises on this issue are not kept.”

Some Turkish politicians have threatened to pull out of the deal over the funding and delays to visa-free travel within the EU, sparking concerns the route used by hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers to reach Greek islands last year could reopen.

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