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Turkish Coronavirus Trojan Amnesty

Those who have had the luck to access literature in Greek myths and legends must remember the ancient City of Troy war story component recorded in chronicles as the Trojan Horse. In its spirit, today’s digital generation behind computers bewares alerts of the highly dangerous Trojan virus.

The time gap notwithstanding, both experiences share a common denominator—irrespective of factors and multiples. That is, a people’s sugar-coated fatal poison – an ill-intentioned motive behind what (falsely) tastes or sounds good.

To borrow from analog photography, those in politics symbolically develop, fix, dry and index the Trojan Horse film in darkroom cabinets, ready for printing any time for  display or exhibition.

This befits the story of today’s Turkey within the circumstances of the novel Coronavirus which has disrupted life in every aspect from global to grassroots levels, denying families even the slimmest chance of holding befitting funerals for their loved ones.

Come the contagious Coronavirus marauding experience being felt under the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 pandemic tag name, the Turkish government appreciated the global good of responding to containing its spread. But, behind the world health overseer guidelines of test, trace, isolate and treat, Turkey has crafted a package which has turned out to be Trojan for its people and the world.

Prompted by the Coronavirus risk to staff and inmates and the commensurate need for stemming its spread in prisons, Turkey took the move of pushing forward a bill reducing prisoners by about one-third. But, fact-based results from contacts with prisoners and their families have revealed the opposite. They expose ill-gotten government Trojan intentions by opening prison gates to convicted inmates and holding back suspects. What an amnesty!?

A report released by the Istanbul branch of the Lawyers for Freedom Association (ÖHD) and the Association of Solidarity Prisoners’ Families (TUHAY-DER) on prisons, which work closely with prisoners and their families in Turkey, point to an alarming spread of COVID-19 infections among inmates.

“This is not fair. This is not equal. This is not just… Of course, like many other countries we have to focus on this overcrowding in prisons. We have to ease this situation, but should do it with fairness and equality,” a parliamentarian for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Utku Çakırözer, was quoted as saying.

Utku Cakirozer

Former editor-in-chief, he punched three key incriminating injustice holes in the new law. On the ground, thieves and child pornographers have been released, leaving behind people who are held in pre-trial detention. So to say, convicted criminals walk Turkey’s streets free, as those who could end up being found innocent remain behind bars!

This so-called amnesty excludes political prisoners – the likes of journalist Ahmet Altan, activist Osman Kavala, and former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş. 

A statement issued by 24 international rights and free speech groups condemned Turkey’s “new measures (as) unjustifiably exclude(ing) tens of thousands who are imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their rights.” Çakırözer adds this is “in violation of the Turkish Constitution,” and emphasizes: “They have been left to face this virus in the prisons.”


Human Rights Watch’s Turkey Director Emma Sinclair says many inmates are placed in lengthy pre-trial detention or sentenced without evidence that they committed violent acts, incited violence, or provided logistical help to outlawed armed groups.

A nine-demand statement to immediately release women, children and disadvantaged groups whose right to life cannot be safeguarded while incarcerated during the coronavirus pandemic has been issued by 393 women’s rights defenders. 

Among the demands, the joint statement also calls on the Turkish authorities to “ensure that (prisoners) with chronic diseases and the elderly, who are at highest risk in the outbreak, can serve their sentences at home”.

The statement says: “… the places where arrestees and convicts stay are disinfected once a month, they are not give(n) enough cleaning and hygiene products and they are not given masks and gloves. Canteens in prisons do not have disinfectants with alcohol that are effective against the virus and the products are sold at the canteens at excessive prices.”

The question is: Even within the wanting supplies situation in place, where from and when do the inmates earn the money with which to foot the high prices? What presents this from being a death trap set to serve a political end of eliminating the (sometimes perceived) opposition?

For example, what do the Turkish children in jails have to do with their country’s politics that they should remain behind bars or even die in circumstances like those of the most recent case of nine-year-old Ahmet? Ahmet succumbed to cancer after the government denied him a chance for treatment in Germany because of perceived ties between his father and Fethullah Gulen!

Very latest figures reveal 44 prisoners having contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus in Istanbul’s Silivri prison, famous for holding many of Turkey’s political prisoners.  Bakırköy prosecutor’s office announces two prisoners having tested positive against a further 42 prisoners tested positive being reported in some independent media outlets

An amendment is brought forward that “40 infected inmates did not show any symptoms and are currently being isolated, while the other four infected prisoners are receiving treatment in hospital.” On its part, Turkey’s Justice Ministry announces that three prisoners had died.  

Earlier reports reveal 65 inmates in Izmir’s Buca Prison and 32 staff and inmates at a prison in the central province of Konya having been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The combination of all this creates the next elevation of the   Turkish Coronavirus Trojan Amnesty in the new law. This the choice of newspapers to be barred from reporting in prisons on top of being denied advert placements from the state Press Advertisement Agency (BİK).

erdogan 1
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

According to Çakırözer, “this agency has in the last year started to punish newspapers without any judicial decisions, just because of what they write, or their headlines.” The agency is used “as a stick on the head of the press institutions …against the right of the people to get informed.”

Latest Reporters without Borders media watch annual world press freedom index ranks Turkey 154th out of 180 countries behind autocratic states like Russia, Brunei, and Belarus. Turkey holds the world’s record number of jailed journalists.

Under good amnesty law practices care has to be taken about the risk of beneficiaries reverting to crime, which is also a public concern. One man, who had just served six months on his jail term for stabbing his wife, reportedly beat his 9-year-old daughter to death.    

Circumstances on the ground in Turkey are those of:

  • Full evidence that COVID-19 is quickly spreading in already over populated prisons.
  • Measures to stem the outbreak are falling entirely short, devoid of requisite healthcare facilities and equipment for staff and inmates.
  • Special law has been enacted to ‘free’ prisoners except politicians, journalists, academics, and human rights defenders.
  • United Nations call for political prisoners to be among the first to be released in the pandemic response being ignored and thrown out of the window.
  • Independent media barred from prison entry and starved of commercial advertising income.

The Turkish Coronavirus Trojan Amnesty picture, maybe, is better painted by several US Congress members in their latest letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They argue: “Turkey’s crackdowns on journalists and political opposition are fundamentally problematic. To then hold these detainees while prisoners are released during the pandemic calls into question the true motivation…” One thing is certain.  Response of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the pandemic will contribute to significant loss of life in Turkish prisons. By the rule of elimination, the majority deaths will involve political opponents. What a Turkish Coronavirus Trojan Amnesty!

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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