Even the COVID-19 cannot stop politics. The recently adopted “Amnesty Law” in Turkey is another proof of the authorities’ relentless crackdown undertaken to quiet dissident voices. While 90,000 inmates were freed, 50,000 held on bogus terrorism charges have been left aside. Among them are journalists, politicians, human rights defenders, students or simply critics of the government’s policies.
President Erdogan can do so through the exploitation of a vague definition of terrorism included in article 7§2 of the Law on the Fight against Terrorism. But he also relies on the use of a judiciary that lacks independence and is being used as a primary weapon against dissent. Under Erdogan, the judiciary has been a target and weapon of political power. The judicial system has been central in his efforts to dismantle democratic institutions and establish an all-powerful presidential system with very little checks against executive rule. Since 2014, President Erdogan has reshuffled and restructured the judiciary, undermining the right to a fair trial and rule of law in Turkey.
The AKP-MHP coalition is now moving forward in its crackdown against opponents, going from judicial harassment to possible ill-treatment and torture. By letting prisoners face unhealthy detention conditions during the pandemic, the State violates its primary obligations towards people deprived of liberty. Turkey is one of the countries with the highest number of infections and the most rapidly expanding infection curve. While infections numbered about 2,500 on 25 March, this number reached 110,000 on 27 April.
Many had called on the Turkish government not to adopt such a law. National and international bar associations and human rights NGOs requested that principles of equality be observed. They called on political prisoners not to be discriminated against. The UN, the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture underlined the need to free dissident voices imprisoned on bogus charges. Despite these calls, the government decided to continue its war on dissenting voices, putting their lives at risk and openly contravening, respectively, article 2 of the UN Convention against Torture as well as article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.