9 international human rights groups have called on governments aroud the world, NGOs and the UN to push the Turkish government to release political prisoners and “condemn its use of the pandemic to further target human rights defenders.”

The right groups — Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Article 19, English PEN, Freedom House, Human Rights Foundation, Index on Censorship, PEN International, PEN Turkey, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights — released a joint statement on Monday in which they criticized the Turkish parliament’s earlier decision to exempt thousands of political prisoners from inmate early release plan to limit spread of COVID-19.

“On April 14, a day after the Turkish Justice Ministry announced the death of three prisoners to COVID-19, parliament passed a law to release up to 90,000 prisoners, including those convicted of organized crime and attempted murder (early drafts included sex offenders). The law, however, specifically excludes tens of thousands of those imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights, including human rights defenders, journalists, political leaders, academics, and lawyers targeted by Turkey’s overly broad “anti-terror” legislation,” the statement said.

Referring to Turkey as “the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East,” the statement accused the Turkish government of not being transparent enough on the flow of information regarding the spread of the Covid-19.

“Turkey is an epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East, with over 180,000 confirmed cases, although data compiled by the New York Times indicates that Erdogan’s government is concealing a far greater number. The government maintains a tight seal on the flow of information and the public health ministry is the only body providing information on the virus. According to the most recent statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey and China are the world’s largest jailers of journalists, with Turkey “having stamped out virtually all independent reporting.”[3] Since the outbreak began, at least seven journalists and editors-in-chief have been arrested—and others summoned for questioning— for reporting on COVID-19.”

Early in April, Turkey’s parliament passed a bill that allowed the release of tens of thousands of prisoners as part of the country’s ongoing struggle against the COVID-19 epidemic. However, political prisoners who are convicted or being held in pre-trial detention over “terror or/and coup” links were exempted.

So far, around 45,000 prisoners were released from prison to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Thşs number does not include thousands of purge-victims, which include journalists and politicians swept up in a crackdown following a coup attempt in 2016 have not been released from prison anytime soon.