Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a letter last week calling on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release journalists, civil society activists, and members of the political opposition “who do not appear to have committed any criminal acts.”

Rep. Engel’s letter came in response to Turkish parliament’s earlier decision to exempt thousands of political prisoners from inmate early release plan to limit spread of COVID-19.

“We are deeply troubled that the prison release policies enacted by the Turkish Parliament —because they barred the release of those detained on charges of terrorism, treason, or violating Turkey’s intelligence law, as well as those in pretrial detention – intentionally exclude these journalists, activists, and political opposition figures from consideration for release. And while we understand the need to exercise caution with such a release policy, we urge you to give these journalists, civil society activists, and political opposition figures the same treatment as others who have been released to house arrest to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rep. Engel said in his letter.

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.

Who is included in Erdogan’s release law?

1-  Among the inmates that are released today is notorious Turkish mafia leader Alaattin Çakıcı.He was convicted of establishing and leading a criminal organization, masterminding a murder, instigating assault and insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with each carrying a lengthy prison sentence.

2- Emre Esmer, a speeding drunk driver who caused a crash that killed 19-year-old İrem Su Akkaya in March 2019, will be released within this week. Esmer was given almost 9 years in prison.

3- Any inmate who was convicted of sexual abuse, sexual intercourse with minors, and any other rape offenses, will be released should they completed three-quarters of sentence.

3- Any inmate who was convicted of illegal drug production and trafficking, will be released should they completed three-quarters of sentence.