Turkey coup: Release for 38,000 prisoners jailed before coup

Sincan prison outside Ankara. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some 183,000 people are being held in Turkey's prisons, which have been swelled by people detained over the coup

Turkey is to release conditionally 38,000 prisoners jailed before last month's failed coup, while its jails are crowded with new detainees.

Some 35,000 people have been detained or arrested since the 15 July coup, although the government has not said its move is to free up space for them.

The justice minister said those who had served half their sentence, rather than two-thirds, would be eligible.

Crimes such as murder and sex abuse would be excluded, he said.

It is clear that the post-coup clampdown has stretched the prison service to breaking point and extra capacity is urgently needed, the BBC's Mark Lowen reports from Istanbul.

Some 187,000 people were being held in Turkey's 364 prisons this year, according to figures published in March by Turkey's justice ministry (in Turkish). That figure was already 4,000 higher than the capacity and the recent detentions have placed the system under extra strain.

Turkey under strain - by Mark Lowen, BBC News, Istanbul

The government is not directly linking the decision on prison release to the post-coup clampdown - it would not accept there is a problem with prison overcrowding,

But when more than 23,000 people are under arrest or detention within a month, any country would struggle to cope. Turkey's prison population has more than trebled since the governing AK Party came to power in 2002, with reports of prisoners sleeping in shifts.

Capacity will be stretched even further with the new arrests.

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Media captionTurkey coup - a month on

Rights groups here believe political opponents are being rounded up under the pretext of backing the coup-plotters or the alleged mastermind, US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. But the government insists that all those detained or investigated have proven links to the Gulen network.

The biggest purge in Turkey's modern history is straining the country. Judges and police are among those fired, so processing cases will be even harder. But the government says that the gravest attack the Turkish state has ever faced requires the sternest of responses.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag emphasised the conditional release did not apply to anyone convicted of crimes committed since 1 July, which automatically disqualifies anyone arrested in the aftermath of the failed coup a fortnight later.

It was not an amnesty, he added.

Since the coup failed, Turks have witnessed a purge of people in the military and public services suspected of supporting US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating the plot.

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Media captionBarbara Plett-Usher explains why Fethullah Gulen has been blamed for the Turkey coup.

As well as thousands of detentions, 82,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs. Further dismissals were reported on Wednesday, affecting 2,360 police and dozens of civil servants and staff from the military and coast guard.

Some 240 people died resisting the coup, as rebel parts of the military tried to seize control of Turkey, sending tanks into Ankara and Istanbul.