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Turkey to Release Some 45,000 Prisoners over Coronavirus

Turkey to Release Some 45,000 Prisoners over Coronavirus

Tuesday, 31 March, 2020 - 17:00
A woman walks across the iconic Taksim Square, deserted due to the coronavirus outbreak, Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. (Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party said on Tuesday it proposed a bill that would temporarily release roughly 45,000 prisoners in response to the risk that the coronavirus could spread in jails.

A separate reform included in the legislation, which the AK Party (AKP) and its allies sent to parliament, would release another roughly 45,000 inmates permanently.

There are about 300,000 prisoners in Turkey’s crowded jails. The government has been working on reforms to ease pressure on the system, while human rights groups have said infections could easily grow there.

The move comes after the number of confirmed virus cases in Turkey rose to 10,827 on Monday, less than three weeks since it registered its first case. The national death toll is 168.

Inmates who have completed half of their sentences will be eligible for release under the plan, senior AKP deputy Cahit Ozkan told reporters. It would exclude those convicted of terror or drugs related crimes, offences of a sexual nature and murder and violence against women.

That would mean that dozens of journalists and human rights defenders would be excluded because many of them have been imprisoned on terror-related charges.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups had called on Turkey to ensure that the proposed legislation releases journalists, activists, opposition politicians and others imprisoned for expressing dissenting opinions under the country's vague anti-terrorism laws.

Separately, Turkish defense and electronics firms are teaming up to produce 5,000 ventilators to help treat coronavirus patients, the head of a military drone manufacturer said on Tuesday.

Baykar Chief Executive Haluk Bayraktar said 100 engineers from his company, defense contractor Aselsan and household electronics maker Arcelik were working together to have the ventilators ready by the end of May.

They will be accelerating production of a ventilator made by Turkish biomedical company Biosys, of which only 12 are currently being used.

“Initially, we are racing to deliver 1,000 ventilators by mid-April,” he told Reuters, adding that they would be handed over to Turkey’s health ministry.

Turkey diagnosed its first coronavirus patient less than three weeks ago, but the number of cases has surged since then to more than 10,000, with 725 people in intensive care.

Governments and hospitals globally have pleaded with manufacturers to speed up production of ventilators to cope with a surge in patients struggling to breathe.

Bayraktar said some components were currently being procured from abroad while his company and Aselsan set up a domestic supply network for the ventilator components.

The military companies will make the parts for the ventilator, which will be mass produced by Arcelik.

“It is possible to produce this ventilator for $6,500 while an imported equivalent would cost some 20,000 euros,” he said. “This is the first step of mass production, the costs might fall as production numbers increase.”

Baykar’s military unmanned aerial vehicles have played a crucial role in Turkish cross-border operations against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northeast Syria and against Syrian regime forces in Idlib province.

He said some companies have paid for the production of more than 1,000 ventilators to be given to the health ministry as part of a charity campaign initiated by his company.

Other countries have also sought to step up ventilator production. Britain has ordered 10,000 devices from a consortium of leading aerospace, engineering and Formula One racing companies, while in the United States Ford Motor Co said it will produce 50,000 over the next 100 days.

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