Turkey set to release some 45,000 inmates in coronavirus response

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President 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.

Those temporarily released under the coronavirus measure would be moved from open prison to house arrest, Ozkan said, adding lawmakers will start debating it next Tuesday.

House arrest would also be possible for prisoners who are more than 65 years old and for women who are looking after children under six years old, he added.

The AKP and its nationalist MHP allies prepared the bill and they hold a majority in the 600-seat assembly so it should become law.

Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer