Why Turkey's post-coup crackdown is good news for some prisoners

In an apparent effort to make room for thousands of detainees apprehended in the wake of a July coup attempt, Turkey will release 38,000 prisoners.

Osman Orsal/Reuters
Turkish gendarmes work outside the Silivri prison complex near Istanbul, Turkey, on Aug. 5.

Turkey is freeing 38,000 prisoners in an apparent effort to make room for those arrested as part of an ongoing crackdown following the failed coup of July 15.

The conditional release is one of several reforms presented on Wednesday in two new decrees that also ordered the dismissal of 2,360 police officers and hundreds of personnel in the military and the information and communications technology authority. The government accuses the fired officials and staff of having links to Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey blames for engineering the coup attempt, in which at least 270 people died.

"This measure is not an amnesty," wrote Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag on Twitter, according to the Associated Press. "The punishment will be served outside through supervised release." 

Inmates with two years or less remaining on their sentences will be eligible for release on probation, with the exception of those convicted of terrorism, murder, and other crimes of a violent or sexual nature. They must also have served half of their sentences in order to be eligible.

Mr. Bozdag did not elaborate on what had prompted the measure. But with 188,000 people imprisoned in Turkey as of March, facilities are 8,000 heads over capacity. And as the government has sought to purge the press, judiciary, police and military of what it sees as a "parallel state" loyal to Mr. Gülen, some 35,000 people have been detained and more than 17,000 will face charges.

The new measure coincides with the first formal accusations against Gülen in connection with the coup plot. According to the state-run Anadolu Agency, a prosecutor in western Usak province has submitted an indictment that seeks two life sentences and 1,900 years in jail for the cleric, as well as tens of millions of lira in fines, charging him with organizing a plot to topple the government and murder President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The indictment is the result of an investigation that precedes the attempted coup by several months, focusing initially on allegations of wrongdoing by Gülenists.

Turkey has repeatedly demanded that the United States immediately extradite Gülen, who lives in reclusion in rural Pennsylvania. US officials say their Turkish counterparts have not yet provided clear enough evidence of Gülen's involvement to justify an extradition. The cleric denies any involvement with the coup attempt.

In late July, The Christian Science Monitor reported that Turkish officials were evoking the specter of a man once considered the United States’ chief enemy.

Admonishing the US government to remember how the Al Qaeda leader orchestrated the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan, Turkish officials on Tuesday announced that a formal request for extradition of the 'terrorist' cleric Fethullah Gülen had been presented to the US along with four files of evidentiary documents.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said no one asked the US to prove that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Addressing the US … he said, "Do not protect this traitor any more."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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