Turkish parole boards delay prisoner releases unlawfully, says lawyer

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Lawyer İbrahim Halil Öyke stated on Monday that the Administrative and Observation Boards, which were set up to evaluate the ‘good behaviour’ or otherwise of convicted prisoners, have delayed the parole of at least 313 prisoners since 29 December 2020. The delays occur in six and three-month intervals and are based on arbitrary grounds such as “lack of good behaviour”.

In three prisons in Urfa (Riha) province, at least 20 prisoners have had their parole delayed for “lack of good behaviour”. Öyke, a co-chair of the Lawyers for Freedom Association (ÖHD) Urfa Branch, said that these delays were based on unlawful criteria. “Prisoners have their release dates postponed for refusing to express remorse”, he stated.

Öyke also noted that prisoners are subjected to physical assault and torture by prison officers, particularly when being moved from cell to cell. “We lodged a criminal complaint against the officers involved, but no action was taken”, he said.

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The boards are also accused of violating the freedom of thought and expression. Öyke explained that questions like, ‘What do you think of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]?’ and ‘Do you feel remorse?’ are posed to prisoners. “Coercion to express certain thoughts and ideas is a crime, and it is punishable by imprisonment”, he said.

Öyke criticised the lack of meritocracy in the selection of board members. He explained that the board receives payment for each meeting it holds, which means “the more frequent the meetings the more financial benefit to the board members”.

Öyke’s statements echo criticisms previously raised by the Human Rights Association (İHD). The İHD has argued that these boards are inconsistent with both the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The association also claims that the boards make arbitrary decisions based on “good conduct,” which is often subjectively determined by prison authorities. The İHD too raised suspicions about the issue of the economic motives of board members because of their “presence fee” for each meeting. The İHD has applied to the courts for the annulment of these boards and is awaiting a decision.

Öyke further stated that the decisions of the boards are influenced by the political climate rather than legal criteria. “There is discrimination based on the reasons for the convicts’ imprisonment. Political prisoners are not granted the same conditional release rights that are granted to those imprisoned for criminal offences”, he added.

The ÖHD urges immediate legal action and supervision, stating that the boards are acting in contravention of international treaties to which Turkey is a party. “There is no supervision of the boards. They make decisions based on the political climate”, Öyke concluded.

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