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Turkey announces amnesty for criminals to clear space for political prisoners

Turkey announces amnesty for criminals to clear space for political prisonersTurkey issued a decree Wednesday paving the way for the conditional release of some 38,000 prisoners, the justice minister said — an apparent move to reduce its prison population to make space for thousands of people who have been arrested as part of an investigation into last month's failed coup.

The government decree, issued under Turkey's three-month long state of emergency that was declared following the coup, allows the release of inmates who have two years or less to serve their prison terms and makes convicts who have served half of their prison term eligible for parole. Some prisoners are excluded from the measures: people convicted of murder, domestic violence, sexual abuse or terrorism and other crimes against the state.

The measures would not apply to crimes committed after July 1, excluding any people later convicted of involvement in the failed July 15 coup.

The government says the attempted coup, which led to at least 270 deaths, was carried out by followers of the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who have infiltrated the military and other state institutions. Gulen has denied any prior knowledge or involvement in the coup but Turkey is demanding that the United States extradite him.

The Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on Gulen in the aftermath of the coup. Some 35,000 people have been detained for questioning and more than 17,000 of them have been formally arrested to face trial, including soldiers, police, judges and journalists.

Turkey's 180,000-person prisons were already filled to capacity before the crackdown on Gulen's movement, with some rights groups claiming that inmates were forced to take turns to sleep on beds. Turkey has issued several prison amnesties over the past decades to ease conditions in its prisons, but the measures proved unpopular with the public.
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