Gov’t hopes to release coup victims from prison with new bill

Gov’t hopes to release coup victims from prison with new bill

Selçuk Özdağ

May 14, 2012, Monday/ 17:38:00/ HABİB GÜLER

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is working on a new bill to release a number of convicts who were sentenced to prison after the March 12, 1971 and Sept. 12, 1980 coups d'état.

Thousands of people were imprisoned after the coups by martial law courts on the grounds that they were members of a terrorist organization and posed a threat to the republic as they were traitors. Some of them are reported to still be behind bars. They will be released from prison if the government manages to pass the bill in Parliament. In addition, many people who fled Turkey after the two coups out of fear that they would be sent to jail are expected to return if the bill is passed. Government officials say the new bill is part of efforts to erase the traces of the bloody coups in Turkey. So far Turkey has been subjected to four major military interventions -- May 27, 1960, March 12, 1971, Sept. 12, 1980 and Feb. 28, 1997.

Currently, investigations are under way into the Feb. 28 military intervention along with the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état as well as a large investigation into Ergenekon, a shadowy criminal network which has alleged links within the state and is suspected of plotting to overthrow the government.

The bill declares all decisions of martial law courts set up after the 1971 and 1980 coups “null and void” and people sent to jail by those courts after the coups will be set free. According to the bill, many people were tortured by officers at the courts and the courts cannot have been impartial and independent in their decisions due to their anti-democratic nature.

There are currently three people who were imprisoned after the 1980 coup and all three have been behind bars since. Around 1,000 people were initially pardoned by courts and released from prison in the years following the 1980 coup but were imprisoned again after committing other crimes. After they were re-imprisoned, their initial pardons were removed. If the new bill is passed in Parliament, they will be pardoned once again from the alleged crimes they committed prior to the coup. In addition, there are around 100 people who fled Turkey after the 1980 coup d’état and who are still not allowed to enter Turkey.

The government also plans to wipe clean the official records of people who were barred from becoming civil servants because they were imprisoned after the coups. Consequently, former convicts will be allowed to be employed as civil servants. AK Party Manisa deputy Selçuk Özdağ said his government is working on an important bill that aims to reinstate the rights of people who were punished unjustly after the coups. “All [court] decisions made after the coups should be considered null and void. We do not say that no one committed any crimes during the coup eras, but those who did were punished in the most severe manner,” he added.

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