Turkey frees thousands of criminals from prisons 'to make space for coup suspects'

Turkey is set to free thousands of criminals from prison seemingly to make space for thousands of suspects rounded up on suspicion of involvement in a failed coup against president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Some 38,000 prisoners were told they will get an early release under emergency measures apparently aimed at freeing up room in Turkey's overcrowded jails for an influx of suspected uprising plotters.

More than 40,000 people have been detained on suspicion of playing a role in the failed military-led uprising against the president on July 15, almost half of whom remain in custody.

40,000

Number of people detained on suspicion of involvement in the failed coup

38,000

Number of criminals to to be released from jail early under the new measures

Convicts with less than two years left to serve are now to be freed immediately on probation, according to a penal reform announced in a decree.

The "supervised release" excludes those convicted of terrorism, murder, violent or sexual crimes. Prisoners had previously been freed when they had one year left to serve.

The first of those to benefit from the scheme were released from jail on Wednesday, shortly after the change was announced.

Prisoner Turgay Aydin told a Turkish news agency that he was delighted at the early release in an interview outside the country's largest prison to the west of Istanbul.

I'm really happy to be released from jail. I wasn't expecting anything like this. I thank President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I've come to my senses. After this I will try to be a better, cleaner person. >

Turgay Aydin
President Erdogan and his wife Emine Gulbaran greet supporters at a rally Credit: Reuters

Critics have said that the response to the coup is being used as a pretext for a crackdown by an increasingly autocratic Erdogan.

Questions had also been asked over how the state planned to detain such a large number of people in within a prison system that is already overcapacity.

The government gave no reason for early release measure, but its prisons were already straining capacity before the mass arrests that followed the coup.

In an interview with A Haber television, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdagsaid 38,000 people would initially be released, but as many as 93,000 could benefit from the programme.