In recent times, there have been persistent rumors about the potential declaration of a general amnesty on the occasion of the Republic's 100th anniversary. It is speculated that an amnesty law will be enacted, slated to come into effect on October 29, 2023. While there has been no official announcement regarding this matter, numerous civil society organizations and some political parties have been vocally advocating for a general amnesty.
In the meantime, the Minister of Justice has recently announced their preparation of a judicial reform strategy document and a human rights action plan. Nevertheless, it remains uncertain whether these initiatives encompass the consideration of amnesty.
As a well-known legal institution, general amnesty entails the dismissal of public cases and the removal of criminal convictions along with their associated consequences for the crimes covered by such amnesty, as determined by law. Given that general amnesty may lead to a state of impunity for certain offenses, it is a remedy that should be employed sparingly, reserved for truly exceptional circumstances. Frequent use of amnesties can foster a perception of impunity and potentially serve as an incentive for criminal behavior.
The call for amnesty in Turkey has been driven by the significant number of individuals who have faced trials and penalties for offenses classified as political crimes, such as crimes against the state or terrorism-related charges. The alarming reality is that a diverse range of individuals, including politicians, journalists, civil society activists, academics, and those affected by state of emergency decrees, have been subjected to legal proceedings and sanctions based on vague accusations. These accusations often relate to actions that should be protected as the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms. Consequently, this widespread pattern has generated a prevailing sense of injustice within society.
Moreover, numerous international observers have highlighted the unpredictable and expansive interpretation of terrorism legislation in Turkey, often accompanied by vague and arbitrary applications of legal concepts. Notably, esteemed organizations such as the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Commission have issued repeated warnings regarding the erratic application of criminal legislation, which is deemed inconsistent with the principles outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled on several occasions that certain articles of the Turkish Penal Code, including Articles 125/3, 220/6, 220/7, 299, 301, and 314 are subject to unpredictable enforcement, resulting in systemic issues that contravene Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention.
There is therefore no doubt that unfair sentences have been imposed and that many people have been unjustly deprived of their liberty.
However, the critical issue is whether these injustices can be redressed by a general amnesty. The main reason for the unpredictable and broad interpretation of terrorism and criminal legislation is the fact that the judiciary has been placed under the influence of the executive and the ECtHR judgments are not taken into account by the judicial authorities despite the explicit command of the Constitution. Therefore, injustice is caused by the fact that the institutional independence and impartiality of the judiciary is not guaranteed and practices have moved away from the rule of law. Therefore, the real solution is to return to the rule of law and guarantee the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
Nevertheless, it is unrealistic to anticipate an immediate development in the short term. Hence, advocating for an amnesty, particularly on behalf of those who have been unjustly deprived of their liberty, becomes imperative. It is crucial that such an amnesty prioritizes genuine victims.
For instance, the government has previously amended execution legislation in both 2020 and the summer of 2023, resulting in the granting of special amnesties to ordinary criminals, leading to the release of hundreds of thousands of individuals. However, what remains deeply troubling is that political prisoners, who are widely regarded as the primary victims, were not encompassed within the scope of these regulatory changes. This raises a serious concern that a new amnesty may once again exclude political prisoners, a prospect that is entirely unacceptable.