Turkey is by far the leader in the number of prisoners convicted of terrorism in Europe according to the 2021 Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations report, better known as SPACE I, released on Tuesday.
The report also shows how easily the Turkish government, which has been criticized by international human rights organizations and the United Nations for the implementation and scope of its anti-terror law, turns its citizens into terrorist convicts.
According to an analysis by Nordic Monitor based on SPACE I data, 32,006 people convicted of a terrorism-related crime are currently behind bars.
A total of 30,555 of these people, or 95 percent, are in Turkish prisons. In other words, Turkey hosts almost all prisoners convicted of terrorism in Europe. Turkey is followed by the Russian Federation with 1,026 prisoners, or 3.2 percent of the total number of terror prisoners. Spain is in third place with 195 inmates.
Following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a witch-hunt launched by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which declared opponents as terrorists, has yielded the result that a record number of Turkish citizens were investigated and convicted of terrorism.
According to official statistics, terrorism investigations were launched into 2 million people between 2015 and 2020. Given the fact that the Turkish population over the age of 18 is 59 million, one in every 30 people in Turkey has faced trumped-up terrorism charges.
Members of the Gülen movement, a group that is critical of the government, constitute the overwhelming majority of those who were prosecuted and convicted.
According to data compiled from official statistics on terrorism convictions between 2015 and 2020 by Solidarity with OTHERS, a nongovernmental human rights organization based in Brussels, terrorism investigations were launched into 1,977,699 people by prosecutor’s offices all over Turkey.
A total of 320,063 people were sentenced to various lengths of imprisonment on terrorism charges between 2015 and 2020. A total of 290,000 were released because their time in prison corresponded to the sentences they received, because they had completed their sentences or because they were free on appeal, waiting for a higher court to either uphold or reverse their convictions.
Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation has been criticized by the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United Nation’s human rights bodies and international human rights organizations for years. A joint UN letter penned by special rapporteurs underlined that Turkey’s anti-terror law (No. 3713) does not comply with its international legal obligations and that the country’s anti-terror legal framework should urgently be revised.
In the letter, the rapporteurs recommended a review and reconsideration of the anti-terror framework. “We express concern that Turkey’s anti-terror legal framework in its current form does not conform to international counter-terrorism nor human rights standards … [and that it] be reviewed in order to ensure … compatibility with Turkey’s international legal obligations,” the UN letter stated. According to the letter, the anti-terror law limits the exercise of freedoms of opinion, expression and association and impacts the right to a fair trial and the prohibition of arbitrary detention.
A detail that draws attention in the SPACE I report is that while the number of people in prison decreased in all European countries between 2011 and 2021, this figure increased by 89.3 percent in Turkey.
According to SPACE I – 2021, on January 31, 2021 there were 1,414,172 inmates detained in the 49 prison administrations of Council of Europe member states that provided this information (out of 52), which corresponds to a European prison population rate of 102 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants. Statistics that are available for both 2020 and 2021 show that the rate — which was 104.3 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020 — dropped to 101.9 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021.
The countries with the highest incarceration rates on January 31, 2021 were Russia (328 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants), Turkey (325), Georgia (232), Azerbaijan (216), Slovakia (192), Lithuania (190) and the Czech Republic (180).
In the report, which is published annually by the Council of Europe, the number of personnel compared to the number of prisoners is also examined. Turkey is one of the countries with the highest “prisoner/personnel ratios” The figure is 3.9 in Turkey, 2.9 in Georgia, 2.8 in Greece, 2.5 in Serbia, 2.5 in Moldova and 2.4 in Poland.