Turkey's government admitted Friday that its slow legal system often leaves suspects jailed for years without a conviction, and it promised to investigate thousands of complaints such victims have filed at Europe's top human rights court.
There are around 131,000 people in Turkey's 370 prisons, and about 37,000 of them are being held while awaiting verdicts in their cases, according to information obtained by The Associated Press on Friday from the Justice Ministry under a Freedom of Information Act inquiry.
International observers have criticized such abuses in Turkey, a country that has long been vying for membership in the European Union.
Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said Friday that the lives of some of people in Turkey are being ruined by the slow legal process.
"Either the people's lives are ruined because justice has not been realized, or you put the people in jail and they stay there for years without knowing what the verdict would be. They are not convicts," Babacan said at a news conference.
He said his government is establishing a commission to review the thousands of complaints that have been filed at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, regarding lengthy detentions in Turkey.
Babacan said one reason for the delay in verdicts is a shortage of prosecutors and judges in Turkey, and that means even the simplest court cases often take three or four years to complete.
At a separate news conference, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said Friday that the number of complaints filed at the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey is expected to reach 3,500 by late September.
International observers have criticized the long detentions of hundreds of suspects, including top military figures, academics and journalists, who are accused of involvement in alleged conspiracies to topple the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some of the suspects have been in jail since 2008 without being convicted of a crime.
Ergin said the European court will decide next week whether to pick one such complaint as a test case to see if Turkey can resolve it. That will determine whether other such settlements are possible or whether the court will impose steep fines on Turkey.
"We hope that the number of cases against Turkey will be significantly reduced through settlement," Ergin said.
Turkey's justice system is extremely slow, and Ergin said the statute of limitations had expired on 14,000 cases last year alone.
Four instance, a Turkish court ruled Tuesday that had happened in the case of five suspects being tried over an arson attack that killed 37 people in 1993 in the central city of Sivas. Most of the victims in that arson attack were Alevi Muslims, members of Turkey's largest religious minority, and they were allegedly targeted because of their beliefs. Ergin said Friday that 79 other suspects in the case have been convicted and sentenced.