Turkey mulls return of death penalty after Erdogan's wildfires threats

Erdogan said the punishment for burning forests should be "intimidating" to the point of death sentences, words taken by Turkey's justice minister as "instructions."

 TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a ceremony in Istanbul, last year. (photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a ceremony in Istanbul, last year.
(photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)

Turkey will reconsider a 2004 decision to abolish capital punishment, the justice minister said on Saturday, after President Tayyip Erdogan raised the death penalty in connection with the cause of this week's wildfires.

Capital punishment was struck from the constitution in the early years of Erdogan's rule. But after a suspected deliberate blaze destroyed 4,500 hectares (11,119 acres) of Aegean coastal forest, Erdogan said tougher justice was needed.

Authorities have said that a suspect detained in connection with the fire has admitted to causing it. The blaze, in woodland near the resort of Marmaris, has been contained, authorities said on Saturday.

After visiting the scene on Friday, Erdogan said the punishment for burning forests should be "intimidating, and if that's a death sentence, it's a death sentence."

Speaking to reporters in the eastern town of Agri on Saturday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the president's comments "are instructions to us."

 Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan inspects a wildfire as his helicopter flies over disaster zone near Marmaris, a town in Mugla province, Turkey, June 22, 2022 (credit: MURAT CETINMUHURDAR/PPO/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan inspects a wildfire as his helicopter flies over disaster zone near Marmaris, a town in Mugla province, Turkey, June 22, 2022 (credit: MURAT CETINMUHURDAR/PPO/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

"We have started working on it as the ministry," Bozdag said, adding that the current punishment for starting wildfires was 10 years in prison, rising to a possible life sentence if part of organized crime.

Recent wildfire a tragic reminder for Turkey

The country's first big blaze of the summer began on Tuesday and conjured memories of last year's fires which ravaged 140,000 hectares of countryside, the worst on record.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Thursday that the detained suspect had admitted to burning down the forest out of frustration due to family issues.

Local officials told Reuters in recent days that authorities lacked the necessary equipment and personnel for another summer of fires. Read full story

On Friday, Forestry Minister Vahit Kirisci said 88% of forest fires in Turkey were started by people.