ISTANBUL - Turkey on Wednesday began freeing the first of some 38,000 prisoners not linked to the failed coup who are to be released in a move aimed at relieving pressure on prisons overcrowded with putsch suspects.

The parole decision came as Turkey presses on with the biggest purge in its modern history after the July 15 bid by rogue elements in the military to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the release was "not an amnesty" but the measure could eventually apply to almost half of the Turkish prison population which has swelled to over 200,000 since the attempted coup. It will not apply to convicts guilty of murder, terrorism or state security crimes, or the thousands detained after the putsch.

"The regulation refers to crimes committed before July 1, 2016. The crimes committed after July 1, 2016 are outside its scope," Bozdag said on Twitter. "As a result of this regulation, approximately 38,000 people will be released from closed and open prisons at the first stage."

According to Turkish officials, over 35,000 people have been detained since the coup attempt although almost 11,600 of them have since been released.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the first convicts began to be released from Istanbul's Silviri prison hours after the announcement.  One of the freed prisoners Turgay Aydin, was quoted as thanking Erdogan and saying: "I am very happy because I am released from prison. I was not expecting it."

Bozdag said in an interview with A-Haber television that the parole could in the end apply to 99,000 out of Turkey's current total prison population of 214,000. According to Anadolu, the total capacity of Turkey's prisons is for 187,351 people. Hurriyet columnist Akif Beki wrote on August 11 that "prisons are jam-packed" amid the post-coup purge and asked: "How can that many be arrested without making any space?"

Turkey is in the throes of a three-month state of emergency imposed after the coup, which the authorities describe as an attempt by the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen to overthrow the existing order. Gulen vehemently rejects the charges but Turkey has embarked on a relentless drive to expel what Erdogan calls his "virus" from all public institutions.

In the latest move Wednesday, the authorities fired another 2,692 civil servants mostly from the police, the official gazette announced. Some 75,000 people have already been dismissed from their jobs over alleged links to Gulen. Turkey has pressed the United States to extradite Gulen to face trial back home, with prosecutors already demanding a symbolically tough punishment of two life sentences and 1,900 years in jail.

US Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Ankara next week, the White House announced, in the highest ranking visit to Turkey by any Western official since the coup.

Meanwhile, Turkish police have detained at least 24 people working for a pro-Kurdish newspaper since it was banned this week on suspicion of supporting Kurdish militants, the newspaper said.   The detentions bring the number of imprisoned Turkish media workers to 99, based on figures from the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) media watchdog, making Turkey the world's biggest jailer of journalists.

A government official denied the action against Ozgur Gundem was linked to the state of emergency declared after a failed coup on July 15, but an international media watchdog saw it as part of President Tayyip Erdogan's widespread post-coup purge.

An Istanbul court on Tuesday banned the left-wing newspaper, which has a circulation of 7,500, after ruling it made propaganda for the banned PKK party and acted "as its de facto news outlet," according to the court document.

The PKK is the acronym for the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

At least 24 people were detained, Ozgur Gundem said according to its website, most of them on Tuesday in the raid on the paper's Istanbul office. Others were detained at their homes. Four journalists covering the raid for other outlets were also detained.

Eren Keskin, a rights activist, lawyer and columnist for the paper whose home was raided, confirmed the arrests.

Turkey has closed more than 130 media outlets since a state of emergency was brought in, stirring concern among Western allies and rights groups about deteriorating press freedoms.

Turkey blames the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, for the coup in which 240 civilians and security forces, and around 100 coup participants, were killed.

Critics accuse Erdogan of using the purge to crack down on broader dissent. But Turkish officials say they face an internal security threat exposed by the coup plot.

"What just happened at Ozgur Gundem, the historical Kurdish daily in Turkey, is unacceptable. Apparently, the authorities are using the post-coup state of emergency situation to attack all critical voices," said EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregard in a statement.

Among the detainees was Asli Erdogan, a prize-winning novelist, who wrote a column for Ozgur Gundem, according to the paper's website, which was still accessible outside of Turkey.

Authorities seized books at a home belonging to Ragip Zarakolu, a prominent human-rights campaigner and columnist at the Turkish-language daily. Police searched the home of politician Filiz Kocali, who also writes for Ozgur Gundem, and Eren Keskin, a lawyer, told Reuters her home was searched.

Calls to four Ozgur Gundem editors went unanswered. It was not immediately clear if they had been detained.

Ozgur Gundem focuses on the conflict with Kurdish militants in Turkey's southeast and has faced dozens of investigations, fines and the arrest of correspondents since 2014.

The PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency for greater autonomy in the name of Turkey's 15 million Kurds. More than 40,000 people have died in the violence.