Pregnant women and women with small children who have been jailed as part of an ongoing government witch-hunt against followers of the Gülen movement have been experiencing serious problems and rights violations in Turkey’s jails, according to a story in the Cumhuriyet daily on Thursday.
The plight of the pregnant women and women with children in prisons has been brought to Turkey’s national agenda by human rights activists. For its report, Cumhuriyet interviewed four such women through their lawyers and detailed what kind of hardships they are suffering in jail.
More than 17,000 women were arrested in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, which, according to the Turkish government, was masterminded by the Gülen movement.
The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed coup.
According to Cumhuriyet’s report, some of these jailed women are within weeks of delivery, while others are pregnant in addition to having a small child with them.
In most cases, these women are not allowed prenatal medical care and frequently contract infections in prison due to the lack of hygiene as well as adverse conditions.
The jailed pregnant women who spoke to Cumhuriyet are Merve Aydeniz Çokyılmaz, Mualla Kübra Alvar, Elif Aydın and Emine Ay.
Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of the human rights commission in the Turkish parliament and a medical doctor, human rights activist and deputy of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), told the daily that pregnant women are unlawfully jailed in Turkey.
Pregnant women are held in prisons although the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) says “the punishment for pregnant women should not be executed.”
“This criterion of the rule of law is being violated, so all humanitarian criteria are violated,” Gergerlioğlu said.
The case of Merve Aydeniz Çokyılmaz
Merve Aydeniz Çokyılmaz, a medical doctor, is eight-and-a-half-months pregnant. She was arrested on March 4, 2018, as part of an investigation carried out by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement. She has been accused of using the ByLock mobile phone messaging app, which is the top communication tool among followers of the Gülen movement according to Turkish authorities, and is being held in the Bakırköy Closed Women’s Prison.
Çokyılmaz’s lawyer, Münevver Öz, told Cumhuriyet that her client was taken to a doctor only once at the end of July during her pregnancy. She also stated that after her examination, she was informed that the baby was too big and was in an inverted position in the womb.
Öz said the prison cell where Çokyılmaz is being held is too crowded and that the conditions there are unbearable for a pregnant woman. Çokyılmaz once picked up an infection and faced the risk of losing her baby.
The indictment against Çokyılmaz was accepted by the İstanbul 30th High Criminal Court, and the first hearing will be held on Oct. 10. Thus, it is now certain that Çokyılmaz will deliver her baby in prison. Çokyılmaz’s husband is also reportedly in prison in Edirne province over his alleged links to the Gülen movement.
The case of Mualla Kübra Alvar
Mualla Kübra Alvar is a prisoner who is seven months pregnant. She was arrested on March 1, 2018, based on the testimony of another suspect who benefited from the effective repentance act. She was arrested by a court and put in Tarsus Prison over her alleged links to the Gülen movement. She was sentenced to ten-and-a-half years in prison by the Kastamonu High Criminal Court on the grounds that she was allegedly using ByLock.
Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since the failed coup.
Alvar has reportedly been suffering from some injuries to her body stemming from extreme temperatures and pregnancy. Alvar’s sister Mevlüde Ahukuş said her sister constantly asked the prison authorities for permission to go to a hospital, to no avail. She also noted that her sister’s health and psychological state had deteriorated following the death of cellmate Halime Gülsu.
Gülsu, who was arrested on Feb. 20, 2018 for allegedly helping the family members of jailed followers of the Gülen movement, died in late April in a prison in Mersin province, reportedly due to deprivation of the medication she took for lupus erythematosus.
According to a report by online news outlet Kronos, Gülsu was not given her medication for her 15 days of detention or afterwards in a cell in Tarsus Prison that she shared with 21 people. Her health report was lost by prison officials. Due to health problems, she was taken to Mersin City Hospital on April 25. But she was sent back to prison, where she went into a coma and died. Prison officials did not act despite calls for help from her cellmates, Kronos reported.
The case of Elif Aydın
Elif Aydın is a prisoner who is five-and-a-half months pregnant. She has been held in the Gebze Closed Prison for three months. She has two children aged two and seven. She takes care of her 2-year-old son in prison. Her 7-year-old-son is with his father.
Aydın was sentenced to six years, 10 months in prison over her alleged links to the Gülen movement. Aydın’s lawyer Elvan Bağ Canbaz said the judge hearing her client’s trial had told Aydın, “If you care about your children, tell us what you know in order to see them again,” and ruled for the continuation of her imprisonment.
Aydın’s husband, Çetin Aydın, told the Cumhuriyet daily that he has to leave her son with friends while at work because there is no one else to look after him.
The case of Emine Ay
Prisoner Emine Ay, an “education consultant” at a private school in Bitlis province, is four months pregnant. She was detained on July 4, 2018, in Gaziantep province together with her husband over their alleged use of ByLock due to a tip by another suspect who benefitted from the effective repentance act. Her husband was put behind bars in Adıyaman province.
She was reportedly taken to Bitlis from Gaziantep and held in the detention center of the counterterrorism branch for eight days. During her stay, a doctor told her that she faced the risk of miscarriage.
Ay was arrested by a court on July 11, 2018, and sent to Bitlis Prison. She has two children aged 3 and 7. Ay is looking after her 3-year-old daughter in prison. Her 7-year-old son has been looked after by her father-in-law. Her son is reportedly having psychological problems.
Ay’s lawyer Serdar Yazar told the Cumhuriyet daily that he warned the prosecutor about his client’s pregnancy and that the prosecutor responded to him by saying: “Nothing happens. I would like to have a police officer near my wife, [if she was in the same situation].”
Ay’s indictment has not yet been drafted. Ay’s brother Veysel Karani Yıldırım told the Cumhuriyet daily that they had difficulty in finding a lawyer during her custody.
Gergerlioğlu said he became aware of the problems of the jailed pregnant women through the letters he received, adding: “There are 22 people in a 10-person cell in Tarsus Prison. They combine two beds for three people to sleep in. A child who is staying with her mother had fallen off a bench and broke her jaw. They could not go to the hospital without filing at least seven or eight petitions.
“In addition, we also received information that there are pregnant prisoners in Tokat Prison. Seven or eight infants are staying with their mothers in this prison. The administration provides food with expiration dates that have passed for the babies. There are no toys or playgrounds in the prison. The prison authorities do not accept baby clothes if there is any writing on them.”
Underlining that the relevant law on pregnant women is being violated by judges and prosecutors, Gergerlioğlu added: “At the beginning of the state of emergency [which was declared following the failed coup], those who were investigated over links to the Gülen movement had difficulties in finding a lawyer. Lawyers requested extraordinarily high fees. Pregnant prisoners also have in difficulty finding a lawyer, and their lawyers have not been very interested in their cases. So we had to get news about these pregnant prisoners from their relatives. Since the defense lawyers appointed by the state haven’t shown much interest, severe punishments were handed down by the courts.”
“When the criteria of the rule of law are violated, humanitarian criteria are also violated. Nobody is looking at the issue from the perspective of human rights. Everybody is looking at the issue from their own political perspective. There is an effort to demonize people or groups or to justify injustice. This situation will be a matter of shame in the future,” added Gergerlioğlu.
There are currently more than 600 children in Turkish prisons. The mothers of most of the children in Turkish jails have been arrested as part of a government crackdown on the followers of the Gülen movement in the failed coup, and most of them are in pre-trial detention and not yet convicted of a crime.
According to data from the Turkish Justice Ministry concerning the number of children who are in jail with their mothers, there were 560 such children in 2016, 128 of whom were aged one, 114 aged two, 81 aged three, 70 aged four, 31 aged five and five of whom were aged six as well as 17 other children whose ages were not known by the authorities.
The women have been accused of providing scholarships, arranging sales, depositing money in private lender Bank Asya, sending their children to schools affiliated with the Gülen movement, subscribing to the Zaman or Bugün newspapers or using the ByLock smartphone messaging application. Women who go to hospitals seeking birth control or to give birth have also been clear targets of massive the post-coup witch hunt campaign conducted by Erdoğan government.
According to the Turkish Penal Code’s Article 5275, “the sentence of imprisonment is set aside/postponed for women who are pregnant or who are within six months of delivery.” Experts say that according to the law, the arrest of pregnant women and those who have infants younger than six months of age is not possible at all. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) also takes born or unborn children under protection.
However, women and mothers who have been jailed in the unprecedented crackdown have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention centers and prisons as part of the government’s systematic campaign of intimidation and persecution of critics and opponents, a report titled “Jailing Women In Turkey: Systematic Campaign of Persecution and Fear” released in April 2017 by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) revealed.
In several cases, mothers were detained in the hospital immediately after the delivery of a baby and before they had a chance to recover. Many mothers were jailed as they were visiting their imprisoned husbands, leaving the children stranded in the ensuing chaos.
A 28-page report issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in March 2018 emphasized on the detention, arrest, and torture of pregnant women and children in Turkey in 2017.
The report said that “OHCHR estimates that approximately 600 women with young children were being held in detention in Turkey as of December 2017, including about 100 women who were pregnant or had just given birth.
“OHCHR documented at least 50 cases of women who had given birth just prior to or just after being detained or arrested. OHCHR received a report concerning a woman who was sexually assaulted by a police officer during the arrest. Moreover, NGOs brought to the attention of OHCHR at least six cases of women who were detained while they were visiting their spouses in prison. They were either detained together with their children or violently separated from them.”
According to Justice Ministry data, more than 400,000 people were investigated over the Gülen links.
[Turkish Minute with Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF)]