Melek Çetinkaya, a rights activist who had been arrested on terror charges over her remarks on a TV broadcast during which she refused to call Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen a terrorist, was released on Monday after being held in isolation for two months.
Çetinkaya, the mother of a cadet who was jailed for life on coup charges, has been fighting for the release of cadets who claim they were unaware that a coup was underway as a putschist bid unfolded on July 15, 2016, when rogue soldiers failed in their attempt to take over the government after skirmishes with pro-government factions.
Çetinkaya appeared live on the pro-government Akit TV on July 12, when the host abruptly interrupted the broadcast after she said, “No low-ranking officer has been convicted of coup charges before. [Defense Minister] Hulusi Akar was a lieutenant during the 1980 coup d’etat, and [former Prime Minister] Binali Yıldırım was an ensign. Weren’t the putschists traitors? Why then have they become a minister and prime minister?”
Ankara accuses the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Muslim cleric Gülen, of orchestrating the failed coup and has designated the group as a terrorist organization. Gülen and movement affiliates deny the allegations.
Çetinkaya refused to call the Gülen movement a terrorist organization during the broadcast and said: “I had neighbors from the Gülen Movement. They were good people.” These remarks constituted the basis of her arrest in Turkey, where praising a crime or a criminal is considered a crime.
After the July 15 coup attempt, 355 military cadets were sentenced to life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the government.” The cadets’ mothers have been attempting to secure the release of the cadets, who are age 19 and under. The instigator of the protests was Melek Çetinkaya, whose 19-year-old son Furkan Çetinkaya was sentenced to life in prison.
Melek Çetinkaya has been detained a number of times during her protests on the streets of Ankara. Her attempt to initiate an intercity march was thwarted by the police.
Moreover, Çetinkaya made her voice heard on YouTube and Twitter. The incident that led to her arrest was her appearance on Akit TV, which is close to the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and is known for its pro-government editorial policy.
Following Çetinkaya’s announcement that she would participate in the live broadcast on Akit TV, her followers on Twitter were divided. Despite the warnings of a trap from some of them, she appeared live, saying, “I must make my voice heard everywhere.”
During the program, host Fatin Dağıstanlı asked Çetinkaya about the Gülen community and whether she sees Gülen as a “terrorist.” Çetinkaya stated that she was appearing on the program to discuss the situation of her son and the 355 other cadets who were given life sentences and that she did not want to talk about either the Gülen movement or politics.
After persistent questioning, Çetinkaya said: “I had neighbors from the Gülen movement. They were good people.”
The next day, an investigation was initiated by the Istanbul Küçükçekmece Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office into Çetinkaya, claiming that she praised Fethullah Gülen. On July 17, 2020 the Küçükçekmece Penal Court of Peace arrested Çetinkaya and jailed her for “praising crime and criminals through the press and disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization.”
Çetinkaya was held in isolation for two months at the Bakırköy Women’s Prison. In a message sent through her lawyers, Çetinkaya said: “I am very upset after seeing the conditions under which our children are forced to live in prison. But as a mother, experiencing the same difficulties as my son comforted me.”
Çetinkaya was released at her first hearing after two months of detention. Her release especially pleased cadets’ families, who are also known to the Turkish public as “cadet mothers.”
Çetinkaya has become well known for the regular protests she has been holding for four years in front of the ruling party’s provincial building and the Human Rights Monument in Ankara, demanding a fair trial for all former cadets, including her son Furkan Çetinkaya in Silivri Prison,.
Çetinkaya’s protests, including her “justice march” from Ankara to Silivri Prison in Istanbul (503 kilometers/313 miles), were all interrupted by the police. Activists and human rights defenders from various walks of life had been supporting Çetinkaya’s protests.