Disabled woman convicted on terrorism charges due to alleged Gülen links

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Fatma Cömert

A young woman with physical disabilities has been handed down a jail sentence of six years, three months on terrorism charges due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in 2016, Bold Medya reported on Wednesday.

The jail sentence was ordered for Fatma Cömert, 28, by the Aydın 2nd High Criminal in a development that shocked the young woman, who is wheelchair bound and was born with disabilities that prevent her from using her hands and legs properly.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) label the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, as a terrorist organization and immediately blamed the group for the failed coup that took place on July 15, 2016. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed putsch.

“I am a person who has to lie in bed all day. My mother takes care of all my needs. Why they have given me jail sentence [I simply can’t understand],” Cömert said, expressing frustration over the verdict.

An investigation was launched into Cömert in May 2019 on charges of terrorist organization membership due to her alleged links to the Gülen movement. In the first hearing of her trial in September 2019, the woman was told by the judge that she did not have to attend the other hearings because of her disability. The trial was concluded on Nov. 5 and she was sentenced to prison for using ByLock, a smart phone application that is believed to have been a secret communication tool among followers of the Gülen movement.

If the sentence is upheld by an appeals court, Cömert will have to go to prison. The woman said she hopes the higher court will overturn the Aydın court’s ruling since going to jail would be tantamount to death as she cannot continue living alone without the help of her family.

Cömert’s prison sentence attracted widespread criticism on social media, with many expressing outrage.

Rebecca Harms, a former member of the European Parliament and an expert on Turkey, tweeted: “There are two many awful stories about the fate of people imprisoned in Turkey. The case of Fatma Cömert is especially terrible. What can be done?”

Harms was appealing to a group of European politicians and human rights organizations about Cömert’s case.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of the Turkish Parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a prominent human rights activist, asked in a tweet aimed at Turkey’s Justice Ministry, “What conscience would accept such a court ruling?” as he expressed shock about the prison sentence given to the disabled woman.

The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated in October 2018 that detention, arrest and conviction based on ByLock use in Turkey violated of Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

As part of a massive government-led crackdown on the Gülen  movement, Turkey has removed over 130,000 civil servants from their jobs and arrested or detained nearly 80,000 people in addition to prosecuting more than 511,000 over suspected links to the self-exiled preacher.

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