11-month-old baby forced to accompany mother sentenced to 9 years in prison

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Yasemin Melizci, 29, who was arrested on terrorism charges for alleged links to the Gülen movement and was accompanied by her 9-month-old daughter in pretrial detention, has been handed down a nine-year prison sentence, Bold Medya reported.

Melizci’s baby Saime will continue to live with her mother in a prison cell, although the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures stipulates that the “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last 18 months.”

Melizci and her husband Kasım Melizci, 32, were accused of membership in the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, based on witness testimony and for using the ByLock encrypted messaging app.

The couple has been in prison since January 21, 2021, and Saime was made to stay with her mother in a quarantine cell during the first weeks. The arrest of mothers with babies has been cause for concern among activists and critics because quarantine wards are notorious for their poor conditions and overcrowding.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Turkish authorities claim that ByLock was a communication tool used exclusively by members of the movement to ensure the privacy of their conversations. Yet, the app was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

In an opinion the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said using the ByLock application is the mere exercise of freedom of expression, a right protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

According to a report published Sunday by Sezgin Tanrıkulu,  a human rights defender and deputy from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), there are currently 17,000 women in prison and 800 children under the age of three.

A separate report has said that prison conditions were dismal and that the basic needs of children and babies, such as milk and toys, were not provided.

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