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Woman convicted of ISIL membership released to take care of her children

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A Turkish court has ruled for the release from prison of a woman who was convicted of terrorism due to her links to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to take care of her two children, Australian national broadcaster ABC reported.

The woman, Zehra Duman, 26, a dual Turkish-Australian citizen, was sentenced in September to seven years in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

A Turkish court decided on Duman’s release from prison in November after she served two months of her sentence. The court agreed to release her from custody because she is the only person able to care for her two children, Jarrah and Layla, who are under 6 years of age, ABC news said. Turkish law allows the deferral of imprisonment of mothers with small children and pregnant women.

Duman, who traveled to Syria from Melbourne in 2014 and fled to Turkey in 2020, where she was detained, was stripped of her Australian citizenship in mid-2019 over her connections to ISIL.

She became one of the most notorious among Australian women who lived under ISIL when, in early 2015, she released a series of social media posts taunting Western governments.

Duman is also one of several Australians or former Australians who have been captured fleeing Syria and charged by the Turkish government over alleged association with ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

Duman is now living in what amounts to parole in an unknown location in Turkey with her children, ABC news said.

Duman’s release, which has not been covered by the Turkish media, is likely to spark a debate about mothers who are jailed with their small children in Turkey and not allowed to benefit from the law allowing their release.

Since a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, Turkey has been conducting a witch-hunt against people from all walks of life on charges of “coup involvement.”

Many women jailed with their young children, immediately after delivery or while pregnant are linked to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the failed coup. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

According to legal experts, the arrest of pregnant women or women with babies falls afoul of the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures, which stipulates that “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half.” But the detention and arrest of pregnant women and mothers with babies have been continuing unabated in Turkey.

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