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Activists renew calls for release of incarcerated mothers with sick children

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Following the recent death of 6-year-old Yusuf Kerim Sayın, who was separated from his imprisoned mother during his struggle with bone cancer, human rights activists have renewed their calls to Turkish authorities for the release of parents with sick children, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported.

Singer Yeşim Salkım drew attention to the plight of sick children on social media and said innocent children’s lives had been destroyed. Former public servant and activist Acun Karadağ expressed condolences to Sayın’s family and said Turkish authorities had blood on their hands for not releasing his mother in a timely manner.

Tutsak Bebekler (Imprisoned Babies), a social media account dedicated to children who accompany their mothers in prison, said Yusuf Kerim Sayın should be the last child to suffer without a mother. They urged authorities to release other mothers and fathers whose children were sick.

A new law, dubbed the “Yusuf Kerim law,” was enacted in April, allowing the postponement of sentences for women whose children are suffering from illness.  According to the law, for an appeal to be made, the mother’s sentence needs to have been upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

However, even in cases where their sentence was upheld, women have not been successful in their appeals. As of now, only one woman has been released thanks to this law.

Fatma Gök, who has a daughter with Down’s Syndrome, was released in June. Yusuf Kerim Sayın’s mother, Gülten Sayın, was released in February, before the law went into effect, thanks to a widespread social media campaign.

Activists are now drawing attention to many other children with chronic diseases and health problems that require their parents’ constant care.

One of these children is 7-year-old Yiğit Ocak, whose mother and father are currently in prison. A disabled child, Ocak has been in the care of his elderly grandmother since 2018.

Tarık Ekmekçi, 8, who is autistic, has also been cared for by his grandmother. His mother was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison and is currently incarcerated.

The Yusuf Kerim law only applies to mothers, but some sick children who have lost their mothers need the care of their fathers.

Eight-year-old Hatice Ertuğrul, who is almost totally disabled, is one of those children. Her mother died of multiple organ failure in June, and her father is currently in prison serving a sentence on conviction of links to the Gülen movement. But he is not eligible to appeal for the postponement of his sentence.

Activists have called for the release of Adem Erkol, whose daughter Züleyha Erkol suffers from a brain tumor. The young girl’s mother died several months ago.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen group of orchestrating a failed coup on July 15, 2016 although the movement denies any involvement in it.

In some cases, the burden of taking care of a chronically sick child can be overwhelming for mothers, who need the support of their husbands. Hamza Tarık Durmuş, who is disabled, has been experiencing outbursts of anger since his father was arrested for Gülen links. His mother said the only person who was usually able to calm the little boy was his father, and his absence has been traumatic for Hamza Tarik.

There is currently no data on the number of sick children whose mothers are in prison. However, activists say the post-coup purge has taken a huge toll on human life, and especially children. Several children have succumbed to their illnesses while their parents were incarcerated on terrorism-related charges.

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