A senior member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) accused an opposition lawmaker of disseminating propaganda for the Gülen movement after he brought to the floor of parliament the plight of children whose parents were arrested due to their alleged links to the faith-based group.
Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) and a prominent human rights activist, delivered an emotional speech in parliament on Wednesday evening in which he called on AKP lawmakers to lend an ear to the tragedies of children whose parents were sent to prison on terrorism charges due to their links to the Gülen movement.
TBMM Genel Kurulda İnsan Hakları İhlalleri Üzerine Konuşuyorum! https://t.co/484DnXh7im
— Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu (@gergerliogluof) October 4, 2023
Leyla Şahin Usta, the AKP’s deputy group chairman, said Gergerlioğlu was spreading propaganda for “Fetö,” a term coined by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization, by showing the photos of those children.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016, although the movement denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.
Usta said she felt compelled to recall the memory of the 251 people who were “massacred by the Gülenists” on July 15, after Gergerlioğlu made his remarks.
Following the coup attempt, which was suppressed overnight and claimed the lives of 251 people, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens, particularly members of the Gülen movement, under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
In his speech Gergerlioğlu talked about 6-year-old Yusuf Kerim Sayın, a child with bone cancer who made headlines with a video of him on social media crying and asking for his mother, who was incarcerated over Gülen links. The boy, who had been separated from his mother for more than two months, succumbed to cancer earlier this week.
Gergerlioğlu also talked about the plight of six children whose parents, Abdülkadir Arslan and Nurcan Arslan, were sent to prison over the weekend to serve their convictions on terrorism charges due to their links to the Gülen movement.
The couple has six children, five of whom are quintuplets aged seven, and an elder daughter aged 13. A video circulating on social media showed the children crying for their parents in the court waiting room. The six young children were later picked up from an Edirne police station by relatives.
Gergerlioğlu called on the AKP government to release at least the mother because the quintuplets suffer from health problems and need the care of their mother.
He was booed by some AKP lawmakers when he was talking about the children. Gergerlioğlu said he was appalled at their lack of conscience.
The couple’s arrest came after a landmark decision made on September 26 by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which ruled that Turkish courts’ conviction on terrorism charges of a teacher over activities such as the use of the ByLock app or having an account at now-closed Bank Asya was unlawful, both considered as evidence for terrorist organization membership by the Turkish government.
Usta attracted widespread criticism on social media, with many accusing her of being indifferent to the tragedies suffered by the children and disregarding the ECtHR decision on what constitutes criminal evidence.
The lawmaker, a medical doctor by profession, came to public attention in 2004 when she, then a medical student, filed a case against Turkey at the ECtHR challenging a law that bans wearing the Islamic headscarf at universities and other educational and state institutions. The court upheld the Turkish law by 16 votes to 1.
In November 2015 she entered parliament for the first time from the ranks of the AKP.
Many accuse Usta of forgetting the rights violations she suffered as a headscarf-wearing woman and of now being an outspoken supporter of the human rights violations committed by the AKP government.