A former female inmate whose name was not disclosed for security reasons said prison conditions were exceptionally trying for women as they were either separated from their children or imprisoned with babies in overcrowded wards.
According to Bold Medya, the former inmate was one of 12 women who wrote about their ordeal in prison on a small piece of tissue paper and gave it to a cellmate who was about to be released.
Meryem Haydaroğlu, who was jailed with her 1-month-old baby Ahmet, took the notes with her when she was released, and they were later published on social media, in September 2019. The inmates, most of whom were political prisoners, wrote about the terrible prison conditions and psychological burden of losing hope that they would ever be released.
They also wrote about their shock that a baby as young as Ahmet was in prison. The former inmate also said they were without hope so wrote about Haydaroğlu and her baby to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights activist and a deputy from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing party with majority-Kurdish support. After Gergerlioğlu started a social media campaign, Haydaroğlu was released.
“When we wrote those notes, we were very upset that a month-old baby was in prison with his mother,” she said. “They were sleeping on the floor because the ward was very crowded.”
Haydaroğlu was a teacher when she was arrested in September 2019 for alleged membership in the Gülen movement. Her arrest violated 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 six months.”
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.
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. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding.
The notes also mentioned that there were sick prisoners. One inmate had heart disease and suffered from panic attacks, and prison conditions aggravated the attacks considerably. Another inmate had vertigo and could barely get up for head counts. The notes said other inmates prevented her from falling down the stairs several times. There was also an inmate who suffered from bipolar and anxiety disorders.
Among the prisoners were teachers, dentists and housewives. The husbands of some inmates were also in prison, and their children were left to be taken care of by relatives.
A total of 292,000 people have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup, according to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on November 26. There are currently 25,655 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed due to links to the faith-based movement, the minister said.