12-year-old diagnosed with cancer amid grief for jailed father in Turkey over alleged Gülen links

Muhammed Eray Özkul, the 12-year-old son of the Zonguldak-based former police officer Ender Özkul, has been diagnosed with cancer after his father was jailed in Turkish government’s post-coup dragnet.

The father worked as a police officer for 15 years until he was suspended on the accusations of having alleged links to the Gülen movement on September 2016 and arrested shortly after over similar grounds. While in jail pending trial, he was completely removed from the job in a government decree in late November the same year.

Following the dismissal, his family was ordered to move out of the state-supported housing, meanwhile they were subject to bullying from the other immediate family members due to their alleged ties to the movement.

Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the movement for the July 15, 2016 failed putsch, a claim the movement has denied asking for evidence. Nearly 150,000 have lost their jobs and some 60,000 have been put in pretrial detention over alleged Gülen links so far. Meanwhile, the government has effectively triggered a social discrimination against the alleged followers of the Gülen movement with Erdoğan once having said that Turkish public shall “punish Gülenists in the streets” if they are released from prison.

The plight of Özkul family was revealed only after Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights activist, a columnist for T24 online news portal and a physican, who was also dismissed in the government’s post-coup crackdown, mentioned his chat with Mrs. Özkul in his column on October 18.

According to Gergerlioğlu, the family’s 12-year-old son was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that emerges when lymphocytes–white blood cells that help protect the body from infection and disease–begin behaving abnormally.

Gergerlioğlu narrated the development of the disease onto Muhammed Eray’s body as saying: “He has never understood why his father whom he always considers a hero is being treated that way. His school performance drops, he gets more emotional every passing day and he turns in on himself. ‘My father lost his father, so did I,’ he cries grieving his father’s labelling as terrorist. As time goes on, he loses his appetite and his fever occasionally goes up. [His mother] Mrs. Oya frequents the offices of each and every doctor in Zonguldak for 2,5 months but the prescription has never become remedy. She was told at every hospital [in Zonguldak] that her son has nothing serious. Then, she decides to move to İstanbul where her son was diagnosed with lymphoma at a university hospital.”

“Mr Ömer, my son got cancer because of the grief. I know my son very well. He is a very emotional boy. He feels sick at heart for his father. He collapsed,” Oya told Gergerlioglu.

Muhammed Eray stopped going to school in March this year but his teachers allowed him to graduate from 7th grade to the 8th.

Once Oya Özkul and his two children moved to İstanbul for Muhammed Eray’s treatment, they stopped by the Eyüp District Governorship where they were denied request for help. “Dude, there is no wailing wall here,” mocked an official at the governorship.

Meanwhile, a pro-government Humanitarian Aid Association (İHH) employee told Oya Özkul on the phone: “Your husband should have thought about all these when he was supporting FETÖ.”

“Fethullahist Terrorist Organization” or “FETÖ” is a government-coined buzzword to label the Gülen movement as terrorist, in a reference to the group’s 75-year-old leader, Fethullah Gülen.

The Ministry of Family and Social Policies was no relief for the family either.

Gergerlioğlu’s column maintained: “It is hard to describe the father’s psychology when he was told about the disease. Twisted in despair, he has lost 21 kilograms since he first heard about it. He has haircut to go bald when his son visits him in prison. He successively requested from the court: ‘Please release me pending trial. I am not about escaping my country for which I served for years. My wife and children need me so much.’ But, the requests always remain unanswered. He appeared before the court for the first time last Friday. At the hearing where even family members are prevented from attending, the trial was adjourned until the second hearing, scheduled for January 2017.

Muhammed Eray has been receiving chemotherapy treatment for 4 months now. “On Oct 17, the family was told that his body is not responding to the treatment. Doctors are not hopeful for marrow transplant either. …Yesterday, Mrs. Oya Özkul called me to say in tears: ‘My son is going away, Mr. Ömer. He is slipping down from my hands…” (turkeypurge.com)

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