19-month-old toddler accompanies mother serving 3-year prison sentence

Sevim Yıldırım, a Quran teacher who previously worked at Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), was accompanied by her 19-month-old toddler Mehmet Halil when she arrived at Düzce Çilimli Prison to serve a three-year sentence on conviction of alleged links to the Gülen movement, Bold Medya reported.

Yıldırım was first arrested on December 16, 2016 for links to the Gülen movement and released on May 4, 2017 after being kept in pretrial detention for five months. Yıldırım was later dismissed from her job and sentenced to three years, one month in prison on April 4, 2019.

After her sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, Yıldırım was arrested again in January 2022 and released after four days following an appeal. On August 29, 2022 she was imprisoned for the third time along with her then 18-month-old son.

Yıldırım also has a 3-year-old daughter, Eylül, who is in the care of her father and aunt, while her son Mehmet Halil will continue to live in a cell with his mother as he is still nursing.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, an MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a prominent defender of human rights, tweeted on Friday: “Sevim Yıldırım was sentenced to three years, one month and was sent to prison with her baby. The mother is desperate and does not know what to do. The little one is still being breastfed, the 3-year-old cries all the time to go to her father when she visits her mother, but she does not want to leave her mother, either. Düzce Çilimli prison is no different from other prisons in Turkey!”

Yıldırım is incarcerated in Turkey’s northwestern Düzce province.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The detention and arrest of pregnant women and mothers with young children have dramatically increased in Turkey in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt.

As of December 2021 there were 548 children in prison with their mothers. Human rights advocates have said children accompany their mothers in prison at very young ages, which are often critical periods in their mental and physical development. However, children are not provided basic needs such as crayons or toys. Some cells are not provided with a carpet for crawling babies, and inmates make makeshift rugs out of blankets. Many children do not have their own beds and share their mothers’ food.

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