2 children accompany mother in prison serving sentence on conviction of links to Gülen movement

Zehre Gürsoy, a mother of four who was arrested on January 30 in the western Turkish province of Edirne to serve a sentence on conviction of “terrorist organization membership,” is being accompanied by two of her children in prison, the Bold Medya news agency reported.

Gürsoy had to take her younger children, 11-month-old Kemal and 4-and-a-half-year-old Neşe, with her because her husband died last year of a brain tumor and she had no relatives able to take care of such young children.

Gürsoy’s husband was sentenced to more than six years on the same accusations.

Gürsoy was sent to prison, although the law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures states that “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last 18 months.”

Gürsoy was sentenced to six years, 10 months in prison for alleged use of the ByLock smartphone application.

ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a war against the Gülen movement after the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members and inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy, the AKP government designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. They intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt that they accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Gürsoy’s arrest came despite a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that found the use of ByLock to not constitute a criminal offense. The ECtHR ruled in July 2021 in the case of former police officer Tekin Akgün that the use of the ByLock application is not an offense in itself and does not constitute sufficient evidence for an arrest.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court, however, found no violation of rights of applicants who were sentenced merely based on ByLock use, which it had considered a strong indication for arrest. The ECtHR’s judgment supersedes the Supreme Court of Appeals and Constitutional Court’s decisions.

Gürsoy’s older children, Cemal (14) and Cemil (13), who are being taken care of by relatives, said it is also very difficult for them to be without their mother so soon after the loss of their father.

According to a report released by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu in January, a total of 520 children under the age of six are accompanying their mothers in Turkish prisons.

Previous reports have also underlined that Turkish prisons do not accommodate the needs of children and infants. Most prisons do not provide crayons, toys or carpets for crawling babies. Many children do not have their own beds and share their mothers’ food.

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