As families continue to fall victim to Turkey’s post-coup purge, two more infants, 3-month-old Mehmet Mirza and 1-year-old Ahmet Ümit, joined their mothers in prison this week.
According to Bold Medya, both children are currently staying with their mothers in quarantine cells, which are notoriously filthy and over-crowded. The babies’ siblings are being taken care of by relatives as their fathers are also in prison.
Although the law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures stipulates that the “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half,” Turkish authorities have been arresting mothers with children as young as 1 month old. The law also applies to inmates kept in pre-trial detention.
Ahmet Ümit’s mother, Seda Aslan, 31, was arrested together with her husband on Friday for alleged links to the Gülen movement. After their arrest, the children were almost turned over to child services, but relatives stepped in to take care of the older children, while the baby joined his mother.
Mehmet Mirza’s parents were also arrested on Gülen links.
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.
Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
The purge has resulted in many children having to grow up in prison. One of them was Mehmet Akif Oktay, who joined his imprisoned mother when he was only 7 months of age. Mehmet Akif will turn 3 in three months, and he will have spent most of his life in prison.
Mehmet Akif reached all his milestones in prison, where he also learned to walk. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions the playground and daycare center in the prison have been shut down, and now he has no place to socialize.
Mehmet Akif’s mother, Benazir Oktay, 31, was a teacher at an education center affiliated with the Gülen movement. She was sentenced to six years, 10 months in prison.
The young boy’s father, İshak Oktay, was also arrested on Gülen links and sentenced to six years, 10 months in prison. İshak Oktay has not seen his son since he was arrested in April 2019. If his parents’ sentences are upheld by the appeals court, Mehmet Akif will spend two more years in prison.
The detention and arrest of pregnant women and mothers with young children have dramatically increased in Turkey in the aftermath the coup attempt.
According to the Directorate General of Prisons and Detention Centers, as of March 2021 there are 345 children under the age of 6 in Turkish prison.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on February 20, that a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the movement.