Four-year-old Safiye Şahnaz, who is accompanying her mother in Antalya L-type Prison in southern Turkey, was hospitalized on Tuesday after developing a serious infection, the Kronos news website reported.
The young girl was born while her mother, Hatice Şahnaz, was serving a prison sentence on conviction of alleged links to the Gülen movement. Şahnaz was only three weeks pregnant when she was arrested in September 2018, and she spent the entirety of her pregnancy in prison. She gave birth in a hospital handcuffed to her bed, with gendarmes standing guard by the door.
Due to public pressure and outrage, Şahnaz’s sentence was suspended, and she was released from prison with her baby in June 2019, only to be arrested once again when little Safiye was 18 months old. The mother and daughter have been in prison since December 2020.
While details of Şahnaz’s sentence were not disclosed to the media, she reportedly became eligible for parole in March, although the prison authorities have not freed her. Activists have called for the mother’s immediate release since the little girl is currently in the hospital.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Turkish Muslim 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 in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
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.