67-year-old woman standing trial on terrorism charges for attending fundraisers and religious gatherings

Ulviye Yiğitsözlü, 67, appeared at a hearing yesterday at the Osmaniye 2nd High Criminal Court, where she is being tried on charges of membership in an armed terrorist organization for having an account at Bank Asya and attending fundraisers and religious gatherings known as “sohbet/halaqa.”

Yiğitsözlü was detained in a house raid in July 2019 and had a heart attack during her time in detention. She is accused of links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.

In a series of tweets her son Ahmet Erkan Yiğitsözlü said his mother was not asked about anything having to do with terrorism or violence at the previous hearing. “The judge asked her where she attended this religious gathering and why she had an account at the bank,” he said. “The judge didn’t ask her anything about ‘weapons, violence, coups or bombs,’ not even once.”

According to Ahmet Erkan Yiğitsözlü his mother was pressured to make a false confession during her interrogation, during which a lawyer was not present. Only after her interrogation was a bar-appointed lawyer allowed to see her.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement 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 locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.

He 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.

Following the coup attempt the Turkish government accepted such activities as having an account at the now-closed Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time, using the ByLock encrypted messaging application, which was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play and subscribing to the Zaman daily or other publications affiliated with members of the movement as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged followers of the Gülen movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, 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 Gülen movement.

Yiğitsözlü’s plight was shared by human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu in parliament back in 2019. Gergerlioğlu had said Yiğitsözlü’s request for food during police detention was denied and that she was in critical condition after she had a heart attack. Gergerlioğlu was expelled from parliament on March 17 for a terrorism-related conviction for a social media post that did not advocate violence,

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