Activists call on Turkish gov’t to release jailed babies, mothers on World Children’s Rights Day

A silent demonstration was held by a group of activists in The Hague, the Parliamentary Capital of the Netherlands, on November 20 World Children’s Rights Day. The protesters called on Turkish government to release over 668 babies and their mothers from Turkish prisons.

Stating that more than 668 children aged between 0-6 year-old have been staying in Turkey’s prisons together with their mothers, the activists have voiced the dire conditions of the imprisoned babies and their tragedies through banners. During the protest, organized by a group of activists named ‘Project 668’, a small cell model was also set up in front of the Assembly Building.

Mehmet Doğanbaş, a volunteer of ‘Project 668’ has stated that in order to create public awareness about at least 668 babies who have to live together with their jailed mothers under difficult circumstances in prisons, they performed the protest. “We gathered in front of the Assembly Building in the Hague as Project 668 volunteers on November 20 World Children’s Rights Day.

“The Dutch public is unaware of the 668 children in Turkish prisons. We participated in this protest to express the situation to the public. Here we placed a model cell in front of the Assembly Building. The Dutch Public Television NOS paid a close attention to the protest and made interviews with the protesters. Without hurting or slandering anyone, we just drawn attention to that the jailed children must be released,” said Doğanbaş.

The silent protest lasted about 4 hours in The Hague and the activists presented flower seeds in packages to the Dutch people during the protest. “We distributed a flower with a note on their boxes in Dutch: ‘Vergeet Me-Niet.’ It means ‘Don’t forget me.’ We distributed about 500 pieces of flowers in this way.”

Meanwhile, a demonstration was also held in Durban, South Africa’s third largest city, for 668 imprisoned babies in Turkey. The events was supported by pantomime artists, demonstration groups representing indigenous people and the people of Durban.

Various activities were held for the babies who were kept in Turkish prisons together with their mothers. Along with the artworks made of sand representing babies, the pantomime artists presented their shows. While the situation of infants was explained by the Africans, the difficulties of reaching a doctor especially in cases of illness were highlighted.

The prison facilities provided to pregnant women and the women having babies under who were imprisoned in contravention of the laws are very limited. Many prisons are struggling to meet the needs of babies. In some prisons, 20 female prisoners with 4 infants have to stay in 8-person ward. Some women lye with a baby on a blanket laid on the concrete floor.

According to accounts of those who released from the prisons, the crib rate for babies is very low, the mother and the baby are lying together in the bunk. They need to entrust their babies to their friends in order to use the bathroom.

Moreover, there are no additional foods such as yogurt, eggs or soup to be given to babies. There are no areas where children would crawl and play. Needs like baby cloth, wet wipes are delayed for weeks and given insufficiently. Infants who have fever or are sick can have up to one day waiting time to go to the hospital. Needs like a walker are not given. There is no additional time for babies in open visit.

Following the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 more than 17,000 women with 668 babies were jailed over their alleged links to the Gülen movement. Women are being accused of giving scholarships, arranging sales, depositing money into private lender Bank Asya, sending their children the schools affiliated with the Gülen movement, subscribing to Zaman and Bugün newspapers, using smart phone messaging application ByLock.

Women who come to hospitals for birth control or birth are clear target for the police officers. However, according to the Turkish Penal Code numbered 5275, “the sentence of imprisonment is left behind / postponed of women who are pregnant or have not passed six months since the conception of birth.” Experts say that according to the law, the arrest of pregnant women and those who have infants smaller than 6 months is not possible at all. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) also takes born or unborn child under protection.

More than 17,000 women in Turkey, many with small children, have been jailed in an unprecedented crackdown and subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention centers and prisons as part of the government’s systematic campaign of intimidation and persecution of critics and opponents, a report titled “Jailing Women In Turkey: Systematic Campaign of Persecution and Fear released in April by SCF has also revealed.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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