Boy’s health worsens since his mother was arrested a year ago

Tarık Ekmekçi is seen with his grandmother

The health of a 9-year-old autistic child has deteriorated significantly over the past year since both his parents are in prison over their alleged membership in the Gülen movement, a faith-based group outlawed by Ankara, the Bold Medya news website reported.

Tarık Ekmekçi’s mother was arrested in April 2023 over a conviction that is pending appeal, joining his father, who has been incarcerated since December 2017.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by 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 2016 putsch that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The arrest of his parents has left Tarık and his two siblings under the care of relatives who are struggling to manage his growing needs.

E.B., Tarık’s aunt, along with his grandmother, Namiye Ekmekci, took over caregiving duties, traveling from another province to assist. “It is really hard to understand him. He’s a child who needs constant observation,” E.B. stated.

Tarık’s father, Talip Ekmekci, a chemistry teacher imprisoned since December 2017, was affiliated with an institution closed down by an emergency decree following a failed coup in July 2016.

His case is currently being reviewed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

His mother, Esra Ekmekci, faces a seven-and-a-half-year sentence, currently pending at the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The mother’s arrest has exacerbated Tarık’s behavioral issues, including increased temper tantrums and sleep disturbances.

E.B. appealed for leniency from the courts, suggesting that the mother could be placed under house arrest to reunite with her children, particularly to support Tarık, who benefits from his mother’s presence.

”The Supreme Court of Appeals has not yet upheld her sentence. She could be tried without remand, or she could benefit from the new law on sick children. At least she will be with her children even if she is under house arrest,” E.B. said on X.

Grandmother Namiye Ekmekci has also been also stretched thin by the demands of caregiving. “I have three grandchildren, the youngest has autism. I can’t put him to bed at night; he wakes up asking for his mom. He doesn’t want to go to school,” she said.

Since the failed coup attempt in 2016, Turkey has seen an increase in the number of mothers with sick children being incarcerated, although no official data exist on the precise number of children affected. Activists highlight that the post-coup purge has exacted a significant toll on children. There are reports that several children have succumbed to their illnesses while their parents were incarcerated on terrorism-related charges.

In 2021 the Turkish Parliament removed from a bill an article postponing the prison sentences of mothers with children under 15 years of age whose husbands are also in prison.

The article was part of a proposal aimed at making improvements to the law on the execution of sentences. The bill was approved by the legislature after the article was removed. The amendment would have reunited some 3,000 imprisoned women with their children.

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