Calls for release intensify as ailing Turkish inmate faces urgent surgery

Social media users on Wednesday called on Turkish authorities to release Rukiye Çoygar, an ailing prisoner who is suffering from a fissure in her intestines and requires immediate surgery.

Çoygar was arrested before she could undergo the necessary procedures.

She talked about her health in an interview with Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy and Equality (DEM) Party and a prominent human rights advocate. Çoygar explained that doctors had advised her to have three surgeries and that her sentence was upheld on the day of the first operation.

Çoygar was sentenced to over six years in September 2023 on allegations of association with the faith-based Gülen movement based on her use of the ByLock messaging app.

ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered a secret tool of communication among supporters of the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has in several cases made clear that use of the ByLock messaging app does not constitute a criminal offense, following the coup attempt the Turkish government continued to detain and prosecute alleged followers of the movement over their use of ByLock.

Çoygar is married and has four children. Her husband was also sentenced to seven-and-a-half years on similar charges for his work at a private tutoring center allegedly linked to the movement. Their children are currently living with relatives, left without their parents.

She shared the emotional toll her imprisonment has taken on her and her children, stating, “When the doorbell rings, they all run to the door asking, ‘Did the police come to arrest our mom?’ My children come at night asking, ‘Did they take our mom away?’ They hug me and cry, ‘Mom,’ holding onto me in bed.”

Çoygar also said her kids were bullied and called terrorists by neighbors due to her husband’s sentence. Her eldest son experienced temporary paralysis due to the stress he endured, doctors told her.

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 putsch in July 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

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