Child victims of witch hunt reveal plight of children caught up in Turkey’s never-ending post-coup purge

Ahmet Eşref is bidding farewell to his parents separately in two cities

Two recent cases involving two children, one handed over to his ailing and elderly grandparents after the incarceration of his parents and the other who is accompanying her mother in prison, reveal the plight of children in Turkey’s massive post-coup purge.

Ahmet Eşref Deveci, 5, the son of Abdullah and Dilek Deveci, who were detained in Gaziantep on July 8, 2020 on accusations of membership in the Gülen movement and formally arrested shortly thereafter, was handed over to the care of his grandparents, with the grandfather struggling against bladder cancer for the last six years.

Azra Kaya, the one-and-a-half-year-old daughter of Leyla Kaya who is still being breastfed, had to accompany her mother to prison. Her mother was detained in Bursa on July 9 and arrested the next day, also on charges of Gülenist links.

Ahmet Eşref’s father Abdullah was a civil servant working at the tax administration who was dismissed from his job in November 2016 in the aftermath of a failed coup.

After the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the government of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a state of emergency and initiated a massive purge of dissidents from state institutions, dismissing some 130,000 civil servants including academics, teachers, diplomats, military personnel and police officers with emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Abdullah Deveci, 35, was arrested in the southeastern city of Gaziantep on July 9 based partly on a witness testifying that he was a member of the Gülen movement and partly that he had deposited money in Bank Asya, a private financial institution affiliated with the movement seized by the government in 2015, an act proving, according to the Turkish government, his links to the Gülen movement.

The Gülen movement, led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has been a vocal critic of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues including Erdoğan’s corrupt politics, his increasing authoritarianism and his meddling in the Syrian civil war on the side of jihadists, has been persecuted since what is widely known as the December 17 and 25, 2013 corruption investigations that implicated him, four of his ministers and his close associates.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist plot, Erdoğan whitewashed the accusations, purging and eventually imprisoning all the police officers and prosecutors involved in the probes. Then he designated the movement as a terrorist organization and initiated a never-ending witch hunt against its followers, a witch hunt that became massive in scale after the coup attempt, for which he once again scapegoated the movement.

Ahmet Eşref’s mother Dilek, 30, was detained with her husband in Gaziantep and sent to the neighboring city of Kahramanmaraş for arraignment. She was reportedly arrested by a judge who urged her to inform on other Gülenists in return for her release. Refusing to do something that would devastate other families, she was arrested instead and sent to a jail in that city. Her sister, Zeliha Doğan, was also detained and arrested along with her.

Ahmet Eşref had to bid farewell to his parents separately in two cities, to his father in Gaziantep and to his mother in Kahramanmaraş, hugging them one last time.

Azra’s mother Leyla, 32, was arrested similarly on a witness account and because she had worked at a Gülen movement-affiliated student hostel closed by an emergency decree-law during a two-year state of emergency. She was sent to prison in Bursa with her infant daughter.

Azra and her mother in Bursa justice hall

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government accepted such activities as having an account at Bank Asya or depositing money in it, working at a Gülen movement-linked institution or subscribing to the Zaman daily or other perceived Gülenist publications as benchmarks for identifying and arresting tens of thousands of followers of the Gülen movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

According to a recent opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, however, none of those activities could be construed as criminal acts, but rather as the peaceful exercise of rights granted under human rights treaties, finding that the deprivation of liberty due to Gülen links on similar grounds was arbitrary and lacked a legal basis.

The working group further held that those with alleged links to the Gülen movement are being targeted on the basis of their political or other opinions, constituting a prohibited discriminatory ground according to UN human rights conventions.

Despite this and similar earlier findings of UN bodies and the European Court of Human Rights, the witch hunt against Gülenists has continued unabated until the present day, with Turkish authorities refusing to give effect to the judgements of the international bodies.

The detention and arrest of pregnant women and mothers with young children have particularly seen a dramatic increase in the aftermath of the coup attempt. Currently, more than 700 infants are accompanying their mothers in Turkish prisons.

In some recent cases, Turkish authorities have imprisoned women who are breastfeeding infants, some of whom are only a few weeks old, in blatant violation of the law on the execution of sentences, which prohibits the imprisonment of pregnant women or women with children up to 18 months of age.

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