Children of couple serving sentences on Gülen conviction living in tent with relatives 

The Arslan couple and their children

A 13-year-old girl whose parents were arrested two weeks ago to serve sentences for conviction of links to the Gülen movement has said in a video that she is currently living a tent with relatives.

In the video, which was posted by Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a deputy from the Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP), previously known as the Green Left Party (YSP), Vildan Arslan said since her parents’ arrest, she along with her five siblings had been living with their maternal grandparents in Malatya province. But since their house was destroyed in two major earthquakes on Feb. 6, she said the six children were sharing a tent with their relatives. 

The magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes affected 11 provinces in the country’s south and southeast on Feb. 6, killing more than 50,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

“Please release our parents,” the young girl said in the video, addressing the Turkish authorities. “We are living in a tent with our grandparents and maternal uncle’s family, and we haven’t been able to go to school.”

The parents, Abdülkadir Arslan and Nurcan Arslan, were arrested on October 1, with their six children, five of whom are quintuplets aged seven, entrusted to the care of relatives. 

The Edirne Criminal Court of Peace had handed down a nine-year sentence to Abdülkadir Arslan, while Nurcan Arslan was sentenced to more than six years in prison.

Abdülkadir Arslan had worked at a private education center linked to the Gülen movement. His wife was a homemaker.

They were accused of depositing money in Bank Asya, a now-closed Gülen-linked Bank, and using ByLock, a smartphone application once widely available online and considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the movement since a failed coup attempt in 2016 despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

The couple’s arrest came after a landmark decision made on September 26 by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which ruled that Turkish courts’ conviction on terrorism charges of a teacher over activities such as the use of ByLock or having an account Bank Asya was unlawful.

The couple’s arrest had sparked outrage among human rights activists, who called for the immediate release of the children’s parents and especially their mother.

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

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 civil servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 24,706 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny. In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

The purge has damaged the unity of many families and left children to the care of relatives. Such separations have had a negative impact on the mental and physical well-being of children. In cases where grandparents are responsible of the child’s care, they cannot meet every need, especially in education.

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