Critically ill woman remains in prison despite hospital report recommending her release

Gülden Aşık with her children

Gülden Aşık, 43, a mother of three who suffers from thyroid cancer, remains in prison despite a medical report from Bandırma Hospital in Turkey’s western province of Balıkesir stating that she was not fit to remain in prison, Bold Medya reported.

The report, dated August 22, 2022, states that Aşık was not fit to remain in prison due to her critical-stage cancer, which poses a threat to her life. However, Aşık remains in prison despite her deteriorating health.

In a letter to her husband in September, Aşık described her experience with her illness. “I am very tired; all my cells are tired. I know this too will pass, but where? When I’m in my grave, or when I’m still alive? The doctors say my condition is critical and that I shouldn’t be in prison. I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of leaving my children behind.”

Aşık has suffered from health problems in prison since she was arrested. She was first arrested in April 2019 and was sent to the prison in Bandırma while in the first weeks of a pregnancy. Aşık suffered a miscarriage in prison at 10 weeks and underwent a medical procedure.

Aşık’s first arrest was unlawful as the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures stipulates that even if a pregnant woman is convicted, her sentence must be postponed. According to the law, “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half.” The law also applies to inmates kept in pre-trial detention.

Aşık was released pending trial on June 10, 2019. Witness testimony and a ByLock messaging application on her phone were used as evidence against her.

Turkey considers ByLock, once widely available online, a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based 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, leading to the arrest of thousands who were using it.

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

Turkish authorities have denied political prisoners, even those with critical illnesses, release from prison so they can at least seek proper treatment. Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said ill prisoners were not released until they were at the point of no return. He claimed that prisoners did not have access to proper healthcare facilities such as hospitals or infirmaries.

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