In a letter to Turkish human rights activist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, Önder Bozkurt told the story of how he and his wife Fatma were detained together with their toddler and 4-year-old son on February 19, 2018 and the ill-treatment and torture that followed.
The couple was detained on trumped-up charges of membership in the Gülen movement — a faith-based dissident group that has long been persecuted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — based on witness testimony and accusations of using a messaging app that was available at the Apple and Google app stores.
Fatma Bozkurt, a primary school teacher, remained in detention for six days without being given anything other than water, forcing her to stop breastfeeding her daughter. She was subjected to ill-treatment by police officers who made her stand still for hours and constantly insulted and cursed at her.
Her husband, Önder Bozkurt, a biology teacher, also reports being subjected to ill-treatment and torture for hours. He says he was not able to report the torture because the police officers threatened him with harming his wife if he did. He said he had recounted the torture and ill-treatment they had been subjected to during a hearing in court. “Yet they took no action,” he says. After being put in prison, they decided to send their children to their family home due to the dismal conditions in the prison.
In the end, the couple were both sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” Önder Bozkurt says his wife’s sentence was especially outrageous because both of the prosecution’s witnesses recanted their testimony, one of them admitting to having testified under duress and the other to slandering her.
Separation from each other and their children took a heavy toll on the couple. As a mother, Fatma Bozkurt was especially affected. Both of the youngsters have experienced psychological problems. The oldest child even refused to go to kindergarten. Fatma Bozkurt has asked that she be released under judicial supervision to support her children, but all her requests have been denied.
The final blow to the couple came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from the fact that the Bozkurt couple could not benefit from a recently enacted release bill aimed at mitigating the pandemic’s spread in the country’s overcrowded prisons because the authorities explicitly excluded political prisoners from its scope, pandemic-related measures have hit them especially hard.
As part of the measures visitations were suspended both inside and outside the prison, and as a result, the couple has not been able to see each other for the last couple of months. Away from her children and husband, Fatma Bozkurt has suffered serious psychological problems. She is utterly devastated by the separation. Her husband has appealed to human rights activist Gergerlioğlu in the hope that their plight might be heard and that at least his wife can be released to care for their children.