Former teacher and her 10-month-old baby are suffering from poor conditions in prison, says brother

Hasan Semerci, the brother of former teacher Büşra Çulha, who has been imprisoned with her 10-month-old daughter Bahar since September 23, has said his niece is suffering from the poor conditions in prison, the Bold Medya news website reported.

Çulha was arrested in Turkey’s western province of Edirne and sent to a maximum security prison in the same province. She had been handed down a six year, eight month sentence for links to the faith-based Gülen movement. After an appeals court upheld the sentence, Çulha decided to leave the country in search of a safer life. However, she was arrested on September 19 and jailed with her then-eight-month-old baby when she tried to flee Turkey.

Semerci said after meeting with Çulha and his niece Bahar on Wednesday that his niece has a serious nutritional problem in prison. Semerci, who heard from Çulha that his niece could not eat the old boiled eggs and bad cheese sent to them for breakfast, said, “The orders my sister requested for her daughter from the canteen were not delivered, even though she paid for them. Is it not the most important thing for a mother to be able to feed her child?” he said.

Semerci said his sister and niece are in an overcrowded ward where even the mattresses are on the floor, so there’s no room for Bahar, who is now crawling. He also explained that the ward is cold, a big problem for Bahar’s health, especially since the temperatures are dropping.

In addition Semerci expressed concern that Bahar’s psyche was being affected by the constant shouting of the guards.

Çulha’s mother recently called on Turkish authorities to release the young mother and her baby, saying prison was no place to raise a child and that she is worried about her granddaughter’s well-being due to the poor conditions in the prison.

Çulha’s husband, Halil Emre Çulha, also received the same sentence for links to the movement.

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

Thousands of post-coup purge victims had to leave the country illegally because the government had revoked their passports.

Purge victims who wanted to flee the country to avoid the post-coup crackdown took dangerous journeys across the Evros River or the Aegean Sea. Some were arrested by Turkish security forces; some were pushed back to Turkey by Greek security; and others perished on their way to Greece.

According to the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures, “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half.”

As  of December 2021 there were 548 children in prison with their mothers. Human rights advocates have said children accompany their mothers in prison at very young ages, which are often critical periods in their mental and physical development. However, children are not provided basic needs such as crayons or toys. Some cells are not provided with a carpet for crawling babies, and inmates make makeshift rugs out of blankets. Many children do not have their own beds and share their mothers’ food.

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