Former teacher and her 28-month-old infant released after suffering from poor conditions in prison

Turkish authorities on Friday released a former teacher and her 2-year-old daughter who was accompanying her in prison, bringing to mind previous appeals from family members concerning their wellbeing and health, the Bold Medya news website reported.

Büşra Çulha was released by an appeals court with 64 other people. She was arrested on September 19, 2022 as she was trying to flee the country for a safer life. She had been sentenced to six years, eight months for alleged links to the Gülen movement, and her case was pending at the appeals court. Her then-8-month-old baby accompanied her to a maximum-security prison in western Turkey’s Edirne province.

Çulha’s Friday release came after the appeals court found her sentence excessive and overturned the verdict.

Çulha and her baby daughter reportedly suffered from nutritional problems in prison. Although prison food was inadequate, Çulha was unable to receive food she had ordered from the canteen. Furthermore, Çulha and the baby were put in an overcrowded ward where the mattresses were on the floor. There was no room for the baby to crawl, and their cell lacked proper heating, putting the baby’s health at risk during the winter. The baby was also frightened by the frequent yelling of the guards.

Çulha and her now 2-year-old daughter’s release was announced on social media, but critics emphasize the high number of babies still accompanying their mothers in Turkish prisons.

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.

The purge resulted in the imprisonment of many mothers with babies. There were 552 children in prison with their mothers in 2023, according to data from the Justice Ministry. 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 furnished 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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