Former teacher arrested and sent to prison with 8-month-old baby while trying to flee persecution in Turkey

Former teacher Büşra Çulha was arrested on Friday and sent to prison with her eight-month-old baby while trying to flee persecution in Turkey, the Bold Medya news website reported.

Çulha was arrested in western Edirne province 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 Gülen movement. After an appeals court upheld the sentence, Çulha decided to leave the country in search of a safer life.

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.

Çulha’s family called on Turkish authorities to release the young mother and her baby, saying prison was no place to raise a child. “It’s really cold and the baby has just started crawling. We’re devasted to know she’ll be crawling on freezing concrete prison floors,” said Çulha’s brother.

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 saidchildren 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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