Former teacher jailed over Gülen links with premature baby

Ayşe Ercengiz

Ayşe Ercengiz, a former primary school teacher dismissed by a government decree in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt, was arrested on Monday on alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, accompanied in jail by her 20-month-old daughter, Ela, who was premature and continues to require medical care and breastfeeding, the Kronos Haber news website reported.

Ayşe’s husband, identified only as H. Ercengiz, expressed frustration over the authorities’ refusal to grant a temporary release for his wife. “We submitted a petition and provided all our baby’s medical documents. I asked for six months so our child could be weaned and transitioned to regular food,” he said.

Turkish law requires the postponement of prison sentences for women who are pregnant or have given birth in the last 18 months. However, since Ela is 20 months old, Ercengiz was unable to benefit from this provision, necessitating a petition from her family.

H. Ercengiz detailed the challenges faced by his daughter. “Our baby was born at seven months, a miracle birth, spending nearly a month in an incubator and then in the hematology department. She remains under continuous medical supervision and relies on breastfeeding, which is why my daughter had to accompany my wife in prison,” he said.

The situation drew significant public attention after Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker and human rights advocate from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), announced the arrest on social media, saying, “Another baby has entered prison.”

Ercengiz, a mother of three, was sentenced to over two years for her deposits in the now-closed Bank Asya.

The Turkish government considers activities such as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen movement-affiliated bank, working at institutions linked to the movement, or subscribing to certain newspapers and magazines as indicators of membership in the movement. These actions have led to the arrest of tens of thousands on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since corruption investigations in 2013 implicated Erdoğan, his family, 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 targeting its members. This crackdown intensified after the failed coup on July 15, 2016, which Erdoğan accused Gülen of orchestrating. Gülen and the movement strongly deny any involvement in the coup attempt or terrorist activities.

The Ercengiz family is further burdened by the care of their two other children, aged 10 and 13, and an ill grandmother. After her dismissal, Ayşe Ercengiz contributed to the family’s income by making boutique pastries and home-cooked meals.

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