Gülen movement-linked Turkish woman dies in Greece as she waits to join husband in Germany

Esma Uludağ, a Turkish refugee died as a result of stroke in Athens, and her three children as they fled from Turkey to Greece.

Esma Uludağ, a 35-year-old Turkish woman who fled to Greece from the persecution of the Islamist Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, died on Saturday night from a stroke.

A mother of three children aged 3, 7 and 10, Esma Uludağ was a civil servant in a district governor’s office in İzmir province until she was dismissed over alleged links to the Gülen movement by a government decree issued under an ongoing state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Her husband, Mehmet Ali Uludağ (38), had to leave Turkey as well due to a number of investigations launched into him and detention warrants issued for him over his alleged ties to the movement. He first fled to Greece and then sought refugee in Germany.

As he succeeded in obtaining a residence permit in Germany, his wife Esma Uludağ, together with her three children crossed the Evros River about six months ago and sheltered in Greece. She and her children were waiting in Athens for family unification.

However, Esma Uludağ unexpectedly suffered a stroke on Saturday night. She was taken to a hospital in an ambulance that reportedly took 40 minutes to arrive at the scene. She passed away despite doctors’ best efforts in the hospital.

Uludağ’s body is reportedly going to be taken to Turkey for funeral after the completion of an autopsy and official procedures in Greece.

In early March Hasan Değirmenci (43), who was visiting Greece to help refugees who had to flee Turkey because of a massive post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement and take shelter in Greece, had a heart attack and passed away.

The unexpected death of Değirmenci, a father of three sons, had shocked his family, relatives and friends, who reportedly traveled from Stuttgart to Athens. Değirmenci had shared photographs of the teachers and their children who died in the Evros (Meriç) River on his personal Facebook page and stated: ”We are going [to Greece]. My heart could not bear this agony. I could not watch this agony from afar. Today, I have gotten permission from my employer, and I am going to Athens with my son. Hundreds of victims are there. We are set to go on March 3. Some aid was collected. I would it if appreciate it if my friends who want to contribute would send me a message.”

Thousands of people have fled Turkey due to the witch-hunt carried out by the Turkish government against sympathizers of the Gülen movement. Many tried to escape Turkey by illegal means as the government had cancelled their passports like thousands of others. On Feb 13, 2018 at least three people died and five others went missing after a boat carrying a group of eight capsized in the Evros River while seeking to escape the post-coup crackdown in Turkey.

Greece’s asylum service says more than 1,800 Turkish citizens requested sanctuary in 2017, a tenfold increase over the previous year. This puts Greece in second place behind Germany as an EU destination of choice for Turks believed to be fleeing the sweeping measures following the coup bid.

In a 28-page report issued on Tuesday the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted the following points concerning the detention, arrest and torture of pregnant women and children in Turkey in 2017: “OHCHR estimates that approximately 600 women with young children were being held in detention in Turkey as of December 2017, including about 100 women who were pregnant or had just given birth.

“OHCHR documented at least 50 cases of women who had given birth just prior to or just after being detained or arrested. OHCHR received a report concerning a woman who was sexually assaulted by a police officer during arrest. Moreover, NGOs brought to the attention of OHCHR at least six cases of women who were detained while they were visiting their spouses in prison. They were either detained together with their children or violently separated from them.”

Since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 more than 17,000 women accompanied by 705 babies have been jailed over their alleged links to the Gülen movement. The women are accused of providing scholarships, arranging sales, depositing money in private lender Bank Asya, sending their children to schools affiliated with the Gülen movement, subscribing to the Zaman or Bugün newspapers or using the ByLock smart phone messaging application.

Women who go to hospitals seeking birth control or to give birth are clear targets for police officers. However, according to the Turkish Penal Code’s Article 5275, “the sentence of imprisonment is set aside/postponed for women who are pregnant or who are within six months of delivery.” Experts say that according to the law, the arrest of pregnant women and those who have infants younger than six months of age is not possible at all. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) also takes born or unborn child under protection.

Women who have been jailed in an unprecedented crackdown have been subjected to torture and ill treatment in detention centers and prisons as part of the government’s systematic campaign of intimidation and persecution of critics and opponents, a report titled “Jailing Women In Turkey: Systematic Campaign of Persecution and Fear released in April 2017 by SCF revealed.

In several cases, women were detained in the hospital immediately after the delivery of a baby and before they had a chance to recover. Many women were jailed as they were visiting their imprisoned husbands, leaving the children stranded in the ensuing chaos.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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