“I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed my twin babies and had to throw away my breast milk during the time I was in police custody,” said Merve Hande Kayış, an inmate in pretrial detention for alleged links to the Gülen movement.
Kayış discussed her ordeal during her time in a police detention center and prison quarantine cell in a letter to human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu.
“My twin babies [the 13 months old] were being breastfed when I was detained,” Kayış said. “But [the authorities] didn’t care about that and detained me without allowing me to bring them with me.”
According to her account, she was made to stay in a crowded and hot detention cell together with 10 to 15 women including another breastfeeding mother. They were not allowed to have their babies to feed them.
“We weren’t able to sleep because our breasts were full of milk and they caused pain,” Kayış recalled. “We had to manually express our milk and throw it away.”
After a day, they were finally offered a pump for their milk to be given to their families to feed the babies.
Kayış, 31, is accused of using ByLock, an encrypted messaging app for smartphones that was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Another piece of “evidence” the prosecutor’s office has against her is fingerprints found on a book in a student house.
Turkish authorities claim that ByLock was a communication tool exclusively used by members of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, to ensure the privacy of their conversations.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement 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 a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
A court later ruled to arrest Kayış, who was sent to Gebze Prison in Kocaeli province. Due to COVID-19-related measures she was put into a small isolation cell normally used for disciplinary punishment. She stayed there for 15 days with three others in abysmal conditions before being transferred to a normal ward.
Kayış’s arrest was in violation of the law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures, which stipulates that “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half.” The law also applies to inmates kept in pre-trial detention.
The first hearing of her case is scheduled for September 21.
According to a statement by Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the movement.