‘I worry about my granddaughter,’ says mother of woman in prison with her baby

Ayşe Semerci, the mother of former teacher Büşra Çulha, who is imprisoned with her 9-month-old daughter Bahar, has said she is worried about her granddaughter’s well-being due to the poor conditions in the prison, Bold Medya reported.

Çulha was arrested in Turkey’s western province of Edirne 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. However, she was arrested on September 19 and imprisoned with her then 8-month-old baby when she tried to flee persecution in Turkey.

Semerci visited her daughter and granddaughter on Monday for the first time since their detention. She stated that the ward where her daughter and granddaughter are being held has been combined with another ward, making it very crowded, which is affecting their health and sanity. Bahar, who just started crawling, has gotten an infection from the cold, dirty concrete in the ward, and her face and skin are covered with red spots, she said.

“My granddaughter should not grow up behind bars. Put her mother under house arrest instead of keeping them in jail. Let Bahar grow up in her own home,” Semerci said.

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 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 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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