Imprisoned journalist Gazel Bulut, who has not been allowed to see her four-year-old daughter for the past six months due to COVID-19 measures, has called on the government to allow contact visits in prison.
In a letter to human rights defender and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, Bulut talked about the negative effects of coronavirus-related restrictions in prisons.
From March to June, families were not allowed to visit inmates. Since June, families have only been allowed non-contact visits during which they can see inmates from behind a glass partition. But for inmates with small children, like Bulut, this is intolerable since the children — who cannot understand the reason for the glass barrier — are psychologically affected by the visits.
Bulut says that’s the reason she didn’t want her daughter to come for non-contact visits. “Before COVID-19, she came for a non-contact visit and was so afraid. I don’t want her to come for such visits because I’m anxious that this could happen again. But I want to see my daughter and take her inside with me.”
Bulut was working for the Özgür Gelecek newspaper when she was arrested and later sentenced to 10 years, 10 months’ imprisonment for attending protests to cover a story. She has been in prison for the past three years in the western city of Kocaeli.
Bulut is one of the many journalists who have been imprisoned since a massive crackdown was launched by the Turkish government in the aftermath of an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016. Since the coup attempt 164 media organizations have been summarily shut down by the Turkish government. According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” list, there are currently 179 journalists behind bars, and 168 journalists are wanted by Turkish authorities.
According to the CPJ, Turkey is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists together with China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In a December 2019 report CPJ said Turkey has “stamped out virtually all independent reporting.”
In a petition to the Ministry of Justice, Bulut made a number of requests that would improve the conditions of imprisoned mothers. These include fast track tests for children similar to those given to prison guards to facilitate their entrance into prisons to stay with their mothers without having to first quarantine and enabling video calls with the children.
The Turkish parliament passed a release bill in mid-April to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded prisons. But the law, which provided the possibility of early parole or house arrest to inmates, explicitly excluded tens of thousands of political prisoners such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics, and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted counterterrorism laws. The government has turned a deaf ear to calls from international organizations, NGOs and rights groups to include political prisoners within the scope of the release law.