Özlem Meci, who was arrested during a pregnancy in 2017 in an attempt to force her wanted husband to surrender, was separated from her premature newborn after delivery and not allowed to breastfeed him for six days.
In an interview with Bold Medya, Meci talked about her ordeal and how the prison administration started to treat her differently after her plight was widely publicized on social media.
Baby Murat was born prematurely with a medical condition and was immediately referred to another hospital following delivery. However, his mother was not allowed to accompany him. She was taken back to the prison where she had been in pretrial detention. Her elder brother visited the prison to get her breast milk for the baby, but the prison administration refused to allow it, Meci said.
Meci was imprisoned because her husband, who was the actual person being sought, could not be found at home during a police raid. She was taken to the hospital from prison for preterm labor, a condition that occurred due to the unsanitary and unhealthy conditions of the prison ward. She was escorted to the hospital by an officer and two gendarmes. The officer insisted on staying in the delivery room during labor, which worsened Meci’s condition. The doctor and the nurse had a quarrel with the officer and convinced him to stay outside the room. Still, a female prison guard remained inside during labor.
Meci was pregnant when she was first referred to court by the public prosecutor’s office. Her house was twice raided by the police, once in Ardahan province where she had been working before dismissal from her job, and once in İzmir province, where she moved after Ardahan. In both cases her husband was not home. The prosecutor decided to keep her locked up instead of her husband, and the chief judge decided to arrest Meci, saying, “I am detaining you because of your husband.”
After a year of pretrial arrest, Meci was first released, then acquitted of charges of membership in a “terrorist organization.” However, she fled the country together with her husband and children because of the persecution in Turkey targeting Gülen movement supporters.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Fethullah Gülen, a self-exiled Turkish cleric living in the US, of masterminding a controversial coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the 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. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive coup.
The Turkish government accepted such daily activities as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen movement affiliated bank, working at any institutions linked to the movement or subscribing to certain newspapers and journals as benchmarks for identifying and arresting tens of thousands alleged members of the movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.
The detention and arrest of pregnant women and mothers with young children have particularly seen a dramatic increase in the aftermath of the coup attempt. Currently, more than 700 infants are accompanying their mothers in Turkish prisons.
In some recent cases Turkish authorities have imprisoned women who are breastfeeding infants, some of whom are only a few weeks old, in blatant violation of the law on the execution of sentences, which prohibits the imprisonment of pregnant women or women with children up to 18 months of age.