Mother of 2 pushed back from Greece, arrested in Turkey

A woman who was pushed back to Turkey from Greece, where she fled with her husband, daughter and 18-month-old baby to escape imprisonment on trumped-up charges, has been arrested by Turkish authorities, the Kronos news website reported

Semra Banko was sentenced to six years, three months in prison for working at a private tutoring center linked to the Gülen movement. When the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the sentence, Banko decided to flee the country. 

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 in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Banko, her husband, daughter and baby set off for Greece last week, but upon their arrival the family was pushed back to Turkey. They were detained in Turkey’s Edirne province, where they were allegedly mistreated by Turkish police officers. According to Banko’s husband Muhammed Banko, they were not given food or water for a whole day in detention.

“My wife was unable to breastfeed after some time, and we asked for milk, but we weren’t even given that,” he said. “Our baby cried from hunger all night.” 

On August 24 Semra Banko was arrested and sent to prison with her baby to serve her sentence. Her daughter is staying with her father. The young mother’s arrest sparked outrage among human rights advocates. 

“This is a country where families are destroyed on baseless charges,” said Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the Green Left Party (YSP) and a prominent human rights advocate.

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.

The purge victims had to leave the country illegally because the government had revoked their passports.

According to a report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) titled “Pushbacks of Turkish asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey: Violation of the principle of non-refoulement,” the pushbacks, particularly of Turkish asylum seekers, violate the principles of international and European Union law, in particular the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning refugees to a country where they would face persecution.

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