Mother of 2 sent to prison with her children over Gülen links

Former teacher Esra Songur was sent to prison with her 22-month-old daughter and three-and-a-half-year-old son for alleged links to the Gülen movement following the upholding of her sentence by the Supreme Court of Appeals, Bold Medya reported.

Songur was first arrested shortly after a failed coup on July 15, 2016 for alleged links to the Gülen movement and later released after serving nearly five months in pretrial detention.

The Gülen movement is accused by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt and is labeled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

After her sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, Songur was arrested again in November to serve six years, three months in prison for working at a private teaching institution affiliated with the movement, being a member of a labor union, having an account at Bank Asya, which was closed by the government following the coup attempt due to its links to the movement, and using the ByLock messaging application.

ByLock, once widely available online, is considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the movement. The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has repeatedly stated that arrest and conviction based on ByLock use in Turkey violates Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Songur’s husband Cebrail expressed despair that their children have to be in prison and demanded that his wife serve her sentence at home instead. “Our daughter is still breastfeeding, my son still needs much attention, and neither can live without their mother. We want my wife to be put under house arrest and not sent to prison. I want the responsible parties to show mercy,” he said.

“All women with children should serve their sentences at home, at least until they’re able to function without the help of their mother,” he said, recalling hundreds of mothers in prison who are in a similar situation as his wife.

Songur is currently incarcerated in Kastamonu Prison in northern Turkey, accompanied by her two children.

Songur’s husband was also arrested shortly after July 15, 2016 and served 16 months in the same prison.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish 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 on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The detention and arrest of pregnant women and mothers with young children have dramatically increased in Turkey in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt.

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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