Mother of toddler sent to prison over Gülen links despite regulations

Esra Aşçı, the mother of a 16-month-old boy, was arrested on Wednesday in a terrorism case for alleged links to the Gülen movement, the Bold Medya news website reported.

Aşçı was sentenced to six years, three months’ imprisonment on conviction of membership in a terrorist organization. She was in pre-trial detention for nine months and was released pending appeal in March 2019. Her case is currently before the Supreme Court of Appeals. She was arrested together with her husband, Abdurrahman, due to the belief that they posed a flight risk. He had an ongoing case based on similar allegations.

Aşçı had to take her son Muaz with her to the prison. Esra Aşçı’s arrest is in violation of the law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures, which stipulates that “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half.” The law also applies to inmates kept in pre-trial detention.

Yet, the Turkish authorities have been detaining pregnant women and mothers with babies and toddlers younger than 18 months in some terrorism-related cases.

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

According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the movement.

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