Paralyzed woman sentenced to prison on alleged terrorism charges

A young woman was sentenced to six years, three months in prison for alleged membership in a terrorist organization, despite suffering paralysis of her hands and feet from birth, Bold Medya reported.

Fatma Cömert was diagnosed as almost totally disabled and lived her whole life in a wheelchair, unable to leave her home without assistance. However, she has been struggling with court cases for the last 18 months, and if the Supreme Court of Appeals upholds her sentence she will be arrested. According to the Turkish Penal Code, prison sentences can be suspended if the person sentenced has a critical illness.

The court considered ByLock as evidence against Cömert, ByLock is an encrypted messaging app used in smartphones and was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Turkish authorities claim that ByLock is a communication tool exclusively used by members of the Gülen movement to ensure the privacy of their conversations. The app was permanently shut down in March 2016, before the movement was declared a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy and a rights activist, criticized the decision on his Twitter account, saying it was unconscionable. Speaking to Bold Medya, Cömert said the verdict came as a shock to her. “Even the judge was upset when he saw my condition, he said I did not need to attend the trials,” she said.

Cömert said she was physically incapable of doing the things she was charged with. “How am I supposed to download applications and use a phone? I am a student in an open university, and it takes me more than two hours to get through 40 questions on a multiple choice test.”

Her brother said Cömert was completely demoralized and refused to continue with her physical rehabilitation. “Her imprisonment goes against common sense. She cannot even leave the house by herself, let alone get involved in terrorism. If she is sent to prison her health will deteriorate considerably, and she has a hospital report saying that she needs a caretaker at all times.”

Although the law requires the sentences of critically ill patients to be postponed, many of them have been arrested on trumped-up terrorism charges.

Erdoğan Erduran, 52, a former teacher suffering from prostate cancer, was arrested pending trial in November 2019 for alleged membership in the Gülen movement. His treatment was cut short due to his arrest, and although he appealed for release, the Council of Forensic Medicine issued a report stating that he was fit to live in prison conditions.

Ümit Gökhasan, a prison inmate suffering from stomach cancer whose stomach and half of his esophagus were removed in an operation, was sent back to prison after a medical report found that he can survive in prison and that there was no need to postpone his sentence.

Bilal Danış, 30, a former public servant in the western city of İzmir who was arrested in November 2016 and convicted on bogus terrorism charges, is being kept in prison despite a disability and suffering from gastric bleeding.

The violation of prison inmates’ basic rights in Turkey is one of the topics raised frequently by activists and human rights defenders. According to the Human Rights Association (İHD), there are currently 1,605 sick prisoners in Turkish prisons, 604 of whom are critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients have forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they are not released. Authorities refuse to release them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society. In the first eight months of 2020, five critically ill prisoners passed away because they were not released in time to receive proper medical treatment.

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