Petition campaign launched for release of pregnant women, mothers with babies from Turkish prisons

A petition campaign has been launched on Change.org for the release from Turkish prisons of pregnant women and mothers who have been imprisoned with their babies.

According to data from Turkey’s General Directorate of Prisons and Houses of Detention, there are currently in excess of 700 children with their mothers in prisons across Turkey.

More than 4,800 people signed the petition on the first day of the campaign, which is aimed at gathering 5,000 signatures.

Launched by Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights activist and deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), two days ago, the campaign has targeted Turkey’s Justice Ministry.

Meral Danış Bektaş, another HDP deputy, proposed on July 24 a bill that seeks to delay the execution of sentences given to mothers who have small children with them in Turkish jails until the children reach age six.

The bill intends to allow these children to grow up outside jail until they turn six. It is mentioned in the bill that children staying in jail with their mother contravenes the principle of individual criminal responsibility.

Bektaş told Turkish media outlets that although there are regulations in Turkish law addressing the situation of pregnant women when they commit a crime, there are no such regulations for women who have small children.

“Finding a solution for the children who do not know how to walk on the grass or play ball is urgent,” she said.

The mothers of most of the children in Turkish jails, who number more than 700 according to some sources, have been arrested as part of a government crackdown on followers of the Gülen movement in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, and most of them are in pre-trial detention and not yet convicted of a crime.

According to data from the Turkish Justice Ministry concerning the number of children who are in jail with their mothers, there were 560 such children in 2016, 128 of whom were aged one, 114 aged two, 81 aged three, 70 aged four, 31 aged five and five of whom were aged six as well as 17 other children whose ages were not known by the authorities.

The women have been accused of providing scholarships, arranging sales, depositing money in private lender Bank Asya, sending their children to schools affiliated with the Gülen movement, subscribing to the Zaman or Bugün newspapers or using the ByLock smart phone messaging application. Women who go to hospitals seeking birth control or to give birth have also been targets of the massive post-coup witch hunt conducted by the Erdoğan government.

According to the Turkish Penal Code’s Article 5275, “the sentence of imprisonment is set aside/postponed for women who are pregnant or who are within six months of delivery.” Experts say that according to the law, the arrest of pregnant women and those who have infants younger than six months of age is not possible at all. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) also takes born or unborn children under protection.

However, women and mothers who have been jailed in the unprecedented crackdown have been subjected to torture and ill treatment in detention centers and prisons as part of the government’s systematic campaign of intimidation and persecution of critics and opponents, a report titled “Jailing Women In Turkey: Systematic Campaign of Persecution and Fear released in April 2017 by SCF revealed.

In several cases, mothers were detained in the hospital immediately after the delivery of a baby and before they had a chance to recover. Many mothers were jailed as they were visiting their imprisoned husbands, leaving the children stranded in the ensuing chaos.

In a 28-page report issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in March 2018 emphasised on the detention, arrest and torture of pregnant women and children in Turkey in 2017.

The report said that “OHCHR estimates that approximately 600 women with young children were being held in detention in Turkey as of December 2017, including about 100 women who were pregnant or had just given birth.

“OHCHR documented at least 50 cases of women who had given birth just prior to or just after being detained or arrested. OHCHR received a report concerning a woman who was sexually assaulted by a police officer during arrest. Moreover, NGOs brought to the attention of OHCHR at least six cases of women who were detained while they were visiting their spouses in prison. They were either detained together with their children or violently separated from them.”

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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