Social media campaign urges release of inmate suffering from paralysis and epilepsy

Social media users on Friday called on Turkish authorities to release Şerife Sulukan, an inmate suffering from paralysis and epilepsy whose health has deteriorated due to alleged negligence by the prison administration.

Sulukan, who is jailed for links to the faith-based Gülen movement, has been awaiting a presidential decision on her release for nearly a year after medical authorities found her unfit to remain in prison.

Her son, Bahadır Sulukan, made a public appeal on social media, urging action from the president’s office. “My mother is paralyzed, epileptic and severely disabled. Recently retired generals were pardoned. I want the same for my mother,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently pardoned seven retired generals, due to their advanced age, who were serving life sentences for their role in a 1997 military intervention known in Turkey as the “February 28 postmodern coup.” Rights groups have been calling for similar leniency for sick inmates.

Sulukan, a former physics teacher, was sent to prison in May 2022 after the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a six-year, three-month sentence on conviction of affiliation with the movement. Sulukan’s husband, Coşkun Sulukan, was also imprisoned on the same grounds and is still behind bars.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of 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.

In June 2022 Sulukan suffered an epileptic seizure in prison and was not given proper medical care, she reported in a letter to member of parliament and human rights advocate Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu. Despite undergoing major heart surgery in September 2022, she was initially deemed fit for imprisonment by Turkey’s Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK). However, the ATK reversed this decision in 2023, declaring her unfit to remain behind bars.

Turkish authorities have denied political prisoners, even those with critical illnesses, release from prison so they can at least seek proper treatment. Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners.

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