Student detained for receiving money from relatives abroad, accused of ‘terrorist financing’

Esengül Arslan

Esengül Arslan, a 23-year-old nursing student in Istanbul, has been detained for receiving funds sent by her relatives abroad, which authorities have labeled as “terrorist financing,” the Kronos news website reported.

Arslan was one of 90 people detained on Thursday on alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

Arslan’s brother Ömer Arslan criticized his sister’s detention on X.

“My sister is not a terrorist. I’m the one who sent her money because she’s a student. There’s nothing unusual about a brother supporting his sister’s studies,” he said.

Arslan’s mother, Gülizar Arslan, expressed concern about the reason for her daughter’s detention.

“They said she was detained because money was sent to her account from different foreign accounts. My son, her uncle and her maternal uncle all live abroad,” she said.

Esengül Arslan is currently being held at the Vatan Police Station in Istanbul and was expected to appear before a court on Friday.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker and prominent human rights advocate, criticized Arslan’s detention on X and the impact it has had on her family. “The authorities must answer for this unjust detention and the hardship it has caused her family,” Gergerlioğlu stated.

The Arslan family’s situation worsened after two major earthquakes that struck 11 provinces in Turkey’s south and southeast in February 2023 left more than 53,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands injured or displaced while causing massive devastation.

With her husband incarcerated and their home in ruins, Esengül Arslan had been a crucial source of support for her mother, working various jobs including teaching and housekeeping. “My husband has been in prison for six years. Esengül helped us a lot. She worked in supermarkets, taught math and Turkish, and even cleaned houses. We have no home. I’m staying with my mother in a village in Adıyaman. If my daughter is arrested in Istanbul, how can I survive?” Gülizar Arslan said.

Esengül Arslan’s father, Aziz Arslan, a former teacher, was dismissed from his job by a government decree and later sentenced to 10 years on alleged links to the Gülen movement, based on his deposits to the now-closed Bank Asya and work at a school linked to the movement.

The Turkish government accepted such daily activities as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen movement-affiliated bank, working at any institutions linked to the movement or subscribing to certain newspapers and magazines as benchmarks for identifying and arresting tens of thousands alleged members of the movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

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

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