Turkey’s Justice Ministry: 624 babies behind bars across country

The Turkish Justice Ministry has revealed that 624 children under the age of six are living with their convicted mothers in prisons across Turkey, according to a report by online news portal Diken on Thursday.

The Justice Ministry has responded to a motion of inquiry by Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi and announced that as of November 14, 2017, there are 624 children who are in prisons along with their mothers.

The Justice Ministry’s statement on Thursday has also noted that 268 of these children are under two years old. The statement confirmed that the number of young children behind bars has risen by 20 percent since April 2017.

On the children who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses while they were in prison with their mothers, the Ministry said that “There is no statistical data on the number of children who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses while they were in prison with their mothers between 2003 and 2017.”

İlgezdi had published a report titled “Incarcerated Along with Mom: 560 Children” in April 2017 and spoke about the problems and rights violations the children experienced. İlgezdi had also proposed rights to preschool facilities and prisons to be designed in compliance with needs of arrestee women with children. In the 3 months after the publication of the report, the number of children under 6 in prisons along with their mothers increased 20 percent to 668 children.

The issue of children in prison became headline news last December again when Ayşe Çelik, a teacher and mother of two from the south-eastern city of Diyarbakır, received a jail sentence for phoning a popular chat show to plead “don’t let children die” in the conflict with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The teacher will begin her jail term along with her two-month-old baby if her appeal fails.

Meanwhile, online news portal Ahval has reported that the Turkish Justice Ministry has refused to answer questions on pregnant prisoners, or those who lost their newly born children while in prison, stating that these issues required “special study.”

Previously it was revealed that Turkish government put at least 668 babies behind the bars as their fathers and mothers were arrested and sent to jail as part of massive post-coup witch hunt campaign targeting the alleged members of the Gülen movement.

The prison facilities provided to pregnant women and the women having babies under who were imprisoned in contravention of the laws are very limited. Many prisons are struggling to meet the needs of babies. In some prisons, 20 female prisoners with 4 infants have to stay in 8-person ward. Some women lye with a baby on a blanket laid on the concrete floor.

According to accounts of those who released from the prisons, the crib rate for babies is very low, the mother and the baby are lying together in the bunk. They need to entrust their babies to their friends in order to use the bathroom.

Moreover, there are no additional foods such as yogurt, eggs or soup to be given to babies. There are no areas where children would crawl and play. Needs like baby cloth, wet wipes are delayed for weeks and given insufficiently. Infants who have fever or are sick can have up to one day waiting time to go to the hospital. Needs like a walker are not given. There is no additional time for babies in open visit.

Following the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 more than 17,000 women with 668 babies were jailed over their alleged links to the Gülen movement. Women are being accused of giving scholarships, arranging sales, depositing money into private lender Bank Asya, sending their children the schools affiliated with the Gülen movement, subscribing to Zaman and Bugün newspapers, using smart phone messaging application ByLock.

Women who come to hospitals for birth control or birth are clear target for the police officers. However, according to the Turkish Penal Code numbered 5275, “the sentence of imprisonment is left behind / postponed of women who are pregnant or have not passed six months since the conception of birth.” Experts say that according to the law, the arrest of pregnant women and those who have infants smaller than 6 months is not possible at all. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) also takes born or unborn child under protection.

However, during the 15-month state emergency (OHAL) period in Turkey, approximately 700 babies and more than 17,000 women were unlawfully put into prisons. Pregnant women in prisons were not released and also the mothers who gave birth were arrested with unlawful operations after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Tuesday. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “Even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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 Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

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. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, 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.

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