Turkish court sends parents of 6 to prison on Gülen charges conviction

The Arslan couple and their children

A Turkish couple on Saturday was arrested and sent to prison to serve sentences for conviction of links to the Gülen movement, leaving their six children in the care of relatives, Turkish media reported.

The Edirne Criminal Court of Peace handed down a nine-year sentence to Abdülkadir Arslan, while Nurcan Arslan was sentenced to more than six years in prison.

Abdülkadir Arslan had worked at a private education center linked to the movement. His wife was a homemaker.

They were accused of depositing money in Bank Asya, a now-closed Gülen-linked Bank, and using ByLock, a smartphone application once widely available online and considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the movement since a failed coup attempt in 2016 despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

The couple’s arrest came after a landmark decision made on September 26 by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which ruled that Turkish courts’ conviction on terrorism charges of a teacher over activities such as the use of ByLock or having an account Bank Asya was unlawful.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 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.

The couple has six children, five of whom are quintuplets aged seven, and an elder daughter aged 13. A video circulating on social media show the children crying for their parents in the court waiting room. The six young children were later picked up from an Edirne police station by relatives.

The video sparked outrage among human rights activists, who called for the immediate release of the children’s parents and especially their mother.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a deputy from the Democratic People’s Party (DHP), previously known as the Green Left Party (YSP), expressed his disbelief in the prison sentences on social media.

“Six children have been left without their parents. I have talked to their uncle, and the children are under great psychological stress. But the heartless, merciless authorities don’t care. The children’s mother should be immediately released!” he said.

Gergerlioğlu said the prison sentences had not been upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals and the couple could at least be released pending the court’s decision.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 civil servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 24,706 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny. In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

The purge has damaged the unity of many families and left children to the care of relatives. Such separations have had a negative impact on the mental and physical well-being of children. In cases where grandparents are responsible of the child’s care, they cannot meet every need, especially in education.

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