Turkish court sentences 20 female university students to prison over Gülen links

Twenty female university students were handed down prison sentences on Friday for alleged links to the Gülen movement, sparking an outcry among activists and critics.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, said on Twitter the students were given the maximum sentence for the charges and that the ruling was completely political.

He pointed out the students had complained about being subjected to unlawful strip-searches while in detention in September 2020, an incident that was widely publicized, and that the prison sentences were a “sort of revenge.”

The students’ sentences range from six to 10 years in prison.

The students were among 30 women who were detained for five days in Turkey’s western Uşak province before being brought in front of a judge.

One of the students talked about her ordeal to the press on the condition of anonymity. According to her account, the improper treatment started when they first arrived at the police detention center. They were asked to remove their headscarves (hijabs) in front of a group of male and female officers. In Islam Muslim women are required to observe the hijab in front of any man they could theoretically marry, making this episode quite unnerving for them.

A worse kind of inhuman treatment was to come when they were subjected to strip-searches. They were asked to get undressed by female officers in front of them and to squat. The witness said she had to go through this process twice.

According to her account, the students who wanted to consult with their lawyers during the process were not allowed to do so. Claiming that they had been following them for two years and that they “knew about everything,” the police tried to get them to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

The young woman also talked about the suffering of a woman named Büşra Elbüken, who was detained only two days after surgery. Elbüken had to get her dressing changed but wasn’t taken to a doctor. The witness said Elbüken was in a lot of pain and that she would never forget her moaning. When they were finally taken to the hospital for a legally required doctor’s visit, she was told by the doctor that “I only look to see if you sustained any blows.”

One of the students filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office against the mistreatment, but authorities have denied any such wrongdoing had taken place. After the incident was made public scores of women came forward about abuse and unlawful strip-searches in Turkish detention centers and prisons.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and inner circle.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

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