Turkish court upholds pregnant woman’s sentence and denies request for release

An appeals court has upheld the prison sentence handed down to a pregnant woman on conviction of links to the Gülen movement and has rejected her request for release, the Bold Medya news website reported.

Asli Ünlü, 40, in the fifth month of a high risk pregnancy, requested her release, saying she was rapidly losing weight and feared experiencing a miscarriage in prison. Ünlü added that she was forced to stay in a solitary quarantine cell for two weeks after hospital visits, which had adverse effects on her mental and physical well-being.

Quarantine cells in Turkish prisons are notorious for being cold and unsanitary.

Peoples’ Democratic Party deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu called on authorities to immediately release Ünlü. “The authorities are merciless! This woman is being kept in prison despite a risky pregnancy and another child at home,” he said on Twitter.

 

Ünlü, who also has a 4-year-old son, was sent to a prison in western Edirne province. She was accused of using ByLock, once widely available online and considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the Gülen movement since a failed coup in 2016 despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish 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 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.

The Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures stipulates that even if a pregnant woman is convicted, her sentence shall be postponed. According to the law, “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half.”

Ünlü’s husband, Emre Ünlü, said his wife had already been experiencing a difficult pregnancy. “When she appeared in court, my wife could barely stand upright from the cramps. The stress of being incarcerated and hunger caused additional problems,” he said.

Emre Ünlü added that their 4-year-old son had surgery just 10 days earlier and desperately needed his mother by his side. He requested the release of his wife, or at least for her to be put under house arrest.

According to a report by Solidarity with OTHERS, as of November 2021 a total of 219 pregnant women and women with children under 6 years of age were arbitrarily detained or arrested over their suspected links to the Gülen movement.

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