Woman imprisoned on Gülen links denied release from prison despite suffering from multiple sclerosis

Turkish authorities have denied an appeal from Aysun Şahin, a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient arrested over alleged links to the Gülen movement, to postpone her prison sentence, Bold Medya reported.

Şahin also suffers from articular rheumatism, cardiac dysrhythmia and osteoporosis. Unable to take care of her own needs, she is accompanied to places like the toilet and the visitation room by her cellmates.

In a letter to the Human Rights Association (İHD) Şahin said she was under a lot of physical and psychological stress in prison. “Due to MS I can barely walk and need to frequently go to the hospital,” she said. “But I am always handcuffed during hospital visits, which makes it even more difficult for me to move. I need daily injections for my sickness, which also suppresses my immune system. Even the common cold or flu is dangerous for me, and I am at great risk in prison conditions.”

Şahin also said the stress she experienced in prison was detrimental to her health and that she needed better food and care. “My immune system is compromised, and I need better nutrition than what is provided here,” she said.

Şahin was arrested in 2017 for working in a private university dorm affiliated with the movement. She was sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison based on witness testimony, having a bank account in the now-closed Bank Asya, a bank affiliated with the Gülen movement, and using the ByLock messaging application.

Turkish government claims that supporters of the Gülen movement used ByLock, an encrypted messaging application that was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, to ensure the privacy of their communication.

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.

Turkish authorities have denied political prisoners, even those with critical illnesses, release from prison so they can at least seek proper treatment. Human rights activists and opposition politicians have frequently criticized authorities for not releasing critically ill prisoners.

COVID-19 has also presented greater concerns in Turkey’s prisons, which were already notorious for human rights abuses, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions before the pandemic.

The Turkish parliament passed an early parole law on April 14 aimed at reducing the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the legislation excluded political prisoners, including opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial counterterrorism laws. The law prompted calls from the UN, the EU and rights groups for the non-discriminatory reduction of prison populations.

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