Woman released for health reasons sent back to prison after court rules she poses a flight risk

Ebide Şimşek's daughter Feride (8) says goodbye to her mother in front of the courthouse

Ebide Şimşek, a housewife and mother of three who was sentenced to prison in 2019 for alleged links to the Gülen movement but subsequently released for reasons of health, was rearrested on September 29 for posing a “flight risk” and is being held in an overcrowded ward, her family told the Bold Medya news website on Tuesday.

The Gülen movement is accused by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and is labeled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Şimşek was sentenced to seven years, six months in prison in 2019 for attending religious gatherings known as “sohbet/halaqa,” having an account at the now-closed Bank Asya and using the ByLock cell phone messaging application.

“Sohbet/halaqa” are one type of gathering associated with the Gülen movement. Since a failed coup attempt in 2016, participation in these gatherings has been considered a crime by the Turkish government, as it is indicative of a connection to the movement. ByLock was once widely available online and has been considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the movement since the failed coup attempt in 2016, despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch. They are also accused of depositing money in Bank Asya, which was closed by the government following the coup attempt due to its links to the Gülen movement.

Şimsek, who was released under judicial supervision due to serious health problems after spending six months in prison in 2019, was sent back to prison out of concern that she could flee the country.

Şimşek’s family stated that during the years she was under judicial supervision she did not miss a single appointment when she had to go to the police station to sign a statement about the continuation of her sentence. Şimşek’s husband said, “It’s been three years since she was released. If she wanted to flee, she could have done so by now. We believe the concern about her fleeing the country is only a pretext.”

Şimşek’s family said she was currently in an overcrowded ward and she had to sleep on the floor for the first week of her incarceration, despite having severe health problems.

Critics have slammed Turkish authorities for refusing to release critically ill prisoners. Human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu previously said critically ill political prisoners were not released from prison “until it reaches the point of no return.” He depicted the deaths of seriously ill prisoners in Turkey who are not released in time to receive proper medical treatment as acts of “murder” committed by the state.

According to the most recent statistics published by the Human Rights Association (İHD), the number of sick prisoners is in the thousands, more than 600 of whom are critically ill. Although most of the seriously ill patients have forensic and medical reports deeming them unfit to remain in prison, they are not released. Authorities refuse to free them on the grounds that they pose a potential danger to society.

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