A 9-month-old baby has been required to accompany her mother, Yasemin Melizci, 29, in a prison quarantine cell, sparking criticism from human rights activists, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported citing Bold Medya.
Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights activist and deputy from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing party with majority-Kurdish support, announced Melizci’s Thursday arrest on Twitter. “Is another baby going to be locked up in prison with her mother?” he asked.
Although the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures stipulates that the “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last 18 months,” Turkish authorities have been arresting mothers with children as young as 1 month old.
Melizci and her husband Kasım Melizci, 32, were accused of membership in the Gülen movement, a faith based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, based on witness testimony and for using encrypted messaging app ByLock. Turkish authorities claim that ByLock was a communication tool used exclusively by members of the movement to ensure the privacy of their conversations. Yet, the app was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
In an opinion the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said using the ByLock application is the mere exercise of freedom of expression, a right protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement 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. 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.
The actual number of children in prison with their mothers is unknown, but it is believed that the number reaches into the hundreds. The Rights Initiative Association (Hak Insiyatifi) said there were 780 children in prison with their mothers as of November 2019.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrest of mothers with babies has been a cause for more concern among activists and critics because quarantine wards are notorious for their poor conditions and overcrowding.