The July 15 coup attempt remains shrouded in mystery. High-ranking political, military and intelligence officials who should be held accountable for the act are kept away from committees and courts, and the members of the junta still remain unidentified, despite the fact that two years have now passed. However, more than 17, 000 women, children and students along with more than a thousand babies have been placed in prisons and charged with the crime.
Highly respected by the community for many years, as evidenced by the fact that many children were entrusted to their hands without a second thought, these women are being punished for a crime they know nothing about and for volunteering to a movement (the Hizmet Movement) which was recognized by state departments.
The investigations and trials violate fundamental principles of universal law by disregarding individual criminal responsibility, applying laws to the past, and presuming guilty until innocent.
Volunteers or salaried professionals, these women were arrested for having worked in such institutions as private banks, schools, universities, hospitals, foundations, and media companies which ran legally for decades, and were inspected both regularly and irregularly by state officials. They were arrested because the state banned all these institutions overnight. Furthermore, the state mechanisms suspended the rule that laws cannot apply to the past, a fundamental principle in law, and the women were found guilty of a crime that was not a crime the day before.
International human rights organisations report that 60, 000 children and students have been detained and arrested, and several military students who were ordered to leave their barracks for training, not in order to stage a coup, have been handed heavy sentences of life imprisonment. Hundreds of newborn babies have been put in prison with their mothers; some were born in prison; others were placed in prison on the day they were born.
Punished without a trial or evidence, these women, children and babies have been subjected to dire conditions in prisons for several years now. They are fighting for their lives in an environment where twenty-five of them are forced to live in cells for eight and access to a bed, food, clothes and health care for the babies and children is extremely restricted. Toys are banned for children, and the strong need to see their father, siblings and friends leads to psychological trauma. Some lose this struggle, as is occasionally reported by the media.
Many women go into decline and need intensive medical care due to the trauma of being accused of a crime they cannot comprehend how they could possibly be charged with. There has been an alarming rise in suspicious cases of suicide and heart attacks as well as deaths due to illnesses for which permission for treatment was not granted, transforming prisons into death facilities.
3, 432 detainees and inmates have died over a period of sixteen years (2000-2016) and prisons have become ‘houses of death’, said CHP Vice Chairman, Veli Ağbaba in a statement he made after proposing a motion in the Turkish parliament to investigate deaths in prisons and the problems concerning inmates’ right to have access to healthcare. Turkey’s performance over the last two years did nothing but provide extensive data for its worsening rating in the report.
Turkey is the country where the rate of detention increased the most in the period 2006-2016, according to statistics jointly released by the Council of Europe and Lausanne University about the conditions of prisons in European countries. The rate of detention rose by more than 160%, putting Turkey at number one for having the biggest increase in its prison population. In the same report, Turkey ranked last in the category for expenditure (for health, food, etc.) per inmate. Conditions in prisons have been appalling over the last two years when travesties of justice have become the norm.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner issued a report on Turkey on March 20, 2018. The UN official who made a statement regarding the report said that 160,000 people had been detained in one and half years and that the detentions were entirely arbitrary. The official said that the subsequent extensions of the state of emergency in Turkey were used to severely and arbitrarily violate the human rights of a number of people and that the Turkish authorities had detained one hundred pregnant women or women who had recently given birth – some with their children and some being violently separated from their children – on the grounds that they had ‘partnerships’ with their husbands, who could be linked to terrorist organisations.
Innocent women are kept hostage despite domestic and international reports. Meanwhile, children of the detained women who are outside the prison walls experience similar troubles to their mothers. The conditions, however, of the children and babies inside the prisons are much worse.
Let us put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine you are a four or five-year-old child who has to sleep in her mother’s bed in a 15-metre-square cell. You do not have the luxury of choosing your food, making any noise, or being a child, because you share the environment with two dozen other people who are fragile because they are suffering psychologically. Even if your neighbours show the utmost understanding, all you can do is jump from bed to bed or run along the bunk beds. You cannot have pasta, eggs or a even a biscuit when you really want one. Imagine that you are trying to understand why soldiers storm in randomly and perform searches; why your things are turned upside down and left in a mess; why strangers treat you so badly; why you cannot touch your older brother or sister during weekly visits, or why your mother is handcuffed when she is taken to the hospital. Consider being in a social environment where everything is forbidden except taking twenty steps back and forth across a courtyard surrounded by three-metre-high walls, a place where you cannot see any flowers, grass, trees or sand. And all your questions about the whys and whens are answered by your mother’s warm tears.
Put yourself in the shoes of one of the hundreds of mothers who have recently given birth to a baby, with whom she is put in prison. You cannot access special healthcare, food, shelter or the physical environment you need. Your requests are unlawfully rejected with no reasons given, along with those of others with serious illnesses.
I really do not know which is harder: to be a child subjected to one of the world’s harshest environments at the age of five or to be the mother of the child made to suffer these sorrows. Like the five-year-old Baris in the Turkish movie Uçurtmayı vurmasınlar (Don’t Let Them Shoot the Kite), these innocent children and their mothers only have the distant sky to bring them light, and it is a mystery who will pay for their anguish and when. It is shameful that millions of people heartlessly remain unmoved by such a sorrowful sight that gets harder to make amends for every day.
Run with an iron fist, Turkish prisons today do not house criminals. Mothers and children are locked inside them, fighting for their lives, while criminals are outside, walking freely among us.
Article 41 of the Turkish Constitution stipulates that, “The State shall take the necessary measures and establish the necessary organisation to protect the peace and welfare of the family, especially mothers and children, and to ensure the instruction of family planning and its practice.” It seems to me that the dictatorial regime sees ‘prison’ as the ‘organisation’ defined in this law and thus formally instructs thousands of mothers, children and babies there.
A ‘state’ is supposed to be an organisation that protects its citizens and provides a safe haven for them. It is valuable as long as it performs its duty. The only power that can keep the state structure standing is the buttress provided by justice. It is pure disillusionment to believe that an organisation can maintain its existence when deprived of the support and trust of people whose rights have been violated and to whom rightful protection has been denied.
It should be remembered that, a single teardrop from a mother and her child, whose entreaties shake the heavens and resound throughout the skies, can turn into a flood that swallows the powers-that-be along with all their thrones! This is not a threat, nor is it a warning or a desire. It is a sociological, historical and spiritual fact that something is about to happen and the time is fast approaching.