By Wardah Wilkinson
More than 700 children and 17 000 Turkish women have been imprisoned in Turkish jails as a post-coup crackdown continues. Currently there are more than 150 children under twelve months old in jail with their mothers. The Turkish government has launched a sweeping crackdown across the country, detaining more than 120,000 and jailing some 50,000 over alleged links to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
This was revealed in a public discussion in light of International Women’s day last week, hosted by the Turquoise Harmony Institute in Cape Town, with the theme ‘Standing with the oppressed women’.
The Standing with Oppressed Women had approximately 20 Turkish women in attendance, who had shared their stories on oppression, plight, and challenges they facing after fleeing Turkey while still having family members in prison due to the post-Coup.
According to the event coordinator Aydin Inal, it has become a common occurrence that both parents are taken into custody leaving no one to care for children. Turkish government, on many occasions, detained pregnant mothers as well.
“Many women have been arrested in maternity wards immediately after delivery. Other children have been born inside prison, not knowing what freedom looks like. Some children you are seeing here are babies that are stateless as the embassy refused them identification cards. This is because our country’s government believed that their parents had Gulenist ties,” said Inal
He pointed to some Turkish children who were born in South Africa but do not have Turkish citizenship, because they have been denied by the Turkish embassy in South Africa. The parents of these children were told to travel to Turkey to apply for citizenship, but they fear they will be arrested and imprisoned upon their return.
He said that Turkey has been going through a very difficult time after the coup attempt; the government has fired more than 10 000 civil servants who they assume are associated with the Gulen Movement, a civil society transnational religious and social movement led by Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen. Gulen has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.
These civil servants were mainly involved in education and outreach work, however the government sees them as the “public enemy”, he explained.
“There is no freedom left in Turkey. They allow you to launch NGO’s as long as you side with the government. If you want to a raise a voice that is against the government, they will accuse you of being a terrorist,” he said.
Inal, a Turkish citizen who has South African residency for more than 20 years, cannot visit his homeland as he faces arrest. There are many institutions in South Africa that are affiliated with the Gulen movement, but these organisations are not welcome in Turkey, as the movement has been branded as a ‘terrorist’ organisation.
“A Turkish person who is a citizen, just happened to be in Turkey while the coup attempt happened and was arrested, as someone contacted the authority to declare him a terrorist. He spent six months in jail, until someone could prove to them he is innocent. After the coup attempt the Turkish government established a hot line, where anyone can call in and if, for example, you are unhappy with your neighbour, you can report them,” he explained.
The Turkish government controls 90% of the media so the narrative of what is happening the country is tightly controlled. He believes the Turkish government has blamed western propaganda for its perception of the social and political issues in Turkey.
“Before 15 July, they already started arresting teachers and other workers working for a charity origination that assist people worldwide. I am a mother of three adult children, my daughter a journalist has been detained for two years now, and my middle son had to flee the country with us. His wife and their three children are in Turkey. They cannot get a passport to come to South Africa, and if he goes to Turkey he will be detained. He has not seen his family in three years. I pray every day for my country,” said Turkish national Semie.
With the help of a 10-year-old translator, we were told by a young teacher that families are separated, parents go to different jails, and most of the people in prison are people who are mothers, housewives and academics that are innocent. When confronted with the issue of children in detention, the ruling Justice and Development Party dismissed it as propaganda.
South African solidarity
South African attorney and human rights activist Rehana Khan Parker has started an NGO to fight for the freedom of all legal professionals detained in Turkey due to the failed coup. They have written to the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, to stop the arbitrary arrests, detention and wrongful prosecution of legal professionals and to investigate the use of torture and ill-treatment by the state officials.
“We need to admire women and celebrate, support and respect women. We as South Africans have come out of a struggle not as deep as the current one in Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Kashmir, and Yemen, but we do understand the issues of detentions without trial. We understand the issues of babies behind bars, we identify with it. I don’t think there is a better nation who can relate the Turkish people, than us,” said Parker.
Parker decided to form a group called Social Justice Action Campaign (SOJAC) to play an active role in the struggle for justice. She wrote a letter to the law Society of South Africa, the Black Lawyers Association, the Cape Law Society, and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers to join her campaign.
“We call for the discharge of more than 1500 lawyers and persecuted, more than 500 judges and prosecutes were sentenced without trial. There are reports that indicate the use of torture against them. The government has also granted that state officials be granted immunity against any trial,” she had explained.
“It is my duty to stand up do for my legal brothers and sisters. We need to lobby for change, how would we have received our freedom if we did not lobby internationally. We cannot get change overnight but what we can do is create awareness. We are waiting for an answer by the chief justice to my letter. I urge everyone to be a voice for the voiceless, regardless of your profession,” she concluded.