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Serife Sulukan: a disabled teacher in prison

Serife Sulukan was put in prison on 3rd May 2022 for 6 years and 3 months. The reasons include: working as an insured physics teacher at a school associated with Gulen Movement (GM), sending her kid to attend the same school associated with Gulen Movement, and allegedly using the app ByLock that was found on her husband’s phone. 

While her condition includes 89% disability and paralysis that prevents her from being able to do her daily needs by herself, her arrest was postponed twice (as these 2 occasions did not find her medical condition suitable to serve time in prison) before 3rd of May 2022. Since then, she was found ‘able to serve’ prison time. Though, the reports from the prison clearly states she is not well. The prison conditions and treatment only make it worse for her: from reducing her 3 physiotherapy sessions  to one session a week due to busy environment; in addition to several epilepsy attacks and a cardiovascular surgery she had since her arrest. She is also waiting for her knee surgery to be done.  Struggling with these circumstances, her mental wellbeing is also not well; she is on medication for depression. 

For more than a year, the family applied for presidential pardon and is yet to receive a response. While her husband is also in prison; her 2 kids are advocating for her rights and updating about her wellbeing in the prison. Her situation was mentioned in the Parliament by various MPs to urge for her release. 

About Sulukan’s reasons for arrest, there is no evidence that justifies these actions as a criminal offence. Sulukan’s defence included that she was a victim of 28 February post-modern coup in which banned the hijab use in the public sphere. As a result, she could only work in private schools in Türkiye. Her son had attended the same school she worked in, and 60% of the fees were covered by the Turkish government as government incentives. The insurance company used by the school was an official and legal institution established, which was shut down by the government after the coup in 2016. Regarding ByLock, it was found on her husband’s phone, not on her phone that she is punished for using. ByLock is an encrypted messaging app similar to Telegram and Signal that became a litmus paper for determining individuals’ association with the Gulen Movement post-coup that causes “prosecutions of a systemic nature”. Revealing the alleged crimes Serife Sulukan is convicted of, there is no evidence of actual crime or illegal activity done by her. She has used the legal ways and institutions available to her as a hijabi trained-teacher, and worked in a legal private school that the government funded individual students as an incentive. While she should not be punished for any activity of her husband, in a similar case of Yalcinkaya on the 26th September 2023; ECtHR (European Court of Human Rights) did not determine ByLock as an illegal activity, or as a way to determine individual’s affiliation with Gulen Movement and found individuals conviction based on ByLock as violation of Article 7(no punishment without law) , Article 6.1 (right to a fair trial) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association). 

We, as Rights Defenders, believe that Sulukan’s case is very clearly unlawfully criminalised. There is no basis of her punishment in prison. Considering her disability, epilepsy, recent and upcoming surgeries she needs; she should have never be put in prison. While she has been waiting for the presidential pardon for more than a year, the political motivation of the ruling party AKP (Justice and Development Party; Turkish: Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) and its link to Gulen Movement (GM) seems to be overriding the decision making, rather than the individual-based circumstances. We demand the release of Serife Sulukan to reunite with her kids and have access to intensive medical care she’s in urgent need of immediately.  


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