Huddled Masses Panel Discussion on the Imprisoned Women and Children

On Monday, Nov. 13th two panelists from Chicago’s Huddled Masses Advocacy women group went to speak at a panel at Carthage College in Kenosha, IL. Panel consisted of three panelists, two of whom were Ayse Nur, a lawyer from Turkey and Rana Yurtsever, Associate Director of Niagara Foundation. The third speaker was the college’s Gender and Women Studies Department Head.

Yurtsever set the context of the discussion by briefly speaking about the coup attempt, the persecutions and profiles of 3 women all persecuted with different cases. Then she spoke about the imprisoned children and called the audience to action. Ayse Nur, then, told her story of fleeing Turkey as a result of her persecution.

The panel was attended by the university’s provost as well as 15 professors all from different departments of the school. Following the panel discussion, Ayse Nur and Yurtsever were hosted at a dinner at the President’s Office alongside 6 department heads and spoke in more detail about the persecutions in Turkey.

My Mom’s Heart is Too Weak For Prison

My Mom’s Heart is Too Weak For Prison

I grew up as a kid who was always supported and encouraged by my family. My mom was a brave, loving woman despite her heart disease and all the challenges of life. She owned a kindergarten and was also working there as a teacher. She was never out of time or energy to play with me and my brother although she spent all her days taking care of children. My little brother was born with a bone tumor, so her sensitive heart was also burdened by the ailment of her younger son. Although my family was already suffering the financial cost of these health issues, they still decided to send me to the United States so that I could get a better education. “Go and make us proud” they said.

Our hearts were always connected although we were physically apart; we talked on the phone via FaceTime everyday. My mom was not able to travel due to her health issue, but despite that they had bought tickets to fly here for a surprise visit. My 4-year old brother was crazy about taking a flight for the first time, and I was happily making preparations for them in my little apartment. Yet, all my dreams were shattered on the day they went to the airport to board the plane. When I heard that they were taken into custody at the airport, I thought “there must be a mistake; I hope they don’t miss the flight.” But it turned out to be a very serious situation as I learned that even my 4-year-old brother was questioned by the police in a room separate from my parents. My mom and dad were both arrested, their passports were taken, and my little brother was going to be taken as orphanage as he was left with nobody to take care of him. All this felt totally unreal to me, like a bad joke, as I had to live through this nightmare miles away from them.

I learned that my grandparents rushed to the police station and tried to console my little brother who was shaking with fear. My mom was thrown into a cell–without being able to take her medication. My little brother would be in a state orphanage now if my grandma had not grabbed him firmly and insisted on not letting him go. It was unbelievable for me to hear these things when I was just dreaming of the days we would spend together in the United States. My family was all of a sudden split up by a senseless accusation of terrorism. Their only “crime” was to have downloaded a publicly available mobile chat app -now infamously known as Bylock. They were accused of betraying the nation and put in a prison cell reserved for the most serious crimes in Turkey.  The judge asked them why they were going to the US, what their son is doing in the US, as if it were a sign of being a US spy. He eventually decided to imprison them despite having no evidence.

Imprisoned… My parents… My mom who was a kindergarten teacher, and my dad who provided scholarships for students by collecting donations as a local NGO director… Now they were being treated worse than murderers and drug dealers. Not just them, but thousands of innocent doctors, police officers, teachers, and their kids and babies have been labeled as terrorists in Turkey. Is it possible for a country to totally lose its conscience?!

I am not allowed to talk with my parents on the phone because I am in the US. All I can do is to hear about their situation from my grandparents and pray for my family. Although they tried to hide it from me, I found out my mom had a heart attack in prison. They said that the prison guards woke everyone up in the ward in the middle of the night by hitting on the prison bars with their batons and shouting insults at the inmates -which was too much for my mom’s ailing heart.

She has been kept in prison despite her health problems, and she suffered two heart attacks already during her pre-trial detention. It is as if the prison officials are deliberately being harsh, rude, and abusive to the inmates who were arrested following the post-July 15 purge. I think they believe their mistreatment of the prisoners will be rewarded rather than punished. When my maternal grandmother went to the prison to see my mom, she saw that my mom was barely able to walk… According to what she told her, the prison officials give their meals in the pots and pans, without any plates or utensils to eat with. The water is cut off frequently so they can’t wash themselves. All signs point to a deliberate attempt to dehumanize the decent, well-educated citizens who were imprisoned unjustly; and I don’t know what else to do other than telling others about the plight of all these innocent people and their children.

Just recently I heard that a pregnant woman died in prison after telling the officials that she did not feel her baby alive in her womb… I don’t know if I will hear similar bad news from my mom, who has to stay in prison with chronic heart disease. The officials are unchecked, and unhinged in their violation of basic human rights. But I believe that there will be a day when everybody involved in this crime against humanity will face their day in court and get their due punishment. And those who silently witness these crimes will be held responsible on Judgment Day.



Cost of Turkey Purge: A Drowning Family in the Coasts of Mytilene Island

On November 21, 2017, the Greek Coast guards in the Mytilene Island found bodies of a family of 5, drowned while trying to cross the Aegean Sea. This tragedy of the teachers, father and mother, and their 3 kids is just like a summary of the mass persecution towards Hizmet movement members in Turkey.

Huseyin Maden was a 40-year-old science teacher and his wife, Nur Maden, was a 36 year old preschool teacher. The family resided in Kastamonu with their daughters Nadire (13) and Nur (10) and their son Feridun (7). Huseyin Maden used to work at a public school before he was expelled from his profession with a decree law after July 15. Then, he was investigated with the accusation of “being a member of a terrorist organization”. Fearing getting arrested and leaving the kids alone, the couple had decided hide from the police.

They managed to hide in different places for a year but police had searched for them in their own house several times. In the mean time, Huseyin Maden was trying to make ends meet with a job that had no insurance and made $250 a month. However, the pressure on Hizmet Movement members was getting heavier each day and Huseyin Maden decided to go abroad with the last money that was left. They had lost most of their savings due to getting expelled from their jobs, and seizure of their possessions by the government. According to the information their family gave, Huseyin Maden made contact with several smugglers but he just did not have enough money to afford the fees asked for a family of 5.

So, he borrowed some money from his friends to add what was left in him, and he bought an old boat. Without knowing how to use a boat, he decided to take his family to the Mytilene Island of Greece and seek asylum there.

His friend, whom he went to borrow some money from, described his last night: “We did not sleep till the morning prayer, and we converse

d. He told me about his second hand clothing that he bought only for $2.5. We did the morning prayer together, he even led the prayer. I was asleep afterwards; he woke me up before leaving. I walked with him and we said our goodbyes. He was carrying his stuff in a plastic bag. Lastly, he said “I really don’t want to go but we have no option. I don’t know anyone there. We are going to an uncertain future”. I asked how much money he had and he said “only about $1500. Allah is great.” Then he said goodbye. I don’t usually cry but watching him leave like that, I shed a few tears. There was a different sadness in our home.

Then, 40-year-old science teacher Huseyin Maden sailed through the wild waves of the Aegean Sea with his family. The next thing that was heard from them was the final text message he sent to his family: “ We saw the lights, getting ashore soon”.

Twenty days had passed after his last message. Their families tried to comfort themselves with the thought of them “at least” getting arrested and put in a refugee camp in Mytilene Island. Their calls were never answered.

However, the bodies of 3 kids washed ashore on Lesbos Beach of Mytilene Island: the bodies of two girls and a boy. The description of Greek police gave completely matched with Maden family’s kids. Also, there was no trace of that family in the refugee camps.

BURIEDBecause of the severe decomposition by seawater, it has stated that the kids’ bodies had to be buried after taking their DNA samples.
Although their relatives in Turkey are struggling to get to Greece and take the deceased, they haven’t gotten their visa yet to cross the border.

Huseyin Maden was a very successful physics teacher. The details about the science fair once he partnered with TUBITAK are still posted on the official website of the Ministry of National Education. In the official website; “the TUBITAK 4006 Science Fair that was conducted by our physics teacher Huseyin Maden, was carried out in May 22-23, 2015 thanks to the devoted work of our teachers and students.”

According to the information Huseyin Maden’s friends gave, he was struggling with serious health problems although he was only 40.

He had undergone surgeries on his kidney, liver and spleen. Therefore he was worried about his health problems could deteriorate and risk his life if he was to be arrested. Besides, there was an arrest warrant issued for his wife, and it was unacceptable to leave the three kids without both of the parents.

After Huseyin Maden was expelled and his properties were seized, his financial situation was getting really worse. The kids were unab

le to get their education because the family had to hide. All of these reasons made the family take risks, condemned to social death in Turkey, and tried to flee to Greece, which costs their lives.



Campaigns and protests to bring attention to the 668 children unlawfully imprisoned in Turkey’s prisons are still taking place globally this universal Children’s Day. While such an injustice has not been reported or had any notable presence in either the global or Turkish media, AST members and volunteer participants organized a press conference on November 20, 2017.

AST members organized protests for the children held captive in Turkey’s prison system under the slogan “Set Them Free.” Those who attended the protests brought their children along. The young children who participated held freedom banners for 668 of their peers jailed in Turkey.

At their press conference, AST spokespeople emphasized that the Erdogan administration does not only target children and babies but also their mothers, primarily housewives, as political prisoners. With many of their personal liberties siezed, mothers are held with their children in unsanitary and cramped conditions traumatic and detrimental to the development of children.

The AST members dispersed peacefully following the press conference:

Remembering Babies and Toddlers in Jail on Children’s Day

Set Them Free volunteers in San Fransisco gathered at Civic Center/UN Plaza on November 20  to raise their voice on behalf of the unlawfully imprisoned mothers and their babies in Turkey. Here is a read-out of their statement:

November 20th is the United Nations World Children’s Day, which marks the anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. On this significant day, we gathered here to speak up for at least 668 babies and toddlers in Turkey who are unlawfully imprisoned alongside their mothers. The majority of these mothers are among the 17000 women who have been detained as part of the massive political purge in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states that “childhood is entitled to special care and assistance.” Yet we sadly observe that children as young as newborn babies are forced to carry the burdens of the adult life under the conditions of political oppression and violent conflicts. The state of emergency rule declared by the government of Turkey after the failed coup attempt has totally undermined the rule of law in the country, putting the most vulnerable ones into great peril. As we demand swift and fair trial for all the political prisoners in Turkey, we are especially concerned about the children between age zero and six who have been imprisoned with their mothers that are waiting for trial for more than a year now. We urge the judicial administration in Turkey to follow the due process and obey the national and international law that require trial without arrest or postponement of convicted sentences for pregnant women and mothers with babies. It is a shame for any country to arrest women right after delivery, let alone causing pregnant women to lose their babies under pre-trial detention due to abuse and maltreatment. 

The state of emergency rule in Turkey already makes it difficult to access up-to-date and objective information about the prison conditions from official sources. However, the reports by independent human rights organizations, testimonies from former inmates and the lawyers of current inmates give us quite a dark picture about the lives of babies and toddlers in prisons. They are forced to live in overcrowded prison wards without seeing the sky, they do not have enough space to crawl, they are not allowed to have toys, they are not given separate beds nor special baby food for their age. Their speech development is delayed due to constantly being shushed as the other inmates get disturbed when they cry. In other words, they are forced to suffer with the adults, like the adults!

“Set Them Free” was hosted at local KWMR Radio Station in San Francisco

“Set Them Free” was hosted at local KWMR Radio Station in SF

On November 9, 2017, SF “Pieces of Peace” radio show host Susan Santiago invited a group of activist women to her show on to explain  “Set Them Free” project that initiated a few months ago. During the 30-minute-show, the motivation behind the project, and the related activities about the promotion of children and women rights were covered. Susan invited the crew again for a follow-up in the near future.

For a full coverage of the show, please visit Set Them Free Youtube channel:

Children and Women Advocates in Canada, Toronto

Children and Women Advocates in Canada, Toronto

Volunteers including mothers and children gathered in front of City Hall, Toronto on the 4th of November, Saturday afternoon to call attention and raise awareness on the 17,000 women and 668 babies, who have been arbitrarily jailed in Turkey following the failed coup attempt of July 2016.

As people walked nearby and asked questions about the event, volunteers set up a self-standing jail cell with different sizes of dolls in the position of crawling or holding bars in it. There was also a speaker system playing out the sound of a baby cry that captured the people’s attention more.

Volunteers were handing out fact sheets about “#SetThemFree”, in the reference to the “#668Babies” (under the age of 6) and “#17000Women” detained and jailed across Turkey as a result of being victims of “witch hunt” of the current rule of AKP government which violates human rights. The universal principle of presumption of innocence is being disregarded when alleged members of the Hizmet Movement, mothers, children and babies suffer in prisons for no legitimate reasons. Parents are being detained arbitrarily for months/years without accusation or indictment.

Another fact sheet was also given to the people was about the conditions of the prisons which even are not adequate, healthy and human for adults as child victims are forced to stay in. Such an unhealthy environment causes long-term personality disorders in children such as Anthropophobia and effective disharmony, among other cognitive developmental issues. Having no personal space while growing up can lead to problems in developing self-confidence as well as interrupting personal development.

The event continued in the late afternoon by handing black balloons along with the brochures and releasing some of the balloons in the air as demanding freedom for the 668 children and 17000 women in Turkey.

Set Them Free Advocates in North America

Set Them Free Advocates in North America

Last weekend on Nov 4th, hundreds of activists in North America flocked to the streets to bring awareness to the dire situation of innocently jailed women and children in Turkey. There are currently about 18,000 women and 668 children jailed without trial in Turkey. In Northern California, the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, and  San Jose had volunteers handing out black balloons with the hashtag “#668children” and “#SetThemFree” to bring social media awareness to the general public.

Amongst the activists some wore prison jumpsuits, while others walked around with a pacifier attached to a police cuff to indicate child imprisonment. Today, there is no official response yet from the Turkish government, but thousands are still hopeful that the world will evolve into a better place for those innocent lives in Turkish prisons.

Freedom Call in Chicago


Black balloons ascended for 668 child prisoners who yearn for the sky. Following the demonstrations in Europe that took place on October 28th, black balloon demonstrations were held in 15 different places around the United States and Canada on November 4th for children who were held in prison with their mothers in Turkey.

Following the coup attempt in Turkey on 15 July, 17,000 women were taken into custody for association with the Gulen Movement, with no evidence of crime. Currently, 668 children are being held in prison with those women. The black balloon demonstrations were held to ensure that the jailed children and women’s voices could be heard all over the world.

Chicago was one of the cities that held the demonstration. Turkish American supporters of the cause gathered at the Millenium Park for children who yearn for the sky and walked all the way down to the Chicago Tribune, as they gave out black balloons to Chicagoans. The message was received with concern from Chicagoans who showed tremendous interest in the cause and joined the march down the Michigan Avenue. Once the marchers finally arrived at the Chicago Tribune, a Press Release was read to demand the freedom of innocent people in jail. Finally, the local and federal government was called to action to raise awareness and stop the plight of thousands innocent children subject to discrimination on several grounds prohibited by the United National Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Following the press release, the marchers released their balloons and watched them as they rose to the sky in front of the Chicago Tribune.

The # 668Children hashtag received support messages from around the world on Twitter and Facebook.

668 Babies in Prison Campaign in Atlanta


The “668 Babies in Prison – Speak Up” campaign demonstrated across the globe continues to raise awareness in the media.

One of these protests took place in Atlanta’s historic Piedmont Park under the coordination and volunteerism of the Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) organization. Black balloons with the phrase “freedom for 668babies” were handed out to those enjoying the park to increase awareness of the dire situation currently taking place in Turkey. Atlantans were informed of the despair in Turkey via pamphlets embellished with the slogan “speak up;” urging them to help the 668 babies and 17 thousand innocent women currently imprisoned in Turkey’s prisons.

The protest organized by the AST aims to ensure the swift release of children and women wrongfully and unjustly  imprisoned. The AST members who described the number of women and children in prison emphasized that such incarceration is currently in clear defiance of international human rights laws. The volunteers who stressed that the place of children is in their homes, not in prison indicated that they would not cease their protests until global awareness is increased and these women and children are liberated.