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: