Turkish mothers fleeing Erdogan file appeal against 'disproportionate and excessive' prison sentence

Two Turkish mothers who were jailed for passport offences have filed an appeal, claiming that their six month jail sentences were too severe and that they were, essentially seeking asylum from the Erdogan regime in Turkey

Two Turkish mothers who were recently jailed for passport offences have filed an appeal, claiming that their six month jail sentences were too severe and that they were, essentially seeking asylum from the Erdogan regime in Turkey.

On 28 July, Rabia Yavuz and Muzekka Deneri were jailed for six months after pleading guilty to offences relating to tampering with passports and the use of false passports. Their young children were present in the courtroom as the women were jailed and screamed helplessly as their mothers were led away.

In their appeal application, which was filed this morning, the women’s lawyers Jason Grima and Gianluca Cappitta say they are teachers who had fled their homeland some 11 months ago because of their involvement with the Gulen movement which was accused of taking part in the 2016 failed coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The women are understood to have been members of the educational wing of the movement.

In their appeal application, the lawyers explained that in order to avoid the consequences and horrible atrocities which followed this failed coup, the women had fled to Greece. As there was a possibility of their documents not being renewed, they said, they had boarded a flight to Brussels which involved a two hour stopover in Malta. As they had used fake documents to travel, they were arrested in Malta, charged and after admitting to the accusation, jailed for six months.

The appeal concerns the punishment, which the lawyers described as “disproportionate and excessive,” saying that a far more equitable and just punishment could have been meted out. The punishment, said the lawyers, both in quality and quantity, did not create a balance between the retributive and reformative aspect which are held so dear in modern Maltese criminal justice.

They pointed to the 2006 case of Police vs John Farrugia where a two and a half year prison sentence was reduced to a community service order.

“The applicants feel that the Court of First Instance should have been far more merciful with them. As mentioned the applicants had to flee the land of their birth because of the atrocities which were being carried out against their movement and their political opinion. They had to do this whilst taking care of their young children.”

The lawyers argued that the appellants were not criminals and needed the State’s help and said that it appears that the court of Magistrates did not take into account the fact that the appellants were the mothers of two young children who had no one else to assist the minors.

“As a consequence of this sentence, the minors were also separated from their mothers, with all the trauma this separation brings.”

Jurisprudence from the Court of Criminal Appeal had established that the appellate court should not disturb the punishment handed down by the first court unless it was “manifestly proven that the First Court failed to give importance to an aspect or particular circumstance.”

The lawyers argued that there were more lenient sentences handed down in more grievous cases where there was no early admission.

In addition to this, the defence said that since their arrest and incarceration, the women had applied for asylum.

The defence also stressed that Malta is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which states that “the Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorisation, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”

The lawyers submitted that refugees were often unable to legally leave their home countries and travel to a safe state. Although the text of the law quoted refers to “refugees”, international law and jurisprudence includes asylum seekers in this definition.

READ MORE: MEP joins chorus of support for Turkish mothers jailed over false IDs