Malta’s justice system lacks proportionality, protesters said on Thursday as they demonstrated outside the law courts in the wake of the six-month imprisonment of two Turkish mothers, separating them from their toddler sons.
The mothers had admitted to using forged travel documents, saying they could not return to their country because of political persecution.
The protest was attended by members of Movement Graffitti, the Maltese Association of Social Works, Aditus Foundation as well as former President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca as president of Euro Child, a network of organisations and individuals working with and for children in Europe.
Some of those present carried protest placards as well as a doll in a cage, symbolising a child.
The protesters said that while the courts had given suspended jail terms to sex offenders, the Turkish mothers fleeing their country were jailed for six months in a judgment that ignored their children’s best interest.
"I have seen people convicted of sexual offences getting suspended sentences. Where is the proportionality? Without proportionality this building behind me is useless,” said Andrew Azzopardi, who represented social workers as he stood on the steps of the law courts building.
“For years we have been waiting for the Protection of Minors law and, now that we have it, we are not using it. Where is the best interest of the children? Where is their voice? The justice system is failing to protect the most vulnerable” said Azzopardi, who also heads the Church’s Safeguarding Commission.
The two women at the heart of the controversy, Rabia Yavuz, 27, and Muzekka Deneri, 29, have appealed the jail term and will soon be requesting bail.
The effective jail term resulted in the women being separated from their young sons - Akif Yavuz, who turns three next week, and Sina Deneri, 4. The boys wailed in court as their mothers were escorted away from them late last month.
The boys have been placed in State care. For the first week they saw their mothers daily via virtual calls but on Thursday they were reunited with them for the first time.
Speaking during the protest Coleiro Preca said the jail term was “shameful”. Malta was not living up to its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, she insisted.
“I am a Maltese mother who has experience raising a child. My heart ached when I thought of these young children. They are in their formative years. Anything that happens now will mark them for life,” she said, adding that she would now write to the Chief Justice to request a meeting to discuss the issue together with stakeholders.
Neil Falzon, from Aditus, said this was a case of women fleeing their country and having to resort to false documents out of desperation.
“They had no choice but to bypass laws. This is not justice."
Mary Grace Vella, from Graffitti, said this was not the first time that the courts delivered harsh punishments to migrants in what she termed “institutionalised racism.
“They are strong with the weak and weak with the strong,” she said.
ADPD chairperson Carmel Cacpopardo insisted that the courts cannot disregard the fact that the two women were attempting to escape danger with the meagre means at their disposal.
So they had to be considered as persons seeking refuge and asylum for themselves and their families.
Deputy chairperson Mario Mallia added that the courts also had to consider the fact that there were two young children in dire need of their parents.
The children, he said, were being placed at risk of trauma with the only contact they have with their parents being via Skype.
by forsaking them from their parents, with the only contact made possible being Skype”.
The Turkish women and their husbands - who are in Greece where the families fled to last year - form part of the Gulen movement that was blamed for the failed coup in Turkey five years ago. Members of the movement have been persecuted.
The women, both teachers, were arrested at Malta airport on July 26. They had been travelling from Greece to Belgium via Malta when they were stopped. The women had presented false French and Italian identity cards and one of them also had two illegal Romanian cards.
In an interview with Times of Malta, their husbands explained how the two families lived in hiding in Turkey for many years following the 2016 failed coup. Last year they travelled to Greece as irregular migrants. Following failed asylum requests in Greece they decided to leave in search of a peaceful life.
Having no documents they had no choice but obtain false ones.
After various attempts to leave together they decided to change strategy and send the women and children first.
The fathers are in daily contact with their wives. They speak to them every day over the phone but, so far, they have not been able to speak to their sons.
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