Belgian attorneys go on hunger strike in solidarity with Turkish lawyers Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal

Belgian lawyers protesting in front of Turkish Embassy in Brussels
Belgian lawyers gathered in front of the Turkish Embassy in Brussels to show their support for Timtik and Ünsal

Ten Belgian attorneys went on a hunger strike yesterday in solidarity with Turkish lawyers Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal, who have been on a hunger strike since April 5 in support of their demand for a fair trial, Euronews Turkish reported.

In a demonstration co-organized by Avocats.be, an association of 8,000 Belgian lawyers, a number of lawyers gathered in front of the Turkish Embassy in Brussels to show their support for Timtik and Ünsal. Belgian lawyer Sibylle Gioe said: “Today 10 lawyers are on a hunger strike. We have decided to support Ebru and Aytaç this way. The two are on a hunger strike because they are being mistreated by the regime. They were imprisoned with the worst accusations and all they want is a fair trial, but they haven’t been tried fairly. Their lives are in danger. We would like to warn our government, civil society organizations and the Turkish government.”

Timtik and Ünsal have been in prison since September 12, 2018 on charges of membership in the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army/Front (DHKP/C), which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

On March 20, 2019 the Istanbul 37th High Criminal Court sentenced Timtik to 13 years, six months and Ünsal to 10 years, six months. According to the ruling the two were accused of “communicating the organization’s messages to captured members and acting as couriers.” Their cases are currently before Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals. Their case was based on the testimony of a secret witness who has been used by the prosecution in a variety of cases.

Last month the secret witness, İ.Ö., sent a petition to Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals and said his testimony should not be taken into consideration due to his mental problems, including hallucinations. The petition was submitted by İ.Ö.’s attorney and included medical reports that support his claim.

Speaking to Euronews, Avocats.be Chairman Xavier Van Gils said: “Today in Turkey lawyers are not allowed to express themselves. They can’t fulfill their duties and they can’t defend people due only to political reasons. If a state does not recognize the existence of lawyers, if there is no independent judiciary, then that means there is a move towards authoritarianism.”

Timtik and Ünsal had taken on important cases such as a mining disaster in Soma that took the lives of 301 miners; the death of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old boy who was hit on the head with a tear-gas canister fired by a police officer during the June 2013 anti-government protests in Turkey that are known as the Gezi protests; and the death of Engin Çeber in prison due to torture.

An İstanbul court refused to release Timtik and Ünsal last month despite a medical report issued by the İstanbul Council of Forensic Medicine that said they should not remain in prison, citing the existence of a flight risk and their conviction on terrorism-related charges. Instead, the court decided to ask the public prosecutor’s office to provide immediate medical care for Timtik and Ünsal in a hospital. The two have been in two different public hospitals that are designated as “pandemic hospitals”

Speaking to the Bianet news website Nermin Ünsal, the mother and lawyer of Ebru Ünsal, said: “The two lawyers are kept in confinement rooms with no air conditioning that are monitored by gendarmes 24 hours a day. There is a risk of immune system shutdown due to sleep deprivation caused by light and noise. They are intentionally letting them die faster.”

In a tweet on Sunday human rights defender and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said Ebru Timtik’s medical condition was significantly deteriorating. “Let alone days, now hours matter for Ebru Timtik. … She can only get fluids drop by drop. She can’t carry her body or her head. She can’t speak due to scars in her mouth and she can’t swallow.”

Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy and human rights defender Sezgin Tanrıkulu also took to Twitter in support of Timtik and Ünsal and called on the ministry of justice, ministry of interior and the supreme court of appeals to “Hear the demands of Ebru Timtik and Aytaç Ünsal, whose conditions have worsened in hospitals where conditions are inferior to those of the prisons.”

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