European rights court denies application for Turkish lawyer on hunger strike

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on September 1 rejected a request for an interim measure for Aytaç Ünsal, a Turkish lawyer who has been on a hunger strike for 212 days in support of his demand for a fair trial, citing no immediate risk to his health, the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD) announced on Twitter.

Aytaç’s lawyers had applied to the ECtHR to request his release and submitted his health reports, pointing out the extra health risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. However, the court claimed that there was no immediate risk to Aytaç’s health but that his request for an independent doctor should be met.

Ünsal has 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. He was accused of “communicating the organization’s messages to captured members and acting as a courier” and sentenced to 10 years, six months by an İstanbul court on March 20, 2017. His conviction was based on the testimony of a secret witness who has been used by the prosecution in a variety of cases.

The secret witness, İ.Ö., in July 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. Aytaç’s case is currently before Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals.

Ünsal’s fellow lawyer Ebru Timtik, who was also convicted in the same trial, succumbed to malnutrition last week after 238 days on a hunger strike in demand of a fair trial. Shortly before her death, the Constitutional Court had ruled that there was no immediate threat to her health.

Speaking to Bianet, Ünsal’s mother and lawyer, Nermin Ünsal, said her son’s health was deteriorating rapidly and added, “The İstanbul Council of Forensic Medicine issued a report stating that my son cannot stay in prison.”

Ünsal is currently a patient at the Kanuni Sultan Süleyman Hospital. Seven doctors at the hospital have signed a report stating that Ünsal’s immune system has shut down, that he is refusing medical intervention and that it is a great risk for him to stay in the hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nermin Ünsal said they are still waiting for the Supreme Court of Appeals to deliberate their petition for release. She said although the court was expected to deliver a verdict within three months, the process has taken more than three months and that there is still no verdict.

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