Former union official fired by gov’t decree complains of political pressure 6 years on

A former union official who was dismissed from her job by a government decree after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 has said she is unable to find a steady job and is subject to constant political pressure.

Speaking to the Duvar news website, Melek Demir, a former secretary for the left-wing Education and Science Workers Union (Eğitim-Sen), said she had been detained several times, her electronic devices and passport had been confiscated by the police and her assets had been frozen.

“I was under criminal investigation for six years [after the coup attempt] and despite the prosecutor finding no grounds for legal action, I have lived in the shadow of these investigations,” she said.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government declared a state of emergency (OHAL) following the abortive putsch in 2016 that remained in effect until July 19, 2018. During the state of emergency the AKP carried out a purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight by issuing a number of government decrees, known as KHKs, firing 130,000 civil servants from their jobs due to their real or alleged connections to “terrorist organizations.”

Demir said she had been “othered” by society after being fired, and although unionizing was a basic right, many people thought she had deserved what happened to her because she was “political.”

Demir received judgmental comments from family members, neighbors and acquaintances and was even called a terrorist. “As a woman, there are societal expectations – such as being a good mother – and when you don’t fulfil those expectations, you attract suspicion,” she said. “So people think if you’re active in unions and vocal about basic human rights you deserve to be investigated or even detained.”

Demir actively participated in demonstrations for women’s and workers’ rights, which she said was her democratic right. “These are not crimes in a democracy, so when people ask me why I was dismissed, I tell them I don’t know,” she explained. “Surely, participating in demonstrations are not a criminal offense.”

Demir said she continued volunteering for women’s rights organizations and was active in providing aid for the victims of massive earthquakes that demolished cities in southeastern Turkey in early February.

Turkey’s former public servants were not only fired from their jobs; they were also prohibited from working again in the public sector and getting a passport. The government also made it difficult for them to work formally in the private sector. Notes were put on the social security database about dismissed public servants to deter potential employers.

According to a joint report by the Justice for Victims Platform and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, the two-year-long state of emergency declared after the abortive putsch caused immense suffering among public servants who were dismissed from their jobs by the government as well as their families. Gergerlioğlu claims that these suicides are the result of a systematic policy towards the victims of the purges.

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