Hunger strike of jailed educators Gülmen and Özakça enters 100th day in Turkish prison

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has sent an urgent letter to the Turkish Foreign and Justice ministries concerning Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça while the hunger strike of two jailed educators in protest at being dismissed from their posts by the government’s executive decrees under the rule of emergency has entered its 100th day on Friday.

Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça are faced with a heart failure, the t24 news website reported on Friday. According to the report, the lawyer of Gülmen and Özakça, Engin Gökoğlu expressed his concern over the health condition of Gülmen. “Nuriye is now using a wheelchair to meet us. The area where prisoners meet with their lawyers is usually in a short walking distance. But now she cannot walk without some support from a prison warden or without a wheelchair,” he said.

Gökoğlu said that Gülmen could not hold a pen or go to toilet and that her condition is getting worse. He added that Özakça would soon be faced with the same situation if nothing changes.

Gülmen and Özakça protested for months in the same area of Ankara before they started their hunger strike. Both had been detained several times due to their protests.

The first hearing in Gülmen and Özakça’s trial is set for Sept. 14. Gökoğlu said he is trying to change it since he does not know whether Gülmen and Özakça will be able to make it to the court on that day. The lawyer also added that he is preparing to file an application at the Constitutional Court for  the dismissal of charges against Gülmen and Özakça and that if he receives no response in 24 hours, he plans to apply to the European Court of Human Rights.

Ankara Chamber of Medicine Executive Board member Dr. Benan Koyuncu has stated that they were obtaining information regarding the medical condition of Gülmen and Özakça from their families, attorneys and the letters they have been sending.

Koyuncu has said that there was a risk of sudden death even on the 50th day of the hunger strike so they, as medical doctors, were concerned about the health situation of Gülmen and Özakça. Pointing out that the dismissals have caused serious psychological trauma both for the ones who were discharged from their positions and for others, Koyuncu said “We demand that this process be put an end as soon as possible for sake of the society’s health”.

Meanwhile, “Semih has become so thin. He is having difficulty even walking,” said also Semih Özakça’s wife, Esra Özakça, who herself has also been on a hunger strike for the last 24 days. “As for Nuriye, she has serious problems in her muscles. She is having a hard time even extending her hand and getting herself up on her feet. She is moving around in a wheelchair and her health situation is critical,” Esra Özakça said after a visit to the two educators at prison.

She has shared additional messages regarding Gülmen’s health situation on June 15 on her Twitter account. Indicating that Gülmen weighed 58 kilograms before the start of the hunger strike, she said she now weighs only 46 kilograms.

“Her pulse is beating irregularly, at around 44-47. There are severe pains in her legs, arms, groin, neck, and dorsal area. She has nervous twitching and involuntary movements as well as paranesthesia and tingling in her feet and legs. She has the feeling of pinpricks in her arms and legs. There is serious gas entrapment and pain,” Esra Özakça wrote.

Prof. Dr. Vedat Bulut, head of Ankara Chamber of Doctors, has also said that “jail conditions pose a threat to the life of both of them.”

Turkish singer Sezen Aksu also shared a message of solidarity for the educators on her social media account and official website on June 14, calling on the authorities to act. “To all executives with a conscience, on Friday [June 16], Semih Özakça and Nuriye Gülmen enter the 100th day of their hunger strikes. Medically, this means the beginning of a death process … I just wanted to remind [everyone of this]… With all my faith and hope for humanity,” Aksu wrote.

She had previously shared another message of solidarity on the 60th day of the hunger strike, saying: “How can we be free of this sin if they [the educators] melt in front our eyes?”

Meanwhile, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has sent an urgent letter to the Turkish Foreign Ministry concerning Gülmen and Özakça who have been on hunger strike for 100 days and were arrested on the 76th day of their protest they have staged to be reinstated to their positions.

According to a report by Cumhuriyet daily, the letter was sent on June 1 by the UN working group to the Turkey’s Foreign and Justice ministries with a “very urgent” sign. The letter covers questions concerning Gülmen, Özakça as well as Özakça’s wife Esra Özakça and his mother Sultan Özakça, who have gone on a hunger strike as well after Gülmen and Özakça were arrested, and are on the 25th day as of today.

Semih Özakça was discharged from his position through the Statutory Decree No. 675 issued under the State of Emergency on Oct. 29, 2016 while academic Nuriye Gülmen was discharged from her position through the Statutory Decree No. 679 issued under the State of Emergency on Jan. 6, 2017,

Gülmen and Özakça went on an indefinite and non-alternate hunger strike in front of the Human Rights Statute on Yüksel Street in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara on March 9, 2017.  They were taken into custody and later released almost 30 times during their protest and hunger strike. Charged with “being a member of a terrorist organization” , “opposing to the Law on Assembly and Demonstration” and “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” they were arrested on May 23.

June 16, 2017

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