Hunger-striking Turkish teacher Özakça makes defense after months in jail

Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça

The second hearing in the trial of academic Nuriye Gülmen and teacher Semih Özakça, who have been continuing their hunger strike for 204 days in detention on remand, and for teacher Acun Karadağ, who was also discharged from his position through a statutory decree, was held on Thursday before the courtroom at Ankara’s Sincan Prison Campus.

Gülmen and Özakça had not reportedly been brought to the court on the first hearing before Ankara 19th High Criminal Court on September 14 on the grounds of “security, insufficient personnel, health conditions and the risk of someone letting them escape.”

In Thursday’s hearing, Özakça was brought to the courtroom in a wheelchair while Gülmen, who was forcibly brought to the intensive care unit although she was in a conscious state on September 26, two days before the hearing, was not brought to the courtroom at all. Teacher Acun Karadağ appeared before court, according to a report by Bianet on Thursday.

While Özakça did make his statement of defense in the court hearing, Acun Karadağ refused to do so and said that this trial actually targeted the hunger strike and that he would not defend himself until Gülmen was also able to defend herself.

Özakça and Gülmen, in which they are accused of “being a member of an armed terrorist organization,” “violating the law on demonstrations and meetings,” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization,” facing sentences of up to 20 years in jail.

Özakça said their imprisonment during the trial is “arbitrary” and blasted the case as “politically biased.” “My defense will not be in this political case, which is null and void. I was a teacher earning my bread with dignity and labor. The (ruling Justice and Development Party) AKP is trying to discipline me through my bread,” he said at the hearing, which he attended for the first time after months in jail.

The number of attendants was limited by the court to 30 people for a courtroom with a capacity of 80 people.

Nuriye Gülmen, who has been kept in the intensive care unit in Numune Hospital in Ankara was not brought to the courtroom on Thursday. The court had ordered both Gülmen and Özakça to attend the hearing initially but after she was taken to the intensive care unit in Numune Hospital, the doctors in this hospital required her to have a blood test first.

According to the Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD), the Ankara Numune Hospital, responding to the motion to bring Gülmen to the hearing, stated that “bringing the suspect to the courtroom is medically objectionable.”

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Şenal Saruhan said on September 25 that the hospital had indicated that Gülmen’s “water intake has diminished and she is having trouble with sleeping and smelling. But she is conscious and lucid despite the serious deterioration of her health.” Gülmen and Özakça had been held at Sincan Prison Hospital, where they were taken on July 31.

The Court has also ordered that the defendants Acun Karadağ and Semih Özakça to choose only three lawyers each. 18 lawyers of Gülmen and Özakça were detained just two days before the first hearing on September 14, and 14 of them were arrested later. In the first hearing, 1,030 lawyers attested a power of lawyer to the court and approximately 200 lawyers observed the hearing.

In the prosecutor’s indictment, they are accused of carrying out their protests “on the instructions of the [outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front] DHKP-C.”

Özakça and Gülmen were dismissed from their jobs with the government decrees under the rule of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and started their hunger strike on March 9, 2017, demanding to be returned to their jobs. They conducted a sit-in protest in Ankara’s central Kızılay neighborhood from November 9, 2016 before going on hunger strike. They were then arrested on May 23, 2017 and have been continuing their hunger strike in jail.

“This resistance is not the resistance of two. This is the resistance of the oppressed peoples. Their problem was that the hunger strike was considered an effective way of protest, it would be embraced by the people and it would grow,” said Özakça in the hearing.

“We were arrested because our hunger strike was reaching people. We were arrested because our imprisonment would feed fear and intimidation. We were arrested because we were an obstacle to the AKP’s policies,” Özakça added by saying that “We paid the price of resisting and opposing.”

Özakça has continued to say that “We did not choose to starve. If the political authority gave us our jobs back, we would not have to starve. It has been the political authority itself who has started the resistance and also has been trying to suppress it. I will continue my hunger strike until we get our jobs back. If the authorities gave us our job back, we would not be going hungry. The authorities are the ones who initiated and tried to suppress the resistance.”

“I will continue my hunger strike until I take my job back. We are not conducting a hunger strike to make a revolution or to overthrow the AKP, we just want our jobs back. That’s why we are on hunger strike. Work. That’s all,” he added.

Özakça has also said that the authorities took Gülmen to the hospital in order to prevent her from attending the hearing. “They took Nuriye to [the hospital] in order to avoid bringing her to the hearing. But forced intervention is a crime against humanity,” he added. “We are not sick, we are protesters. I have just saw the sunlight for the first time since I was brought to the hospital. We are facing forced intervention threats there. We do not want an intervention,” Özakça said.

“Our lawyers were arrested two days before our first hearing on September 14. We were not brought to that hearing with an arbitrary ruling. We are on hunger strike and we have been tortured for 14 days [since the first hearing] in solitary confinement,” he said.

He has also objected to the court board’s demand for him to choose three lawyers from among the hundreds of lawyers that have been given authorisation. “This implementation is an imposition. I do not accept it,” he said.

With a state of emergency decree issued after July 15, 2016, coup attempt, the maximum number of lawyers that can defend suspects in terror-related cases was limited to three.

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