Imprisoned Turkish hunger-striking educator refuses to make defense in hospital

The imprisoned educator Nuriye Gülmen, who has been on hunger strike for 224 days, has reportedly refused to make her defense in hospital, where she has been held in a detention ward for a month, to an Ankara court delegation visiting her on Monday, according to a report by Cumhuriyet daily.

“I will not make my defense under such conditions. Release me. Let me come to court and express why I have undertaken a hunger strike,” Gülmen reportedly told the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court delegation.

The delegation’s visit came after the Ankara Numune Hospital, where Gülmen has been staying for a month on health grounds, reported that the hunger-striking educator could not attend the third trial of her court hearing on Oct. 20 as such a move would endanger her life even if the necessary health equipment were set up in the courtroom.

Upon the hospital’s report, a court delegation, including the case prosecutor, was sent to the hospital to take Gülmen’s defense. The “special hearing” was also attended by Gülmen’s lawyers Murat Yılmaz, Betül Vangölü Koçağaçlı and Ankara Bar Secretary-General Aşkın Demir.

Gülmen was taken to a larger room on a stretcher due to the detention ward’s small size. She told the delegation about the negative conditions she was exposed to in hospital.

Murat Yılmaz, who is one of the lawyers of Gülmen and Semih Özakça who is also on hunger strike, said that “Nuriye Gülmen said her current conditions are very bad, she could at least see the sun when she was in prison. She lost so much weight that she is skin and bones.”

“I burned the midnight oil to prepare my defense, without any sleep. But because my lawyers were arrested, I was not brought to the first hearing. Two days prior to the second hearing, I was abducted and put in intensive care [in the hospital]. I am not escaping from making a defense. I want my defense to be taken in court in line with the principle of openness, with [the authorities] complying with my right of defense. I will not make my defense under such conditions,” Gülmen told the court delegation.

The hour and a half long meeting was filmed by the court officials. Gülmen’s demand for release will reportedly be settled at the third trial on Oct. 20 in Ankara’s Sincan Prison.

Nuriye Gülmen was employed at Eskişehir Osmangazi University. After her contract was not renewed, she brought a lawsuit and won. Seven months later, she started to work at Selçuk University. A day after she started her job, she was suspended from her duty based on an investigation targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement. She was dismissed on January 6, 2017 via the Statutory Decree No. 679 declared by Turkish government.

Gülmen along with Semih Özakça, a primary school teacher, began a sit-in protest in Ankara’s central Kızılay neighborhood on Nov. 9, 2016 before beginning their hunger strike on March 9, 2017 in protest at being dismissed from their jobs with state of emergency decrees.

They were then arrested on May 23 on charges 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.

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