Turkish court decides imprisonment of hunger striking educators Gülmen and Özakça to continue

Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça

Ankara 19th High Penal Court has decided for the continuation of imprisonment of Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, two educators who have been on a hunger strike for 190 days with the demand to be reinstated at their posts they were expelled from by a government decree under the rule of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, on Thursday.

The court has also decided to continue the trial at a courthouse in Sincan Prison on September 28, 2017. Gülmen and Özakça had their first hearing of their case at 13.30 in the Ankara’s 19th High Penal Court on Thursday. However, the jailed educators has not been brought in for the hearing despite their demand to do so. The decision was reportedly made last night by the appeal of the gendarmerie over “security” concerns .

The first hearing came after 115 days, with Gülmen and Özakça being accused of “being a member of a terrorist organization,” “violating the law on meetings and demonstrations,” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Before the hearing, their supporters and lawyers tried to read out a press release in front of the courthouse, however, faced off police carrying shields dispersing them and firing pepper spray. Police intervened inside the courtroom as well, pushing away the lawyers and supporters shouting slogans from the hallway at the Ankara 7th High Criminal Court while using pepper spray and brute force.

Many lawyers, press members and supporters were not allowed to enter the courtroom after the court board said the room was overcrowded. Some 30 people were taken into custody during the police intervention.

The case attracted attention from politicians, media and international observers, as main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmakers Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Ali Şeker, Mahmut Tanal and Orhan Sarıbay and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers Mithat Sancar and Filiz Kerestecioğlu attended the hearing.

“Nuriye and Semih were absent in court. They are supposed to have their trials, but the accused are not present. The lawyers were allowed to enter only after a crisis, and some of the lawyers were not allowed because of excuses like the room is full,” Kerestecioğlu said outside the courthouse, criticizing the board’s decision to exclude some lawyers.

Meanwhile, a Turkish prosecutor has asked for a continuation of the arrest of hunger striker teachers Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, the t24 news website reported. According to the report, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Ali Haydar Hakverdi said the prosecutor asked for the continuation of the teachers’ arrest on the grounds that they were unable to present a defense.

Gülmen and Özakça started a sit-in in front of the Human Rights statue in Ankara after they were expelled by a government decree, and later turned to a hunger strike.

A total of 18 lawyers for Gülmen and Özakça had been detained just days before the teachers’ trial begins on Tuesday. According to a statement from the People’s Law Bureau (HHB), 18 lawyers whose houses were raided by police were detained two days before the teachers’ trial is set to get under way.

The educators were on the 76th day of a hunger strike to protest their dismissal by a statutory decree when they were arrested on terror charges on May 23 in Ankara. Gülmen and Özakça said their strike aims to draw attention to the situation of more than 150,000 dismissed state employees.

A comprehensive report by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) titled “Turkey’s descent into arbitrariness: The end of rule of law” provides detailed information on how the rule of law has lost meaning in Turkish context, confirming the effective collapse of all domestic judicial and administrative remedies available for Turkish citizens who lodge complaints on rights violations.

The Turkish government started a crackdown on the opposition in the wake of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and arrested more than 50,000, dismissing or suspending around 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants.

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