Lawyer ends hunger strike after release from prison in wake of colleague’s death

Aytaç Ünsal, a Turkish lawyer who has been on a hunger strike for 213 days in support of his demand for a fair trial, was released from prison on September 3 due to health reasons and called off his hunger strike the following day, according to Turkish media.

The Supreme Court of Appeals conditionally released Ünsal “until he recovers” from his hunger strike. Although he previously refused treatment, Ünsal is now being treated by independent physicians. His release comes a week after his colleague, human rights lawyer Ebru Timtik, who was convicted in the same case, died after 238 days on a hunger strike. Shortly before her death, the Constitutional Court had ruled that there was no immediate threat to her health.

Ünsal had been in prison since September 12, 2018 on charges of membership in the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army/Front (DHKP/C), which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. He was accused of “communicating the organization’s messages to captured members and acting as a courier” and sentenced to 10 years, six months by an İstanbul court on March 20, 2017. The case was based on the testimony of a secret witness who has been used by the prosecution in a variety of cases.

Stressing that Timtik’s death was the fourth involving a hunger striker in Turkey this year, spokesperson for European Union Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Peter Stano had stated: “The tragic outcome of their fight for a fair trial painfully illustrates the urgent need for the Turkish authorities to credibly address the human rights situation.”

The two lawyers had taken on important cases such as a mining disaster in Soma that took the lives of 301 miners; the death of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old boy who was hit on the head with a tear-gas canister fired by a police officer during the June 2013 anti-government protests in Turkey that are known as the Gezi protests; and the death of Engin Çeber in prison due to torture.

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