Prominent Turkish human rights lawyer dies of cancer in exile

Lawyer Ömer Turanlı

Ömer Turanlı, a 54-year-old human rights lawyer who fled persecution in Turkey and has been living in exile, died on Friday in a London hospital after battling cancer, the Kronos news website reported.

In 2020 Turanlı was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on terrorism-related charges over his alleged affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.

He appealed the sentence, and the case was pending at the time of his death.

Turanlı was recognized for representing numerous clients in high-profile cases, including police officers involved in the December 17-25 corruption investigations in 2013.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in July 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In addition to the thousands who have been jailed since the coup attempt, scores of people have fled Turkey due to a massive purge carried out by the Turkish government against alleged members of the movement. Many have tried to illegally flee Turkey as the government had canceled the passports of thousands of people.

Fearing political persecution in Turkey, Turanlı moved to the United Kingdom in 2017, following the coup attempt.  

He continued his legal work in exile, despite facing challenges such as the revocation of his passport and investigations by Turkish authorities.

Turanlı leaves behind a wife and three children aged 10, 13 and 16.

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