Student arrested for tweeting support for Kobane protests says his right to education was violated

Cihan Erdal, 32, a doctoral student at Canada’s Carleton University who has been in prison in Turkey for five months on terrorism-related charges for posting tweets in support of the Kobane protests, says his right to education has been violated.

According to the Duvar news website, Erdal’s lawyer, Dilan Ateş, said her client was not allowed to study for his dissertation in prison. “Erdal was supposed to be writing his doctoral dissertation, which is why he returned to Turkey from Canada,” she added.

“Normally, an inmate with an affiliation with a Turkish university would be allowed books and articles,” said Ateş. “However, Erdal needs English sources, and because none of the prison personnel know English, his books were barred from entering the prison as they cannot understand the content.”

According to Ateş, the prison administration initially did not accept the books, saying they needed to be translated into Turkish. They also denied Erdal’s request to use a computer without an Internet connection to write his thesis.

Erdal appealed to the prison education committee and was granted the right to use a computer and access books.

“My client needs to be released immediately,” said Ateş. “Although he can access books, he also needs to be able to conduct his research.”

Erdal was arrested on September 25, 2020 in connection to the Kobane protests, which took place in southeast Turkey in 2014 and claimed 37 lives. He was accused of inciting terror and violence, and the prosecutor demanded an aggravated life sentence on 38 counts. The accusations were based on two unspecified tweets posted by Erdal.

In a letter Erdal said he never took part in the protests and did not call anyone to violence. He said he was arrested arbitrarily and unlawfully for an incident in which he had no responsibility.

Erdal’s partner, Ömer Ongun, said the two social media posts had no connection to the 2014 protests.

Erdal was a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in 2014 as a youth member of the party’s central executive committee. He remained in that role for a year, working as a representative of youth, LGBTQ and the green movement before resigning in 2015 to focus on academics.

Since Erdal’s arrest more than 20 organizations, including the Middle East Studies Association of North America and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, have issued statements of solidarity demanding that Turkish authorities release him.

Jason Kung, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said in an e-mail statement to Ottawa Citizen that the department was aware of Erdal’s detention and was monitoring the case closely.

The Carleton University department of anthropology and sociology condemned Turkish authorities for Erdal’s arrest.

Blair Rutherford, chair of the department, said it was “crazy” Erdal had been arrested for a social media post.

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