Turkish cardiologist fleeing post-coup crackdown dies of heart attack after crossing into Greece

Salaheddin Akçay, a cardiologist who was dismissed from his job by a government decree as part of Turkey’s post-coup purge of state institutions, died of a heart attack, just hours after crossing the Evros River into Greece, Bold Medya news website reported.

Akçay had crossed the river with a friend on the night of April 17 and reached the Greek shore.

Akçay, 47, had two children, according to Bold Medya. He had been imprisoned due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement 10 days after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. He spent two years in pretrial detention before his conviction on terrorism-related charges and was sentenced to more than six years in prison. Akçay was out on release while his case was under review at the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 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 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt, more than 21,000 health care professionals including doctors, nurses, medical professors, technicians and hospital staff were dismissed from public and private hospitals as well as medical schools and associations in Turkey as part of a crackdown on perceived critics of the government.

The physician collapsed immediately after saying to his traveling companion, “Oh my God, we are free!”

Paramedics quickly reached the scene after receiving an emergency 112 call from his friend and took Akçay, who had suffered a heart attack, to the General Hospital of Didymoteicho, where he was pronounced dead. His body was subsequently returned to Turkey.

Thousands of people have fled Turkey since the 2016 coup attempt due to a massive witch-hunt carried out by the Turkish government against alleged members of the movement.

In November 2017 Hüseyin Maden, a 40-year-old teacher from Kastamonu, dismissed in the aftermath of the failed coup, drowned along with his wife and three children while seeking to escape to the Greek island of Lesbos.

In February 2018 eight Turkish citizens, including three children, two women and three men, drowned in the Evros River. Members of the Doğan and Abdurrezzak families were trying to reach Greece on the same boat.

In July 2018, 36-year-old Hatice Akçabay and her three sons, 7-year-old Ahmet Esat, 5-year-old Mesut and 1-year-old Aras, went missing after a boat carrying several Turkish asylum seekers capsized in the Evros River.

The same month, an inflatable boat carrying 16 people en route to Lesbos capsized, resulting in the death of six people, including three infants.

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