Turkish court releases jailed hunger-striking educator Özakça on probation

An Ankara court on Friday has ordered the release of jailed hunger-striking educator Semih Özakça on the condition that he wears an electronic bracelet. However, the court ruled for the continuation of arrest of Nuriye Gülmen, who has been on hunger strike with Özakça since they were dismissed from their posts in a state of emergency decree.

The hearing at Ankara’s 19th High Criminal Court saw the participation of Özakça and fellow defendant Acun Karadağ, but Gülmen was absent due to health problems related to her hunger-strike. Following the release demand of their lawyers, the court ordered the release of Özakça in its interim decision, citing his health problems, on the condition that he wears an electronic bracelet in house arrest. However, it ordered the continuation of Gülmen’s arrest in line with what it called “concrete evidence” regarding charges she faces and witness accounts.

Third hearing of trial of academic Gülmen and teacher Özakça, who have been on hunger strike for 226 days to be reinstated to their jobs and in detention on remand, and teacher Acun Karadağ was held today. The court has also ordered Gülmen to be brought to the next hearing but Numune Hospital where Gülmen is treated doesn’t allow it due to her medical condition. Gülmen wasn’t taken from Numune Hospital due to her medical condition to the trial held by Ankara 19th High Criminal Court.

A court delegation had gone to the hospital since Gülmen could not come to the courtroom. In her speech, Gülmen said that she wouldn’t give her deposition until she went to the courtroom.

According to a report by Bianet, at the court hearing Özakça has reportedly said that “I was in the army at the time when Berk Ercan said to have seen me. I went to Horasan, Erzurum as soon as I returned from the army. I went to İstanbul after having married in 2015-2016. I don’t know the eyewitness. There is no solid evidence. The only charge is my statement for press I issued on Yüksel Street. The diary I kept in prison is included in your file because the file is empty. We did everything and then have gone on a hunger strike.”

Lawyer Murat Yılmaz has said that “The file is so empty that the government has started to send documents to the court. Your committee saw Nuriye. She wants to make her statement for defense. She stayed under intensive care for 15 days despite the verdict by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). They are keeping her in dark wards.” Demanding their release, Yılmaz has also said that “Nuriye (Gülmen) and Semih (Özakça) are not running away.”

Lawyer Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu has also said that “You (the judge) have asked the defendant whether she went on hunger strike upon an order coming from an organization. Going on hunger strike is not a crime. Previously, there were hunger strikes upon organization order and no punishment was imposed. Hunger strike is not a crime even if it is carried out on behalf of an organization.”

Lawyer Betül Vangölü Kozağaçlı has also said that her clients have started a resistance and that is why they are being tried.

Academic Nuriye Gülmen and teacher Semih Özakça are two of at least 150,000 people who were expelled with government decrees under the rule of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Gülmen and Özakça were holding demonstrations on the Yüksel Street in the heart of Ankara against their dismissal with a arbitrary government decree and later started a hunger strike to get their jobs back in March 2017. Both educators were jailed in May 23, 2017 and since then they have continued their hunger strikes in prison.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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