UN working group prioritizes case of doctoral student jailed in Turkey

 The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (WGAD) accepted as “urgent” a petition from Cihan Erdal, 32, a doctoral student at Canada’s Carleton University who has been in jail in Turkey for seven months on terrorism-related charges.

According to the Duvar news website, WGAD posed questions to the Turkish government on the student’s pre-trial detention. Erdal, who is charged with posting tweets in support of the Kobane protests of 2014, is scheduled to appear in court today for his first hearing.

Erdal’s lawyer had previously argued that her client was unable to work on his doctoral studies during the time he was in prison and should be immediately released.

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 terrorism 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.

Speaking to CBC news, Ongun said  Erdal was a “hostage.” He added that the whole process was scary, “It’s shocking because you always question the rule of law. You really question if this is really a fair trial at the moment.”

Erdal in 2014 was a youth member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) central executive committee. He remained in that role for a year, working as a representative of young people, 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 the 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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