Victim of Turkey’s post-coup purge succumbs to cancer after denied passport for treatment abroad

Gülhan Çolakoğlu, 45, a cancer patient who was unable to receive treatment abroad after Turkish authorities refused to issue her a passport due to alleged ties to the Gülen movement, succumbed to cancer on Wednesday.

According to Bold Medya, Çolakoğlu wasn’t able to travel to Germany for an appointment in March at the Immun Onkologisches Zentrum, an oncology center in Cologne, after the authorities denied her a passport despite many petitions filed with the local and regional courts in her hometown of Kayseri. She was a former chemistry teacher at a Gülen movement-affiliated preparatory school that was shut down after a coup attempt in July 2016.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement 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.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch. He shut down over 1,000 educational institutions, dismissed some 150,000 public servants and locked up tens of thousands. Victims of the purge were banned from public sector employment, their passports were cancelled and the government made it difficult for them to work formally in the private sector. Notes were put on the social security database about purged public servants to discourage potential employers.

Çolakoğlu was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017. She started receiving chemotherapy treatment in Turkey and underwent a total of five surgeries in a period of more than three years. Following one of her surgeries, her house was raided by the police. She was later sentenced to six years, three months’ imprisonment for membership in a terrorist organization over links to the Gülen movement. Her case was pending at the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Çolakoğlu’s husband, Sefer Çolakoğlu, also a chemistry teacher, was imprisoned for the same allegations back in 2017, before she was diagnosed with cancer.

Human rights activist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu slammed the ruling AKP government for leaving her to die in Turkey while they could have lifted her travel ban and allow her to receive treatment in Germany. He had been appealing to the Turkish government to lift Çolakoğlu’s travel ban.

Gülhan Çolakoğlu was a mother of two.

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