Photo: 16 arrested lawyers, via ELDH

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network stands in solidarity with 14 detained lawyers in Turkey, all members of the Progressive Lawyers Association (CHD); the 14 lawyers are all involved in the defense of the hunger strikers, Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça. We urge their immediate release and the release of all political prisoners in Turkey’s jails.

The trial of Gülmen and Özakça was scheduled to begin on 14 September; two days before, 16 lawyers were arrested by Turkish police, preventing them from appearing in the courtroom and stopping the hunger-striking activists from receiving a defense. On the 20th, they were brought before the court; 14 were charged and two of the group, Ezgi Gokten and Ahmet Mandaci, were released on probation.

The 14 detained progressive lawyers are Didem Ünsal, Aytaç Ünsal, Yagmur Ereren, Barkin Timtik, Ebru Timtik, Sükriye Erden, Engin Gökoglu, Süleyman Gökten, Ozgur Yilmaz, Aysegül Çagatay, Behiç Asçi, Aycan Çiçek, Zehra Özdemir, and Özgür Yilmaz.

Meanwhile, the phones and computers of the president of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association, Selçuk Kozagaçli, and his wife Betül Kozagaçli, both of whom work in the CHD, were confiscated; they were also informed that their legal activities were restricted. The CHD has been repeatedly subject to attacks by the Turkish state over many years, including the arrests of lawyers and human rights defenders and an October 2016 order to close the association.

Before representing the two imprisoned educators, some of the arrested lawyers, among Turkey’s most active human rights defenders, represented the family of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old Turkish boy killed in 2014 after he was hit on the head by a tear gas canister fired by police, as well as the families of miners killed in the Soma mine disaster in Turkey in 2014. 301 miners were killed in the massive underground fire, and the Turkish government blocked an investigation into this mass killing of workers. Hundreds of family members of the victims protested after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeled the disaster, the worst mine tragedy in Turkish history, as an “ordinary thing,” despite warnings about the mine’s safety only eeks before.

The European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH) noted that “We are particularly concerned about the situation of attorneys Barkin Timtik, Engin Gökoglu und Özgür Yilmaz. We fear that they are (again) subjected to torture.” ELDH further notes that there are now 1,343 lawyers subject to prosecution in Turkey; 538 of them were arrested under political charges following the attempted coup in July 2016.

The 16 lawyers seized here were clearly detained in order to prevent Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, two educators fired by the state who were then arrested for protesting their firing, from receiving a defense in court. Their arrest came in order to prevent them from carrying out their professional duties as lawyers and their responsibilities as human rights defenders for political prisoners in Turkish jails.

Photo: Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, by Murat Bay/Sendika.Org

This is only the latest incident in an ongoing pattern of Turkish state repression in which the lawyers of political prisoners are arrested or accused in the same proceedings as their clients in order to prevent them from presenting a defense in court.

Both Gülmen, a university professor, and Özakça, a primary school teacher, began their hunger strike in Ankara in April demanding the return of their jobs after both were dismissed under the pretext of the post-coup-attempt state of emergency, in clear retaliation for their progressive political positions, despite their rejection of military coups. Only one week after the two joined rallies in Ankara in support of a mass hunger strike of Palestinian political prisoners, they were arrested on 23 May and accused of “terror” activities. Now, the lawyers face similar charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

They have received support from Palestinian community and solidarity organizations in Turkey as well as from Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled. Hassan Tahrawi of the Palestinian community in Ankara declared, “We declare our solidarity as Palestinians with Nuriye, Semih and Kemal Gün. The resistance here and in Palestine is a continuation of the historical solidarity between oppressed peoples.”

Neither Gülmen nor Özakça was brought to court for their first hearing on 14 September in Ankara; “health and security” were cited as the reasons for their absence; their trial was adjourned until 28 September, when it will convene in Sincan, near Ankara, where the two are imprisoned.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network reiterates its solidarity with Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, now on hunger strike for 196 days. They are consuming lemon, salt water and sugar solutions along with vitamin B1 but refusing solid foods. Their health has deteriorated and they are at risk of forced feeding and forced treatment. We join their demand for immediate release and the reinstatement of their jobs.

Samidoun declares our strongest solidarity with the 14 imprisoned lawyers and human rights defenders and demands their immediate release and the dropping of all charges against these lawyers as well as an end to the ongoing harassment and repression against the Progressive Lawyers Association (CHD) and other lawyers and human rights defenders in Turkey.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network demands the release of all of the Turkish and Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey’s jails. From Turkey to Palestine, justice, freedom and liberation for all political prisoners!