What is the value of a human life?
Teacher Semih Özaçka and academic Nuriye Gülmen were arrested on terror charges on May 23, on the 75th day of their hunger strike. The two educators decided to go on hunger strike after they were dismissed from their positions under the state of emergency rule that has been in place since July 2016, right after the failed coup attempt. Numerous efforts to return to their jobs had been left unanswered.
Although Özakça and Gülmen are not linked to what prosecutors and the government called the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), and did not join the coup plotters on July 15, 2016, they were among over 100,000 people who have lost their jobs through a decree law. After being arrested, they both decided to continue their hunger strike in prison, despite the fact that their health conditions are deteriorating, getting more alarming with every passing day.
Despite the urgency of the situation, the first hearing of their case will not take place until mid-September this year - around five months after their arrest.
Hürriyet has reported that an Ankara court rejected the demand for Özakça and Gülmen to be released on the 108th day of their hunger strike. The report said a delegation from the Ankara Bar Association recently visited the two in Sincan Prison, and bitterly observed that the physical condition of the jailed educators were deteriorating alarmingly.
“Özakça had difficulty walking and arrived in a wheelchair and he also had difficulty talking, according to the statement. Gülmen could not even move from her bed for the interview,” read the report. There are other reports urging officials that Özakça and Gülmen’s physical conditions are at a critical and even life-threating stage.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has announced that he has sent a letter to Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım urging him about the urgency of the situation. Speaking to reporters last week, Yıldırım said he had instructed a deputy prime minister to deal with the issue but the families of the two educators say they have refused to end their hunger strike. “There is not much to do, as it has been brought to an ideological level,” he said.
Things are little different in the pro-government media. Many newspapers and TV stations have been working to depict these two educators as members of a radical leftist terror organization, without even questioning how they could have worked as instructors for years in state schools if this is the case.
Once upon a time, one of the most important differences the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had from other political parties was to place human interests above the interests of the state. That was how the AKP reinforced its place in the hearts and eyes of the Turkish public opinion through consecutive elections over the past 15 years. “Let the human live so the state can live” was - and still is – a line that AKP officials have used when they want to emphasize the importance and value they place on every individual.
As we are to mark the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, one of two most important religious festivals in Islam, it is our expectation and hope that the government deals with the case of these two young educators in a serious way, in line with their well-established human-first approach, before it’s too late.