Turkish courts acquit supporters of hunger-striking educators
Mesut Hasan Benli – ANKARA
Turkish courts have acquitted a group of defendants of charges of supporting Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, two Turkish educators who went on a months-long hunger strike to protest losing their jobs, in two separate cases.
On May 22, 2017, a group of people had protested the detention of Gülmen and Özakça, who had begun their hunger strike after weeks of sit-in protests in the capital Ankara. The police had fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse the protestors, detaining a dozen people, including Özakça’s mother and wife.
Nineteen defendants were acquitted of charges that they violated the law on meetings and demonstrations.
The Ankara 15th Court of First Instance said the protests were peaceful and were protected under Article 34 of the Constitution and Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. “[Protests] must be evaluated within the framework of freedom of expression and assembly,” the court said.
In a separate case, another court acquitted six defendants charged for issuing a statement of support to Gülmen and Özakça on March 17, 2017. “There is no concrete evidence that the defendants damaged public or private property,” the Ankara 18th Court of First Instance said. “Participants did not engage in violent actions,” the court added.
Gülmen and Özakça had begun their hunger strikes after losing their jobs with state of emergency decrees in the wake of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. They were arrested on terror charges late on May 23, 2017, the 75th day of their hunger strike pending the start of their trial in September 2016. The pair continued their hunger strike in prison. They were later released pending trial.
They deny any links to terror groups.
The pair ended their hunger strike on Jan. 26, 2018, after 324 days of surviving only on water, sugar and salt solutions.