A Turkish court on Thursday jailed on terror charges 14 lawyers representing two detained teachers who have been on hunger strike for six months after being sacked in a mass crackdown.
The case of Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca has become a rallying cause for critics of the purge that followed a failed bid in July 2016 to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. More than 140,000 public sector employees have been suspended or sacked under a state of emergency imposed after the attempted putsch.
The pair began a hunger strike in March, were jailed on terror charges in May and went on trial on September 14 but were not present in court amid growing concerns over their health. Sixteen lawyers from the Office of People’s Rights (HHB) that represents them were initially detained two days before the start of the trial, raising questions over the timing.
After questioning, an Istanbul court ordered 14 of the lawyers to be imprisoned on charges of “membership of an armed terror group.” Two were allowed to go free. They are accused of links to the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), an outlawed Marxist group that has carried out sporadic attacks.
The HHB is also accused of being part of the DHKP-C, with its lawyers known by the codename “sportsman” within the group. Gulmen and Ozakca have also been charged over involvement in the DHKP-C, accusations they vehemently deny as does the HHB.
“We only have one answer, to organise ourselves even more and to step up our fight for justice,” the HHB wrote on its Twitter account. The next hearing in the trial of Gulmen, an academic and Ozakca, a former primary school teacher, will take place on September 28.
The pair are only consuming salted or sugared water, herbal teas and vitamin B1, and family members and supporters have expressed concerns over their health. The authorities say the mass purge is needed to eradicate the influence in Turkey of US based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara claims ordered the putsch something he vehemently denies.
But critics say the crackdown has gone well beyond the alleged plotters to include anyone who dares oppose Erdogan, including Kurdish activists and leftists who had no association with Gulen.