Turkish intellectuals call for attention to academics on hunger strike

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Turkish former primary school teacher Semih Ozakca (R) and Turkish academician Nuriye Gulmen sit in wheelchairs wearing facemasks on the 63rd day of their hunger strike during a demonstration to call for the authorities to give back jobs to public employees who have been dismissed from their positions by decree of law since the imposition of the state of emergency rule in Turkey, in Ankara, on May 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

A group of intellectuals and artists have called on Turkish authorities to meet the demands of Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, two dismissed educators who have been on a hunger strike for 104 days, the t24 news website reported on Wednesday.

In the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, Gülmen was fired from Konya Selçuk University for her alleged ties to the faith-based Gülen movement, while Özakça was a teacher at a primary school in Turkey’s eastern province of Mardin before he was purged over ties to a “terrorist” organization.

They were arrested on terror charges on May 23 in Ankara while on a hunger strike demanding reinstatement to their jobs.

A press conference was held by the Turkish Human Rights Association (TİHV) on Wednesday to attract attention to the cases of Gülmen and Özakça, whose health is reportedly deteriorating in jail.

Özakça’s mother, Sultan, who is also on a hunger strike to support her son, said at the press conference that the Turkish government will be responsible if something happens to her son and Gülmen.

“Why is the AKP [Justice and Development Party] government not doing anything? If anything happens to our children,  the AKP government will be responsible for it,” she said.
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Filiz Kerestecioğlu said the loss of Gülmen and Özakça would be a heavy blow to Turkey’s image.

“This country will lose its honor if we lose them. … Everyone has to do their best now,” she said.

Gülmen and Özakça protested for months in the same area of Ankara before they started their hunger strike. Both had been detained several times due to their protests.

The first hearing in Gülmen and Özakça’s trial is set for Sept. 14. The academics’ lawyer Engin Gökoğlu said last week that he is trying to change it since he does not know whether Gülmen and Özakça will be able to make it to the court on that day.

The lawyer also added that he is preparing to file an application at the Constitutional Court for the dismissal of charges against Gülmen and Özakça and that if he receives no response in 24 hours, he plans to apply to the European Court of Human Rights.

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