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Municipality fires worker for posting photo of jailed Kurdish leader

Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan

A municipality in northwestern Turkey, run by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has fired a janitor for posting a photo on social media of jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, local media reported on Wednesday, citing an opposition lawmaker.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights advocate and deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), on Wednesday tweeted a letter from Mahire Yentür, a janitor for the Bolu Municipality, saying she was recently fired for posting a photo of former HDP co-chair Demirtaş on social media.

“Here’s the letter from Mahire Yentür. Not only was she dismissed, she also experienced social exclusion. We’re keeping our ears open for those who want to reply [to the letter],” Gergerlioğlu added.

Yentür stated in the letter that she was regarded by her coworkers as a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and that it triggered a nervous breakdown, after which she was hospitalized. “I couldn’t even go out,” she added.

Turkish authorities had conducted direct talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, for over two years until the summer of 2015, when the death of two police officers near the Syrian border became the official reason for its collapse.

Since then, there have been continuing clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces. More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK.

Both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), frequently accuse HDP, the second-largest opposition group in parliament, of ties to the PKK. The party denies the government’s claim and says it is working to achieve a peaceful solution to Turkey’s so-called Kurdish issue.

Arrested on Nov. 4, 2016 on terrorism-related charges, Demirtaş has since then remained in prison despite two European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings in 2018 and 2020 that said Demirtaş was imprisoned for “political” reasons and not for “legal” reasons, ordering his “immediate release.”

Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan is notorious for his anti-refugee policies and frequently sparks criticism from human rights groups due to his remarks and measures targeting the refugees living in the city such as imposing exorbitant fees for municipal services for them.

In a statement to Tele1 news, Özcan said he had warned municipal employees in the past against sharing posts on social media about any political party and that the janitor’s firing had nothing to do with the HDP or the Kurds.

The mayor said the janitor’s dismissal was decided in an anonymous vote by the city’s disciplinary board and that her reinstatement was out of the question. He also accused Gergerlioğlu of trying to raise tensions in the society.

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