Turkish ministers justify hunger strikers’ arrest

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu visits IDEF'17, the 13th International Defence Industry Fair, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu and Minister of Interior Affairs Suleyman Soylu have justified the arrest of academician Nuriye Gulmen and teacher Semih Ozakca who have been on a hunger strike for 77 days to reclaim their jobs. Gulmen and Ozakca were dismissed from their jobs with emergency rule decrees following the July 2016 coup attempt and started a hunger strike on March 2017 after protesting for four months in Ankara’s Yuksel Avenue.

Answering a question about the arrest of the hunger strikers in a joint press conference after meeting with the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Italy on Wednesday, Cavusoglu said, “The person you are speaking about is a member of the DHKP-C [Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party – Front] terrorist organisation. The DHKP-C continues its terrorist activities along with the PKK [Kurdistan Worker’s Party]. A person who is a member and active supporter of a terrorist organisation should get an adequate response. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It is not right to portray these people as innocent,” according to a report in the news outlet T24.

Speaking on Thursday morning in the Turkish capital Ankara, Minister of Interior Affairs Suleyman Soylu also maintained that Gulmen is a member of DHKP-C; the Turkish minister also claimed that the hunger strikers are in fact eating and drinking at nights and pretending that they are on a hunger strike.

“They are trying to portray Nuriye Gulmen as a lovely person, as a victim. Let me tell you who Nuriye Gulmen really is. She is someone about whom a search warrant has been issued because she is part of a legal wing of the organisation. Our friends have given a long list including the hanging of posters, doing work on behalf of the organisation and many other things beyond that. Is this an academician?” said Soylu according to another report in T24.

Claiming that Gulmen and Ozakca are posing as hunger strikers and in fact eating and drinking when they are home Soylu said; “they eat, they drink and they go back to this place at 9 o’clock.”

Gulmen and Ozakca were dismissed from their teaching positions as part of an investigation into membership of the ‘Fethullah Gulenist Terrorist Organisation’ after the coup attempt of July 2016 but arrested on Tuesday night without any evidence but based on “strong suspicion” that they are members of DHKP-C.

“The fact that the defendants have continued their hunger strike despite the fact that a criminal prosecution has started about them with the accusation of membership of a terrorist organisation on 2 May, creates a strong suspicion that they might indeed be guilty,” said the court statement ordering the arrest of Gulmen and Ozakca.

“They will harm the functioning of justice if they are not arrested,” concluded the judge in his statement.

The prosecutor, who wrote an indictment in one day is demanding a 20-year prison sentence for Gulmen and Ozakca for “membership and propaganda of a terrorist organization.” The prosecutor claims in the indictment that Gulmen and Ozakca’s hunger strike is not an “innocent protest to demand their rights but has turned into recruitment work for a terrorist organisation,” according to a report in T24.

The prosecutor claims that Gulmen and Ozakca’s “connections to DHKP-C have been detected” and that “they are planning to hold the state responsible in the event of the worsening of their health and therefore trigger events similar to [the] Gezi [uprisings of 2013].”