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Turkey: academics on hunger strike detained

Monday 22 May 2017 - 1:00am

22 May 2017 - The detention of Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça on the 75th day of their hunger strike is unacceptable, PEN International said today, as the organisation called for their immediate release.

The pair have been on hunger strike in Ankara since 8 March 2017, asking for their jobs to be reinstated.  They have been detained and released 17 times, totaling 34 days, since the start of their sit-in in December 2016 in front of Ankara’s famous Human Rights Memorial. They were recently diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff sundrome (WKS) by medical professionals.

Semih Özakça and Nuriye Gülmen are currently being held in the General Directorate of Security in Ankara after being arrested today in dawn raids by anti-terror police who stormed into their house. According to Gülmen and Özakça’s lawyer, the arrest warrant listed the reasons for their detention as “possibility that the protest can turn into a death fast” and “that it could spark protests in the likes of Gezi Park protests”.[1] Özakça's wife and mother are reportedly on hunger strike in protest at their detentions.

“By detaining Semih Özakça and Nuriye Gülmen, the Turkish authorities show once again their utter contempt for freedom of expression and human rights. Özakça and Gülmen must be released immediately,” said Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International. “Their appeal, and that of the tens of thousands of civil servants who have been arbitrarily dismissed since the coup attempt, must be examined promptly, independently and impartially.”

Gülmen and Özakça are two of 4,811 academics and 40,000 teachers who were dismissed by emergency decree following the coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Under the state of emergency, those dismissed from their positions are subjected to a lifetime ban from seeking employment as civil servants and face a range of social and professional hurdles. Their passports, and those of some of their spouses, have been cancelled as has their health insurance. They can only challenge the dismissal decision through the Commission to Investigate State of Emergency Affairs, which has yet to be assembled while concerns have been raised over its functionality and independence.

Turkey's Ministry of Interior has refused to comment on the case. The only government official to do so, Nurettin Yaşar of the governing Justice and Development Party and member of the parliamentary commission on human rights, said that “hunger strike is not fit for our religion”. He urged Gülmen and Özakça “to trust the state and surrender to their fate”.

PEN International calls on the Turkish authorities to release Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça immediately and to end the arbitrary dismissals of civil servants. Those dismissed from their jobs should have immediate access to an independent and effective appeals mechanism. Where no legitimate grounds are found for their dismissals, they have the right to be reinstated in their positions and the right to legal remedies.

The organisation further calls on the Turkish authorities to end arbitrary arrests and their far-reaching crackdown on freedom of expression, end the state of emergency for three more months and uphold the independence of the judiciary.

For more information about Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça and the extent of the post-coup crackdown please see PEN International’s statement Turkey: academics on hunger strike as effects of post-coup decrees deepen, available here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail:

[1] The Gezi Park protests took place in 2013 after a small group of protesters opposed to its destruction were brutally dispersed by police. Local protests quickly spread and turned into the biggest civil protest in Turkey’s history, with almost 3 million people taking the streets across 81 cities. Nine people lost their lives and thousands were injured, as police repeatedly used unnecessary and abusive force. See PEN International’s report here.