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Turkey set to free hunger strike teacher from jail

October 20, 2017

The educator has been released from jail, but will have to wear a tracking device until his trial ends. His hunger strike attempts to draw attention to Erdogan's crackdown on public servants.

Türkei Hungerstreik - Nuriye Gülmen & Semih Özakca
Image: DW/H. Köylü

A Turkish court ruled Friday that imprisoned teacher Semih Ozakca (above right), who has been on a hunger strike for over seven months, would be placed under house arrest for the duration of his trial. However, the court denied release to a second striking educator, the academic Nuriye Gulmen (above left), who had been transferred from jail to a hospital due to poor health.

Read more: DW exclusive interview with educators on hunger strike in Turkey 

The two educators began their hunger strike to protest their dismissal as part of last year's governmental purge of public servants. They have become symbols of resistance against the crackdown and restriction of liberties that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has undertaken against teachers, police, judges and soldiers.

Read more: In Turkey, hope for 'justice is fading away just like my muscles'

According to Ozakca's lawyers, the court in Ankara said that the primary school teacher would be permitted to remain at home on the condition of having to wear an electronic tracking bracelet on his ankle. The 28-year-old will be able to leave his apartment for medical reasons and for court appearances.

Turkish police detain a protester outside the courthouse where Ozakca and Gulmen are being tried
Police detain a protester during a demo against Turkey's purge of teachers, journalistsImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan

The next hearing is scheduled for November 17. At previous hearings, the court had denied release to both Ozakca and Gulmen.

The educator's defense team had been arrested in the lead-up to the trial's opening. The arrests caused a storm of support from other legal experts eager to assist the pair, as well as sparked protests outside the courthouse in Ankara where their trial was taking place.

No food for seven months

The 35-year-old Gulmen began the hunger strike on March 9 to protest her dismissal as a literature professor, one of more than 140,000 public servants who lost their jobs as part of a government purge that Erdogan launched in the aftermath of a failed military coup in July 2016. Ozakca, who also lost his job, joined Gulmen shortly after the start.

Nuriye Gülmen & Semih Özakca the two teachers on hunger strike in a photo from mid-May
Gulmen (left) and Ozakca (right) in May, two months into their hunger strikeImage: picture-alliance/AFP/A. Altan

Gulmen and Ozakca were arrested in May for alleged links to the militant Marxist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), which Turkey considers a terrorist group. The pair has denied all charges and claims the government wanted to stifle their act of public protest. 

The educators, who have been subsisting only on water, sugar, salt and vitamin B, have lost between 18 and 33 kilograms (40 and 73 pounds) in the 226 days since starting their strike, family members say, and are very weak. 

Human rights groups have criticized Erdogan for the crackdown and accused him of silencing political dissent, which he denies.

cmb (Reuters, AFP, dpa)