Death of Kurdish lawyer on hunger strike sparks outcry

Ebru Timtik died in an Istanbul hospital 238 days after launching her hunger strike in demand of a fair trial. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 29 August 2020

Death of Kurdish lawyer on hunger strike sparks outcry

  • Ebru Timtik, initially detained in September 2018, was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison
  • Her death drew criticism from international observers, human rights activists and political leaders

ISTANBUL: Turkey is facing a chorus of criticism over the death of a young Kurdish lawyer who began a seven-month hunger strike after being jailed on terror-related charges.

Ebru Timtik died in an Istanbul hospital 238 days after launching her hunger strike in demand of a fair trial.

In 2019, an Istanbul court handed multiple sentences to Timtik and 17 other lawyers on charges of “forming and running a terror group” and “membership in a terror organization.”

Timtik, who had been initially detained in September 2018, was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison, which prompted her to start a hunger strike in February.

Another lawyer, Aytac Unsal, who began a hunger strike at the same time, is still being held in an Istanbul hospital.

Timtik’s death triggered criticism from international observers, human rights activists and political leaders who accused the Turkish government of turning a deaf ear to demands for a fair trial.

Timtik, from Turkey’s southeastern Dersim province, whose population is predominantly Kurdish-Alawite, was accused of membership in the banned Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party.

During the initial hearing, judges decided to release the detained lawyers pending trial, but reversed their decision within 24 hours based on statements by an anonymous witness.

An application for the lawyers’ release was rejected by an Istanbul court last month despite medical reports warning of their deteriorating health and the risks of remaining in jail.

“Right to fair trial is a basic human right. When a lawyer demands such a fundamental right by sacrificing her own life without getting any reply, it is a serious warning sign for justice in Turkey,” Erdal Dogan, a human rights lawyer, told Arab News.

Dogan described the failure to release Timtik despite medical reports proving her worsening health as a “tragic incident.”

The lawyers’ hunger strike brought petitions from around the world calling for the release of the prisoners.

Internationally known Turkish singer and former politician Zulfu Livaneli said on Twitter: “It is the death of humanity, justice and conscience.”

Nazan Moroglu, deputy chair of the Istanbul Bar Association, said: “This was a preventable death, they just did not prevent it.”

According to Gamze Pamuk Atesli, a lawyer from the northwestern Bursa province of Bursa, judiciary independence and the right to fair trial have long been under attack in Turkey.

“The court showed respect to the political will rather than the rule of law,” she said. “It is a blatant violation not only of the right to a fair trial but also of the right to life.”

Meanwhile, a separate incident added to the outcry about injustices toward the country’s Kurdish population.

Musa Orhan, a Turkish army sergeant, was released six days after being detained following medical reports that proved he raped a Kurdish woman, Ipek Er, repeatedly over several weeks, triggering her suicide.

Memories of the murder of prominent Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci in 2015 are still fresh in Turkey.

The head of Diyarbakir’s bar association was campaigning for peace between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Turkish state when he died during an armed clash with police.


Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

Iranian singer Omid Tootian, 46, gestures during an interview at a coffee shop in the UN-controlled buffer zone in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on September 23, 2020, where he's been stuck since mid-September. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2020

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

  • Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran

NICOSIA: Dissident Iranian singer Omid Tootian has for days been sleeping in a tent in the buffer zone of the world’s last divided capital, after being refused entry by the Republic of Cyprus.
“I can’t go to one side or the other,” the performer, in his mid-40s, whose songs speak out against Iranian authorities, told AFP. “I’m stuck living in the street.”
His tent is pitched between two checkpoints in western Nicosia, among the weeds outside an abandoned house in the quasi-“no man’s land” that separates the northern and southern parts of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974.
In early September, he traveled to the north of the Mediterranean island, controlled by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
Two weeks later, Tootian, who had been living in Turkey for around three years, tried for the first time to seek asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the island and is in the EU.  But once at the green line, the 180 -km buffer zone that traverses the island and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers, he was denied entry into the south.
Refusing to return to the TRNC, where he fears he would be in danger, Tootian found himself in limbo in the few hundred meters of land that divides the two territories.
“I don’t know why they haven’t approved my entry ... but I think it’s because of the coronavirus,” he said, speaking at the pro-unification Home for Cooperation community center in the buffer zone where he eats, grooms and spends most of his days.
“But I hope things will become clear because now I don’t know what will happen, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran.

Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran.

Omid Tootian, Dissident Iranian singer

“Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran,” he said, adding that he had for the past six months been receiving anonymous “threats” from unknown callers using private phone numbers.
In July, three Iranians were sentenced to death by the Islamic republic. Two of them had initially fled to Turkey and, according to the non-governmental group the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Turkish authorities cooperated with Tehran to repatriate them.
Since arriving at the checkpoint, Tootian has tried “four or five times” in a week to enter, without success, despite the help of a migrant rights advocacy group known as KISA and the UN mission in the buffer zone.
According to European and international regulations, Cyprus cannot expel an asylum seeker until the application has been considered and a final decision issued.
The police said “they have restrictions not to let anybody in,” KISA member Doros Polycarpou told AFP.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou said “it is not the responsibility of the police” to decide who can enter the Republic of Cyprus.
They “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Interior,” put in place “because of the pandemic,” he added.
According to the ministry, “all persons who are willing to cross from a legal entry point to the area controlled by the Republic must present a negative COVID-19 test carried out within the last 72 hours” — a requirement Tootian said he had fulfilled.
Polycarpou charges that the Cypriot “government has used the pandemic to restrict basic human rights.”
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou said “there are other means to protect asylum seekers and public health at the same time ... we can test people when they arrive or take quarantine measures.”
“We have someone who is seeking international protection, he should have access to the process,” she added.
Due to the closure of other migration routes to Europe, asylum applications have increased sixfold over the last five years in Cyprus — a country of fewer than 1 million inhabitants — from 2,265 in 2015 to 13,650 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.