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.