EU Rights Court Sidesteps Releasing Jailed Hunger Strikers

(CN) – The European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday declined to order the release of two Turkish citizens who were detained after going on a hunger strike to protest being fired from their jobs.

Semih Ozakca, a classroom teacher, and Nuriye Gulmen, a research assistant, have been on a hunger strike since March to protest being fired after the failed coup attempt against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish authorities arrested them in May and they have been detained ever since.

The pair petitioned Europe’s human rights court in June to order their release. The duty judge decided as an emergency measure ahead of the court’s hearing of the petition to ask the Turkish government to have the pair examined by a doctor of their choosing, in order to determine if their continued detention would harm their health and amount to ill treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judge also urged the pair to give up their hunger strike.

Ozakca and Gulmen have been surviving on a liquid diet of lemon, saltwater and sugar solutions for nearly 160 days. The doctors who examined them in July found their health had deteriorated and that “this situation could cause permanent and irreversible health problems.”

Doctors at another facility examined the pair a second time in late July, after which they refused to be examined further. Based on the second examination, doctors said the situation was life-threatening and that they could not continue to live without help. However, the same report said releasing them from prison was unnecessary as long as they were monitored by prison medical staff.

Since July 28, Ozakca and Gulmen have been held in a prison hospital, albeit against their will, and are being monitored.

In light of this fact, the human rights court ruled on Wednesday that a request for emergency interim measures can only be entertained when an applicant faces an imminent risk of serious and irreparable injury. Since the pair are being watched by prison doctors, the court said it lacks the authority under its rules to order the Turkish government to release them.

The court reiterated its request that Ozakca and Gulmen call off their hunger strike, and also ordered prison officials to assist the pair with their daily needs and to allow them to consult doctors of their own choosing if they request it.

According to the Guardian, authorities arrested Ozakca and Gulmen amid concerns their strike would be taken up as a cause celebre and evolve into a larger movement against Erdogan’s government.

Amnesty International called Erdogan’s crackdown after the coup attempt – in which thousands of people lost their jobs – “professional annihilation.”

“Cutting 100,000 people off from access to work is akin to professional annihilation on a massive scale and is clearly part of the wider political purge against real or perceived political opponents,” the group said.

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