Turkish Lawyer Dies on Hunger Strike Demanding Fair Trial

Turkish and international human rights activists speak to the media before the trial of the Amnesty International’s former Turkey chairman and 10 other activists, in Istanbul on Feb. 19. 2020. (AP Photo)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A human rights lawyer in Turkey has died of a hunger strike she launched in prison to demand a fair trial for herself and colleagues, an attorney’s group said.

Ebru Timtik, 42, died in a hospital in Istanbul late Thursday, the Progressive Lawyers’ Association said. She had been fasting for 238 days and reportedly weighed just 65 pounds.

The lawyer and 17 of her colleagues were accused of links to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP/C, a militant group designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. She was convicted in March 2019 and sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison. An appeals court upheld the lawyers’ sentences last October.

Timtik started the hunger strike in February to protest alleged unfair proceedings during the trial, along with another colleague, Aytac Unsal, who is reported to be in a critical condition.

Writing to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) urged him to conduct a fair trial for Unsal to save him from meeting Timtik’s fate. The council represents bars in 45 European countries. 

Opposition parties have long questioned the impartiality and independence of Turkey’s courts under Erdogan’s rule, while lawyers’ groups reported several flaws during the trial. They included the removal of judges who had initially ordered the lawyers’ release from pretrial detention and the use of anonymous witnesses who testified against them.

Though originally jailed outside Istanbul, in the huge court and prison complex known as Silivri, Timtik was moved to a hospital in July after a forensic report showed her conditions were “not suitable” for continued imprisonment.

On Friday, police tried to prevent a crowd of her supporters from gathering outside the Istanbul Bar Association for a memorial, the Evrensel newspaper reported. Later, riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to block a protest march. At least one lawyer was detained, the paper said.

Ebru Timtik. (Photo courtesy of Progressive Lawyers Association [ÇHD] in Turkey via Courthouse News)

“Ebru Timtik is immortal” and “Aytac Unsal is our honor,” some of the mourners chanted, according to Evrensel.

Agence France Presse said its reporters observed police forcefully disperse around 100 of Timtik’s friends and supporters outside an Istanbul forensics lab Friday as they tried to gain access to her body. As the van drove Timtik’s body away, police reportedly used tear gas and anti-riot shields to keep people at bay. Turkey’s Cumhuriyet daily reported that four people were detained.

“When revolutionaries or Kurds become martyrs … (authorities) hijack bodies and bury them at unknown spots at midnight,” Sinan Zincir, lawyer and friend of Timtik, told AFP on Thursday night.
“We are here to prevent such a case.”

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said the EU is “deeply saddened” by Timtik’s death.

“Ebru Timtik’s hunger strike for a fair trial and its tragic outcome painfully illustrate the urgent need for the Turkish authorities to credibly address the human rights situation in the country and the serious shortcomings observed in the Turkish judiciary,” Stano said.

“A strong and independent legal profession, along with an independent judiciary is a core principle of a fair justice system,” he added.

Hunger strikers in Turkey traditionally refuse food but consume liquids and take vitamins that prolong their protests.

Timtik’s death comes months after two members of a left-wing popular folk group that is banned in Turkey also died of a hunger strike. They had also been accused of links to the DHKP/C, whose deadly attacks in Turkey have included the 2013 suicide bombing at the U.S. embassy in Ankara, which killed a Turkish security guard.

Another hunger strike last year led thousands of prisoners to fast for 200 days over the jailing of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.  

By SUZAN FRASER Associated Press
Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.

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