Turkey’s interior minister said on Thursday two teachers detained after more than two months on a hunger protest over a government crackdown in which they lost their jobs have links to the leftist militant group DHKP-C.
Literature professor Nuriye Gulmen and primary school teacher Semih Ozakca were detained on Monday and jailed pending trial on Tuesday. They lost their jobs in a purge following a failed July coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.
The teachers have been living on a liquid diet of lemon and saltwater and sugar solutions. Doctors say they have lost weight and their health is deteriorating.
Speaking in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the two teachers had participated in activities organised by the DHKP-C prior to their dismissal, and had been members of the militant group since 2012 – an accusation challenged by their lawyer.
“There are organic ties between these two persons and the DHKP-C terrorist organisation…It is very clear,” Soylu said.
The DHKP-C, founded in 1978, is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The group aims to set up a socialist state in Turkey and supports violent means to do so.
Selcuk Kozagacli, a lawyer representing the teachers, told Reuters Gulmen and Ozakca had both been acquitted of the charges mentioned by the ministers in 2012.
He said a criminal complaint about the accusations would be submitted to a court in Ankara today. Applications would be filed to Turkey’s constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights next week.
The teachers, who now both use wheelchairs because of their deteriorating health, say their hunger strike is aimed at highlighting the plight of 150,000 state employees suspended or sacked after the failed putsch, which Erdogan blames on followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
While Turkish officials say the purges are necessary due to the gravity of the coup attempt which killed 240 people, critics in Turkey and abroad say Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent and purge opponents.