Turkey Frees Jailed Human Rights Lawyer on Hunger Strike After Colleague Dies

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is battling not to be the biggest loser from the Idlib campaign
TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/AFP/File Mustafa Kamaci

Turkish authorities released human rights lawyer Aytac Unsal from jail on Thursday after his 213-day hunger strike left him critically ill.

Turkey’s supreme court ruled that extending Unsal’s detention would endanger his life, the BBC reported on Friday. Unsal’s release comes one week after his colleague, fellow human rights lawyer Ebru Timtik, died after 238 days on hunger strike.

Both lawyers were jailed on terrorism charges that they denied. The court assigned Unsal and Timtik long prison sentences, which were criticized by rights and legal groups as politically motivated.

Timtik received more than 13 years in jail while Unsal was ordered to serve ten years and six months “on allegations of terror offenses for their links to an outlawed Marxist group” in Turkey called The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), which “has carried out several deadly attacks” in the country, according to the report.

Authorities jailed Unsal and Timtik in March 2019 for alleged terror offenses in relation to the banned group, along with 16 other lawyers.

“Timtik’s death was met with an outcry from supporters in Turkey, including the left-wing group that both she and Mr. Unsal have been members of — the Contemporary Lawyers’ Association,” the BBC reported.

Timtik weighed just 66 pounds at her time of death.

“Before her funeral, police used tear gas to disperse supporters who tried to enter the Istanbul forensic laboratory where her body was being kept,” according to the report.

The Istanbul Bar Association draped a banner with an image of Timtik outside its headquarters this week to protest her death and her colleague’s continued imprisonment. In response to the action, “Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called on Tuesday for the suspension of lawyers accused of links to terrorism,” the New York Times reported.

“We should be discussing whether methods such as expulsion from the profession should be introduced for lawyers,” he told judges and prosecutors at a ceremony in Ankara to open the judicial year.

“Just as thieves should not be called on to defend burglars, ‘a lawyer who defends terrorists should not be a terrorist,'” he said.

Timtik’s death was the fourth this year in Turkey involving a hunger striker, according to the European Union (EU). “The tragic outcome of their fight for a fair trial painfully illustrates the urgent need for the Turkish authorities to credibly address the human rights situation,” the EU said in a statement.

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