Turkish academic on lengthy hunger strike appeals jail term

Turkish academic on lengthy hunger strike appeals jail term
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By Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) - A sacked Turkish professor who has been on hunger strike for almost nine months and is barely half her original weight said on Wednesday she had appealed a court ruling that linked her to a banned far-left group and handed her a six-year jail sentence.

Nuriye Gulmen, 35, lost her job as a literature professor during large-scale purges of universities, the civil service, judiciary and military following last year's failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.

After going on hunger strike and staging protests against the purges, Gulmen was arrested in May and last week a court convicted her of being a member of the outlawed militant leftist DHKP-C group, a charge she denies.

However, the court also ordered her release pending an appeal and she has vowed to continue her hunger strike until she gets her job back.

"We will take (the appeal) all the way up, and then to the European Court of Human Rights. There is no evidence linking me to the DHKP-C, apart from some secret witnesses' testimony," Gulmen told Reuters in her apartment in the capital Ankara.


On the 273rd day of a diet of sugar and salt solutions, water and herbal tea, Gulmen weighs only 34 kilograms, barely half her weight when she started the hunger strike, but she said she remained optimistic.

"I am not sick, I don't need to be hospitalised. I am carrying out a hunger strike of my own will. I was completely isolated at the intensive care unit, although I rejected any treatment," said an emaciated-looking Gulmen.

Surrounded on her patient bed by hand sanitizers and surgical masks to avoid contracting an infection, Gulmen said the Turkish state feared those ready to protest against its post-coup purges, in which more than 150,000 people have lost their jobs and some 50,000 jailed.

"Our sit-in protest was creating waves and I was detained because the government was having nightmares that it would widen into a Gezi-scale protest," Gulmen said, referring to an earlier wave of anti-government protests in Turkey in 2013.

"The government wants absolute surrender. You can commit suicide for all they care, but they don't want you to raise your voice," added Gulmen, who describes herself as a leftist.

The Ankara court said Gulmen was staging her hunger strike on the orders of the militant DHKP-C group, which is classed as a terrorist organisation in Turkey. She denies any link.

"No one can stay hungry on the orders of others. It's impossible to carry on unless it's coming from inside you. No one melts their bodies on (somebody else's) orders," she said.

Gulmen said she found strength and courage on "bad days" from a book about Bobby Sands, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, who died in 1981 on the 66th day of his hunger strike against prison conditions in Northern Ireland.

Turkish authorities accuse U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his supporters of organising the July 2016 coup attempt. Gulen condemned the coup and denies involvement.

Human rights groups and the European Union have said Erdogan is using the crackdown on suspected Gulen supporters to stifle dissent in Turkey. Many leftists and others have also been caught up in the purges.

Erdogan and his government deny they are trying to muzzle opponents and say the clampdown is necessary in view of the security challenges Turkey faces.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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