Turkey's hunger-striking teachers absent for trial

  • Published
Media caption,

Chaotic scenes outside the Ankara court

The trial of two teachers on terror-related charges has opened in Turkey - marked by the absence of the accused.

Nuriye Gulmen, a university lecturer, and Semih Ozakca, a primary school teacher, deny having links to a left-wing militant group.

They have been on hunger strike for six months in protest at their dismissal from their jobs.

Authorities prevented them from appearing in court in Ankara, saying they could attempt to escape.

But supporters said the government did not want them to be seen in their emaciated state.

Relatives say they cannot walk and are suffering ailments including heart rhythm problems, pain and sensitivity to light, as a result of being on a diet of only liquids and supplements since March.

The pair went on hunger strike after losing their jobs in the crackdown following a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 14 months ago.

They were then detained in May over alleged links to the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) group, banned as a terrorist organisation by Turkey.

This week, their lawyers were also detained on terrorism charges, prompting criticism that the pair have been left defenceless, although dozens more lawyers stepped in.

Their absence from court was described as "an open breach of their right to defend" themselves, according to Baris Yarkadas, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

Of the 150,000 people sacked or suspended since last year's failed coup, this pair have become the most iconic, reports the BBC's Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen.

Crowds of supporters turned up for the court hearing, including at least 100 lawyers. Many protested outside.

Riot police used batons to maintain order. At least 20 people were dragged along the ground and detained, reported Reuters news agency.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Semih Ozakca (L) and Nuriye Gulmen (R) attended a demonstration in May; doctors now say they are both in perilous health

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