ANKARA, Turkey — A human rights lawyer on hunger strike in a Turkish prison to demand a fair trial for herself and colleagues has died, an attorney’s group said.
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. Her case was under review by an appeals court.
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.
Opposition parties have long questioned the impartiality and independence of Turkey’s courts under President Recep Tayyip 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.
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 is immortal” and “Aytac Unsal is our honor,” some of the mourners chanted, according to Evrensel.
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 said
Europe’s democracy and human rights body, the Council of Europe — of which Turkey is a member — called on the country to “restore and uphold” the role of lawyers as human rights defenders.
“Ms. Timtik’s death is a tragic illustration of the human suffering caused by a judicial system in Turkey that has turned into a tool to silence lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists,” said Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner.
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.
Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.
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