Turkish police detained at least 20 people and fired tear gas to disperse protesters outside a courthouse in Ankara on Thursday at the start of the trial of teachers Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, who have been on a hunger strike since losing their jobs in a crackdown following a failed coup last year.
According to the Cumhuriyet daily, police attempted to break up the protests using tear gas as the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court ruled for the continuation of pretrial detention for the two teachers, who are on the 190th day of a hunger strike to protest their dismissal by statutory decree.
The court made the decision as neither the teachers nor their original lawyers were in court.
At least a hundred lawyers were present at the courthouse to defend the teachers, along with deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
“The first obstacle standing in the way of a fair trial was the detention of their lawyers, which also served as a veiled attempt at intimidation of the judges trying them. Now they haven’t been brought to court, an open violation of their right to a defense,” Barış Yarkadaş, a CHP deputy for İstanbul, told Reuters.
According to Reuters, the gendarmerie said the defendants might try to escape from the courtroom, despite their weakened state, and arrest warrants were issued this week for 18 of their lawyers.
The court rejected the applications of 1,030 lawyers who wanted to represent the teachers, saying it would limit the defense’s representation to three lawyers for the duration of the trial. The trial’s second hearing will be held in Ankara on Sept. 28.
Gülmen and Özakça, who were accused of terror propaganda and membership in a terrorist organization, were not brought to court for reasons of “security.” Their lawyers were detained a few days before the hearing.
The educators were on the 76th day of a hunger strike to protest their dismissal when they were arrested on terror charges on May 23 in Ankara.
Gülmen and Özakça said their strike aims to draw attention to the situation of more than 150,000 dismissed state employees.
The Turkish government started a crackdown on the opposition in the wake of a botched coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and arrested more than 50,000 and dismissing or suspending around 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants.