Turkish lawyer dies after 238-day hunger strike

Istanbul (AFP) –


A Turkish lawyer seeking a fair trial after being charged with membership of a terrorist organisation has died in an Istanbul hospital on the 238th day of her hunger strike.

Friends said Ebru Timtik weighed just 30 kilogrammes (65 pounds) at the time of her death late Thursday, which has sparked condemnation from opposition parties in Turkey as well as from abroad.

AFP reporters saw police try to forcefully disperse around 100 of Timtik's friends and supporters Friday as they tried to gain access to her body outside an Istanbul forensic lab.

Police used teargas and pushed people away with anti-riot shields as a van drove her body away.

The Cumhuriyet daily reported that four people were detained.

The European Union said Timtik's death highlighted "serious shortcomings" of Turkey's justice system.

"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," EU spokesman Peter Stano said in Brussels.

- US embassy bombing -

Timtik was a member of the Contemporary Lawyers' Association (CHD), a leftist group accused of having close ties to the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a far-left Marxist organisation.

The DHKP-C has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks in Turkey, including a 2013 suicide bombing at the US embassy in Ankara, which killed a Turkish security guard.

In 2019, an Istanbul court handed multiple sentences to 18 lawyers, including Timtik, on charges of "forming and running a terror group" and "membership in a terror group."

Timtik, who had been initially detained in September 2018, was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison, which prompted her and some other lawyers to start a hunger strike in February.

She had been jailed in Silivri -- a huge court and prison complex on the outskirts of Istanbul.

Last October, an appeals court upheld the lawyers' jail sentences.

Timtik, who turned her hunger strike into a death fast together with another lawyer, Aytac Unsal, was moved from the prison to a hospital in July.

The pair were consuming only liquids and vitamins, and a forensic report showed at the time that their condition was "not suitable" for a continued stay in prison.

- Security measures -

After the forensic lab, around 300 people arrived at the Alevi worshipping house on the northern edge of Istanbul where a funeral ceremony was being held.

Police sealed off the area and deployed several water cannon trucks, with a police helicopter flying overhead, an AFP reporter said.

The body is expected to be buried by her mother in a cemetery nearby on Friday or Saturday.

But Timtik's friends and supporters had feared that her body would be buried in secret, and around 300 people gathered outside the forensic centre when news of her death first emerged on Thursday night.

"When revolutionaries or Kurds become martyrs ... (authorities) hijack bodies and bury them at unknown spots at midnight," Sinan Zincir, lawyer and friend of Timtik, told AFP on Thursday night.

"We are here to prevent such a case."

Opposition parties forcefully condemned the death of Timtik, who friends said was born in 1978.

"Ebru Timtik was massacred by the tyrants in power!" Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Garo Paylan said in a tweet.

Turkey has in the past seen hunger strikes launched by left-leaning political groups.

Last year, thousands of prisoners ended their hunger strike against the conditions of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan around 200 days after launching their protest.