Turkish lawyer Ebru Timtik dies after 238 days on hunger strike demanding fair trial

Ebru Timtik, a lawyer who started a hunger strike in prison demanding a fair trial, died in an Istanbul hospital on Thursday on the 238th day of her hunger strike.

Timtik was arrested in 2017 over terrorism charges, related to her clients who faced similar charges over membership of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). She was sentenced to 13 years and 6 months in prison in 2019.

The lawyer, along with seven of her colleagues from the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD), started a hunger strike on February 3 this year. She stopped taking any sugar supplements on April 5, turning her hunger strike into what is called a death fast.

Lawyer Aytaç Ünsal, who was also sentenced to prison and started the hunger strike alongside Timtik, continues still. Both lawyers were demanding a fair trial, saying that their conviction had not been based in evidence.

“Everybody knew she was marching to her death since she began her hunger strike,” pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Dr Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said in a Hak ve Hukuk podcast. “For 238 days, they neglected our outcries.”

Timtik did not want to die, Gergerlioğlu said. “But Turkish state authorities ignored her.” Timtik’s case had raised concerns among international legal organisations for impartiality and independence of the trial.

According to the ÇHD, the case where Timtik, Uysal and 16 other lawyers from the association were put on trial over falsified and otherwise inadmissible evidence.

The case against the lawyers was based on a piece of evidence that had carried over from another investigation in 2013, and the digital file had not been copied or preserved appropriately, ÇHD said. Several incidents listed in the indictment as evidence for terrorist activity had been the lawyers taking on as clients families of miners who were killed in Turkey’s Soma and Ermenek towns, and other social justice-minded clients.

One secret witness, listed in the indictment as B.E., testified against 220 people, accusing them of terrorist activity, ÇHD said. Digital evidence gathered during a raid on a cultural centre in Istanbul in 2006 was cited in the indictment in the form of comments by the same person, who was treated by the court as an expert witness.

In 2018, Journalist Canan Coşkun was sentenced to 2 years and 3 months in prison for reporting on the secret witness B.E.

Prosecutors and judges were removed from the case after demanding and ruling for the lawyers’ release from pre-trial detention, and the judge who was appointed later to chair the court had asked leading questions to witnesses, according to the ÇHD.

The court rejected ÇHD’s requests to ascertain the original files for digitals used as evidence in the case against the 18 lawyers. The defence’s request to obtain a copy of the evidence, and to have experts assess the originality of the files were also rejected.

Timtik and the other lawyers were sentenced to a total of 159 years in prison in March last year, and the sentences were finalised in October 8. A report by the lower court that should have been taken into consideration by the appeals court was dated October 9, “proving that the courts did not carry out a legal assessment,” ÇHD said.

Aytaç Ünsal remains in the hospital the two lawyers had been taken on July 30.