EPSU and unions stand with Turkish unionists facing trial

Trial Ankara SES union leader 13 March 2023

(13 March 2023) We want our comrades free, was the message of an international union delegation that attended a hearing in the trial against leadership of the health workers union SES part of the public sector union confederation KESK, 13 March. 

The delegation met before this hearing to be briefed on the case of 8 members of SES, 2 of which are in prison. 

Unions leaders were arrested in May 2021 and Gonul Erden remained in pre-trial detention since. The police arrested Selma Atabay in July 2022. Selma was then one of the presidents of SES. 

The unionists were arrested based on information of an anonymous witness statement. The hearing addressed this information with the lawyers of the unionists demonstrating the contradictory nature of the information, the faults in the procedure it leads to, and the evidence based on phone records showing the unionists were not where they were supposed to be. The lawyers showed that the role of these anonymous statements in this case violates the rules and procedures in Court rooms in Turkey. It should be dismissed. 

Union comrades underlined how they were doing their work; work they are entitled to using our human and trade union rights. Criticising the government over its public health policies that have had a detrimental impact on people and health workers is not a crime. Members of the international delegation underlined this to the press. They also recalled that Turkey has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter. These give a very broad basis for trade union work.

Despite all this the prosecutor just said the work needed to be redone and the anonymous witness heard again. Our union comrades were to remain in jail. 

The judge did not follow this and released Gonul. She is to remain under house arrest. Selma was not released and the judicial control mechanisms remain in place against the other 6.   Turkish unions and the international delegation reacted with indignity especially as evidence showed that the claims could not possibly be true.

The attitude of the Turkish government towards critique and human rights is disturbing. It filters into its approach to Kurdish groups abroad like in Sweden. It's pressure on Sweden over NATO membership has made the new Swedish government introduce a law that would allow the government in Sweden to ban such Kurdish activity. Union leaders opposed this. 

The union delegation was composed of comrades from Dutch union FNV, Swedish union ST and UK unions Unison and Unite as well as the TUC. It was joined by the EPSU general Secretary.  The hearing was in the Court house in Ankara. 

For a previous report

  • International union delegation at hearing in the trial against leadership of the health workers union SES 13 March Ankara