EPSU supports imprisoned trade unionists in Turkey

EPSU General Secretary, Carola Fischbach-Pyttel, Istanbul, 23 January 2014

EPSU General Secretary joins international delegation to join court hearing against 27 KESK members and leaders on 23 - 24 January 2014 in Istanbul

(24 January 2014) An international delegation of trade unionists from Austria, Belgium, France, Sweden and the UK, together with representatives from Labour Start and the International Institute for Trade Union Rights and coordinated by the trade union rights department of the ITUC observed a court hearing against 27 KESK members and leaders. These were arrested during a police raid on 19 February 2013.

EPSU General Secretary Carola Fischbach-Pyttel joined the delegation for the court session on 24 January at the Istanbul High Criminal Court. "We want to demonstrate our support with the prosecuted trade unionists and draw international public attention to the on-going attacks on basic human and trade union rights. We condemn the continued intinimidation and harassment of Turkish trade unionists, simply because they stand up for their views and ralley for these in protest actions and demonstrations.", she said during a press meeting outside the court building.

The legal framework on terrorism and organised crime leads to recurring infringements of the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial and the freedom of expression, of assembly and association. This is what EU Commissioner Füle already said in June 2012. It remains topical in 2014, despite claim to the contrary by the Turkish government.

Legal proceedings continue to be launched against trade unionists, but also lawyers, journalists and human rights activists under the terrorism-related legislation. Not only KESK members are affected, but also members of DISK, the Chambers of Engineers and Architects, the Medical Association.

Members of the international trade delegation were given access to an extremely packed court room to which also relatives and friends of the accused were admitted. Many people could only stand but followed the proceedings over hours, repeatedly waving to the detainees in the inner area of the court room. Various trade union leaders gave presentations of the ordeals experienced during the police raids at their homes in the early morning hours, where personal belongings, such as letters, family photos, books and magazines had been confiscated.

"You accuse me of joining May Day demonstrations. Are you judging me or May Day? In 1824 manufacture workers in the UK fought for the right to collective agreements, 190 years later I am arrested because I fight for collective agreements for teachers in Turkey!" one of the Executive members of the Egitim-Sen union said.

Similar pleas were made by other accused KESK members, rejecting the evidence against them and the reports established under duress at the police station. Even if the accused trade unionists are released, this however will be after 11 months of detention in high-safety prisons and although ultimately the accusations cannot be maintained, they will be tarnished in their working and living environment. Amongst the detained was also Merjem Özugöt, special guest at the 2009 EPSU Congress.

Repeated imprisonment and long detention remains a common pratice by the Turkish authorities to repress human and trade union freedoms. "This cannot be right. You must be able to express your views freely through protest action. Any democratic society must be in a position to tolerate and listen to the voice of opposition" stresses Carola Fischbach-Pyttel.