Teargas, clashes at burial of hunger-striking Istanbul lawyer

·4 min read

Istanbul police fired teargas and chased away hundreds of mourners at the burial on Friday of a lawyer who died on the 238th day of a hunger strike she staged to protest her jailing on terror charges.

Friends said Ebru Timtik weighed just 30 kilogrammes (65 pounds) at the time of her death late Thursday, which drew condemnation from Turkish opposition parties, international lawyers associations and the EU.

Police fired volleys of teargas as Timtik's friends and supporters approached a cemetery on the northern edge of Istanbul where her body was buried.

"Ebru Timtik is immortal" and the "murderous state will be held to account" supporters chanted after laying her lawyer's robe and flowers across her grave.

Helmeted anti-riot police armed with shields threatened to attack the crowd unless they stopped chanting, and chased after them once the ceremony ended. An AFP reporter saw one young boy detained.

Earlier police, backed up by armoured vehicles, clashed with Timtik's supporters across various parts of Istanbul in chaotic scenes while a police helicopter hovered overhead.

"She would defend the people in various cases, like Soma," said Timtik's colleague Naim Eminoglu in reference to a 2014 mine disaster in which 301 people died

"And that is why she was on trial," Eminoglu told AFP.

The European Union said Timtik's death highlighted "serious shortcomings" in 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.

- US embassy bombing -

Timtik was a member of the Contemporary Lawyers' Association (CHD), a 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".

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

After turning the hunger strike into a death fast together with another lawyer, Aytac Unsal, she 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.

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), which represents bars in 45 European countries, expressed its "shock" in a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Turkish officials received her death with a wall of silence.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told the official Anadolu news agency he would lodge a personal complaint against members of Istanbul Bar Association for unfurling a banner "of a terrorist organisation" from its balcony.

The banner depicted a picture of Timtik.

- Fight over body -

Timtik's friends and supporters had feared 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.

Police used teargas while forcefully dispersing around 100 of her supporters as they tried to gain access to her body outside the  Istanbul forensic lab on Friday morning.

The funeral ceremony was held at an Alevi worship house. Police sealed off the area and deployed several water cannon trucks while a police helicopter circled overhead.

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

"If a lawyer pays for her demands for justice with her life, there is nothing left to say except that no one in this country is safe," Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Musa Piroglu told AFP.

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 into their protest.