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Turkish teachers on hunger strike may be close to death, doctors say

Striking teachers have gone without food for about 100 days
Nuriye Gulmen (left) and Semih Ozakca at protest on 13 May (AFP)
By Reuters

Two Turkish teachers holding a hunger strike over their dismissal in a government crackdown after last year's failed coup may be close to death, doctors following their case said on Friday.

Literature professor Nuriye Gulmen, 35, and primary school teacher Semih Ozakca, 28, were jailed last month over the protest, which a court ruled was conducted on behalf of a terrorist leftist group, the DHKP-C. They have been taking only water, sugar, salt and vitamin B for 100 days and say they will end their action only when they are restored to their positions.

"As of now, they have entered a critical stage with 10 to 20 days to live. We have seen examples of hunger strikers surviving 120-130 days with vitamin B intake, but I assume it will be 110 days under these circumstances," said Vedat Bulut, board chairman of the Ankara Chamber of Medical Doctors.

Bulut says his colleagues have not been allowed to examine Gulmen and Ozakca since their arrest, but remain in contact with prison doctors on their condition.

Prison conditions leave them prone to infections and risks of permanent damage

- Vedat Bulut, doctor

Doctors at the Ankara prison, where they are being held, declined to comment, and the Justice Ministry said it had no information on the matter.

"Gulmen is confined to bed now, Ozakca is approaching that situation as well. Prison conditions leave them prone to infections and risks of permanent damage," Bulut told Reuters in his office at Ankara's Gazi University.

Almost 150,000 state employees, including civil servants, academics and security personnel, have been fired since the July coup attempt, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed on followers of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkish officials say the purges are necessary because of the gravity of the coup attempt, which killed 240 people. Critics in Turkey and abroad say Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent and purge opponents.

"Nuriye and Semih's muscles have been melting, their organs are at a point of no return. Two young people are dying. The parliament should take immediate steps," Garo Paylan, a deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) told parliament on Friday.

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