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Turkey seeks 20-year terms for hunger-striking teachers

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Turkish former primary school teacher Semih Ozakca (R) and Turkish academician Nuriye Gulmen wear face masks on the 63rd day of their hunger strike during a demonstration in Ankara, Turkey, May 10, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Turkish prosecutors have demanded up to 20 years in prison for two hunger-striking teachers protesting their dismissal in a widespread purge after an abortive coup last year.

Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca, who have been on hunger strike for over two months, were charged Wednesday by an Ankara court with membership in a terrorist group, spreading terrorist propaganda, and breaking the law on demonstrations after the failed July 2016 coup.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the two Turkish educators are specifically accused of membership in the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, also known as the DHKP-C, a leftist militant group that has staged sporadic armed attacks against Turkey over the last years.

Ozakca, a former primary school teacher, and Gulmen, a university lecturer, have abstained from eating for 77 days and been surviving on water alone. They have vowed to continue striking in prison, refusing treatment despite their reportedly serious health conditions.

“For us, the resistance will continue in prison. I invite everyone to continue the resistance outside,” 35-year-old Gulmen said.

“We will continue our fight until we are victorious,” said Ozakca, 28.

The two Turkish educators were initially detained early this week and are currently held in custody on a court order until they stand trial.

Speaking at a news conference in Rome, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused both Ozakca and Gulmen of being DHKP-C members, saying the group worked with the militants of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Whoever supports terror groups will have action taken against them. This has nothing to do with freedom of expression,” he said.

In less than a week, Turkey opened the trials of 221 suspected organizers of the coup attempt, also ordering the detention of 139 staffers from local councils and two ministries in Ankara over alleged links to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric accused of masterminding the botched putsch against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Arrested soldiers accused of having been involved in an attempted coup d’etat in Turkey are accompanied by Turkish soldiers as they arrive at the court inside the Sincan Prison in the capital, Ankara, May 22, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Turkey witnessed a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, when a faction of the Turkish military declared that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was no more in charge of the country.

Over the course of some two days, however, the coup was suppressed. Almost 250 people were killed and nearly 2,200 others wounded in the abortive coup.

Since then, Ankara has been engaged in suppressing perceived putschists and sympathizers.

Over 40,000 people have been arrested and 120,000 others sacked or suspended from a wide range of professions over alleged links with the coup attempt.

Critics say President Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to eliminate his opponents.

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