Turkish Teacher Union Activists Arrested

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When I arrived to Ankara, Turkey on Friday
May 29 to speak at an international conference
sponsored by the Teachers Union,
Egitim Sen, I was informed that police forces
had launched operations against their parent
union, KESK’s (the confederation of
Public Employee’s Union) head office in
Ankara, as well as in local branches in Izmir,
Istanbul, Van and Manisa.
Thirty-four members of Egitim Sen were
arrested on May 28, along with several
members from the administrative boards of
local branches, a member of the executive
board, and Gulcin Isbert, the Women’s Secretary
of Egitim Sen. Songul Morsümbül,
Women’s Secretary of KESK, the confederation
of Public Employee’s Unions, was also
taken into custody. In addition, documents
and computers were seized by the police,
without any reason given for this operation.
Education International (EI), the world’s
largest Global Union Federation and the
only union representing education workers
in every corner of the globe, condemned the
arrests. EI General Secretary Fred van
Leeuwen noted that “The harassment and
detention of trade union leaders and
activists because of their legitimate democratic
activities are serious violations of international
human rights law, including the
International Labor Organization Convention
87 on freedom of association, which
Turkey ratified in 1993.” He further asserted
that “The rights of workers’ organizations
can only be exercised in a climate that is free
from violence, pressure or threats of any
kind against both leaders and members, and
it is the responsibility of governments to
ensure that this principle is respected.”
Turkish workers staged a mass demonstration
in the downtown square in Ankara
on Saturday May 30 in response to the
arrests, denouncing police
actions and calling for the
immediate release of their
union comrades. The fact
that all the union members
arrested were Kurdish and
that there were unofficial
reports that the arrests were
the result of “suspicion of
terrorist connections” was
cause for grave concern
among the Egitim Sen and
KESK leadership.
Moreover, given historical
tensions in the region and
past repression of the Kurdish
People’s Party (PKK)
and other Kurdish political
organizations by the Turkish government,
there are concerns that the arrest of these
Kurdish union members might signal a
renewed wave of repression against Kurdish
self-determination.
According to Deniz Yildirim, Egitim
Sen’s International Relations Coordinator,
half of those arrested have been released by
the local courts. Unfortunately, pursuant to
objections raised by the local prosecutor to
this decision, eight members including the
Women Secretary of Egitim Sen and the
Women Secretary of KESK were sentenced
to prison. Currently, 24 Kurdish unionists
still remain in custody.

About Antonia Darder

Antonia Darder is a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is a longtime Puerto Rican activist-scholar involved in issue's relating to education, language, immigrant workers, and women's rights.
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