Turkish doctors slam rights court for rejecting hunger strikers' case

ANKARA (Reuters) - A prominent association of Turkish doctors criticized the European Court of Human Rights on Thursday for rejecting a request from two teachers to be released from prison on health grounds after five months on hunger strike.

Nuriye Gulmen, a professor, and Semih Ozakca, a primary school teacher, had petitioned the Strasbourg-based court to order Ankara to release them, arguing imprisonment posed a risk to their lives.

But the court ruled on Wednesday the detention did not pose a “real and imminent risk of irreparable harm” to the two, who have been taking supplements and liquid to stay alive.

The Ankara Chamber of Medical Doctors disagreed with the court’s assessment, saying the risk was potentially grave and the two should be placed in a medical facility.

“Prison conditions pose hazards for even healthy people. Remanding these two fragile people in jail carries lethal risks,” Vedat Bulut, the group’s chairman told a news conference.

“Their protein deficiency is severe and multiple organ failure is possible.”

The teachers have said the hunger strike is to draw attention to the plight of the roughly 150,000 people suspended or sacked since last July’s failed putsch, which President Tayyip Erdogan blames on followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric.

Authorities detained the two after they went on the hunger strike, saying their protest was driven by DHKP-C, a militant leftist group deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey.

Human rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies say Erdogan is using the crackdown to stifle dissent and persecute his opponents. The government says its measures are necessary given the gravity of the security threats it faces.

The court told Ankara to allow doctors to examine the two teachers, and inform it about any changes in their condition. It repeated its call that the teachers drop their hunger strike.

A lawyer for the two teachers said the court ruling was political, and they would apply to the U.N. Human Rights Committee against the judgment.

Doctors following their case said in June their conditions were approaching critical status.

Although not an EU member, Turkey, a candidate to join the bloc, is covered by the court as it has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights.

Reporting by Dirimcan Barut; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by David Dolan and Andrew Heavens