Trade unionists on trial in Turkey

UNISON representatives travelled to Turkey last month to witness the trial of Turkish trade union leader Arzu Çerkezoğlu

Trade Union representatives outside the court of Justice in Sapanca, North West Turkey.


Arzu Çerkezoğlu’s case is one of many taking place against progressive trade unionists in Turkey at the moment.

The erosion of democracy, rights and the rule of law in the country means that defending workers’ rights comes with extraordinary risks, so UNISON’s solidarity as an international court witness is essential.

Arzu Çerkezoğlu is a medical doctor and president of both the Turkish trade union federation DISK and Dev Sağlık-İş – the Progressive Union of Health Workers.

Arzu has been charged with “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile” under article 216/1 of the penal code, following comments she made about reclaiming the streets at a CHP – or social democratic party–  public debate in 2016.

At the trial, the prosecution also added “insulting the president” to the charges against her.

If found guilty, Arzu could face a prison sentence of up to seven years for the combined charges.

And even if she is found not guilty on this occasion, as a courageous defender of workers’ and human rights, who is closely monitored by the government, this isn’t the first or the last time she will appear in court, simply for defending workers.

Around 100 observers attended the hearing, outnumbered only by the heavy police presence inside and outside the court.

They included representatives of DISK, public sector union confederation KESK, the Union of Pensioners, Chamber of Doctors, Chamber of Engineers and Arzu’s parents.

“Our presence at key trials sends a clear message to the government and the judiciary that the world is watching” – UNISON

International observers included representatives of the European Public Service Union (EPSU), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), UNISON and Unite.

The long-anticipated court session only lasted around 20 minutes. The judge asked the prosecutor to clarify which parts of Arzu’s 2016 speech related to the charge of “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile” and which related to the new charge of “insulting the president”.

He postponed the hearing until 9 March 2020.

UNISON will continue to stand in solidarity with Arzu and other trade unionists who are facing prosecution for defending workers in Turkey.

As well as observing trials and demanding that charges are dropped, UNISON also supports the ITUC solidarity fund, assisting trade unionists who are under attack, and some of the 152,000 public service workers who have been dismissed under Turkey’s state of emergency.

“When trade unionists risk long prison sentences, simply for defending their members’ rights, and justice is routinely denied, international solidarity really matters,” says UNISON international officer Mark Beacon, who was one of the observers at the hearing.

“Our presence at key trials sends a clear message to the government and the judiciary that the world is watching.

“And those in the dock know they are not alone, they have the support of the international trade union movement behind them.”