UNISON attends the trial of trade unionists in Turkey

UNISON stands in solidarity with eight trade unionists in Turkey charged with terrorism offences for carrying out their union duties

International trade union and NGO representatives who came to witness the trial

On 6 April, UNISON attended the first day of the highly political trial of eight trade unionists in Turkey, being held at the central penal court in Ankara.

Those on trial include current and former leaders of SES, the public health and social services union. All eight accused were arrested in the early hours of 25 May last year. Five were charged with leadership of a terrorist organisation and three others with membership of a terrorist organisation.

Among them is Gonul Erden, a former co-president of SES. Ms Erden is a long-term friend of UNISON, and was a guest at the union’s national delegate conference in 2018. Before the hearing, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea wrote to the UK government about the case and sent messages of solidarity to Ms Erden, her family and SES.

Despite initially being granted bail, Ms Erden has been held in pre-trial detention at a high security prison since September 2021.

Alongside UNISON, over a hundred people from various trade unions and NGOs came to observe the trial. They were joined by family members and international observers from the European Public Services Union (EPSU) and Public Services International (PSI).

Ms Erden was the first to address the panel of judges. Surrounded by five armed prison guards, she spoke at length to defend herself against a string of allegations, which included attending UNISON conference and wearing a shawl in Kurdish colours at her sister’s wedding.

Selma Atabey, the current co-president of SES, took the stand next. Accusations levelled against her included tweeting about hunger strikers’ right to health, owning political books – despite them being widely available from bookstores – and participating in a foreign delegation.

One by one the accused made their statements, defending themselves against charges for their trade union work, for phone calls or text messages to partners or colleagues, or against charges for which they had already been acquitted.

As the hearing ended, the judge rejected the request for Ms Erden to be given bail, instead ordering her return to the high security prison until her next hearing on 4 July. The judge also increased the bail restrictions on Ms Atabey, requiring her to remain within Ankara and report to a police station every day.

UNISON head of international relations Nick Crook said: “Trade unionists in Turkey take enormous risks every day to defend their members and our solidarity is important when they are arrested, detained or put on trial for their legitimate trade union work.

“It’s a tragedy that our friend Gonul has been imprisoned for defending health workers’ and women’s rights. We will continue to work with SES to demand her release and the acquittal of all those who have been charged simply for being trade unionists.”

UNISON will return to Ankara on 4 July to observe the next trial hearing, standing in solidarity with international colleagues who have been accused of terrorist offences for defending health workers’ rights.