Trade unionist Gonul Erden released from prison in Turkey

‘I am a nurse and should be helping those affected, not held between four walls’

Gonul Erden with friends on release

On 13 March, the trade unionist and longstanding friend of UNISON Gonul Erden, was released from prison in Turkey.

Ms Erden (pictured above, centre) is one of eight leading members of SES, the health and social services union in Turkey, who are charged with terrorism for their trade union work.

UNISON representatives attended the fourth trial date at the heavy penal court in Ankara on 13 March. The hearing focused on two things: Gonul and fellow trade unionist Selma Atabey’s requests for bail, and addressing false accusations that they had attended a terrorist training camp in Iraq.

The state prosecutor claims Ms Erden attended a training camp in Iraq. The state’s case is based on the testimony of an anonymous witness, involved in a plea bargain, who has given evidence against at least 450 others. These testimonies have been proved to be false, including in a number of other court cases.

Ms Erden and Ms Atabey’s defence team used cell phone data to conclusively prove that neither were anywhere near Iraq during the alleged period.

Gonul spoke passionately from the dock, explaining that the entire case against her was due to her being a trade unionist, a woman, Kurdish and a health worker. She asked the judges how they could justify her 18 months in prison when an expert report proving her innocence had been available for eight months.

“There has been an earthquake”, Ms Erden explained. “I am a nurse and should be helping those affected, not held between four walls, watching the devastation on television. It’s my right as a health worker”.

The judge released Ms Erden to house arrest, although Ms Atabey will sadly remain behind bars.

UNISON representatives joined trade unionists from KESK (the Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions) to receive Ms Erden from the high security prison.

Liz Wheatley, chair of UNISON’s international committee, attended the hearing. She said: “Seeing Gonul, Selma and their six comrades stand in the dock and defiantly argue their innocence was inspiring. They are in court for doing what we all do every day – union organising, campaigning for members and for justice.

“It really brought home how we must never take our rights for granted, and how important it is to use our platform to speak up in solidarity with trade unionists being victimised. It was clear that having a delegation of trade unionists from around Europe made a difference, and we will stand with Gonul, Selma and the others until they are free.”

UNISON head of international relations Nick Crook said: “We are delighted that our friend Gonul has been allowed to go home after 18 months in a maximum-security prison for a crime she so obviously could not have committed.

“It’s appalling that she remains under house arrest and Selma has been returned to prison, despite the overwhelming evidence they are innocent.”

UNISON will return to the court on 5 June 2023 for the next hearing.