Turkey detains lawyers backing teachers on hunger strike

The trial of academic Nuriye Gulmen and teacher Semih Ozakca has become a rallying cause for critics of the post-coup crackdown by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish authorities on Tuesday detained on "terror" charges at least 15 lawyers from the legal association representing two imprisoned teachers on a hunger strike to protest their sacking in an ongoing purge.

The detention of the lawyers from the Office of People's Rights (HHB) comes two days before academic Nuriye Gulmen and teacher Semih Ozakca, who have been on a hunger strike for six months, were themselves due to go on trial on terror charges.

The pair, along with thousands of other education workers, were fired by a government decree under the state of emergency imposed after the failed July 15 coup attempt last year.

On March 9, they went on a hunger strike to challenge their dismissal and were arrested in May on charges of membership of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), an outlawed Marxist group that has carried out sporadic attacks.

Fifteen lawyers from the HHB were detained in raids in Ankara and Istanbul, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. They are accused of membership of the DHKP-C.

Another lawyer from the office, Anil Arman Akkus, told AFP that 18 lawyers were targeted by arrest warrants and at least 13 were detained, but the office had no news of the five others.

The campaign of Gulmen and Ozakca -- which they dubbed "hungry for jobs" -- has become a symbol for government critics who feel thousands have been unjustly swept up in the post-coup crackdown.

Protests in their support continue every day in the capital Ankara with their trial scheduled to get under way on Thursday.

Akkus said those detained were the "engine" of the defence team.

"This attack is aimed at making us give up," said Esra Ozakca, Semih's wife, who has herself been on hunger strike since the arrest of her husband and also under house arrest since July 13.

The pair will "not be without lawyers", she said, calling for a strong turnout at the opening of the trial.

There have been growing fears for the health of the pair, who are only consuming salty or sugary water, herbal teas and vitamin B1.

Under the state of emergency imposed a few days after the failed coup, Turkish authorities fired judges, civil servants, teachers and academics, accusing them of being supporters of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Ankara accuses Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, of ordering the failed putsch. Gulen strongly denies the charges.