Turkey seeks 20-year terms for hunger strikers protesting purges

Ankara (AFP) - Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday demanded up to 20 years in jail on terror charges for an academic and a teacher who have been on hunger strikes for over two months to protest their dismissal in a purge after last year's failed coup.

Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca were remanded in custody late Tuesday ahead of trial by an Ankara court on charges of "membership of a terror organisation". They had initially been detained on Monday.

In their indictment, Ankara prosecutors asked for up to 20 years jail for the pair, charging them with membership in a terror group, terror propaganda and breaking the law on demonstrations, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

They are specifically accused of membership of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), an outlawed Marxist group which has staged sporadic attacks over the last years.

Both were sacked under the state of emergency imposed after the failed July 15 coup seeking to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has seen tens of thousands lose their jobs.

Ozakca, a former primary school teacher, and Gulmen, an academic, began their hunger strike two and a half months ago and have been surviving on water alone.

In a video published as they attended their court hearing, the pair said they were determined to continue their protest.

"We will continue our fight until we are victorious," Ozakca said.

"For us, the resistance will continue in prison. I invite everyone to continue the resistance outside," Gulmen said.

A demonstration in their support Tuesday afternoon in Ankara was violently dispersed by the police, with several people arrested.

Speaking at a news conference in Rome, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused both Ozakca and Gulmen of being DHKP-C members, saying the group worked with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"Whoever supports terror groups will have action taken against them. This has nothing to do with freedom of expression," he said.

Over 100,000 people from the public sector including judges, teachers, doctors and members of the armed forces have been dismissed in a series of purges that have been criticised by the West and by human rights activists.

Amnesty International criticised the "arbitrary dismissals" in a report released Monday, calling on the Turkish government to set up a "prompt and effective appeal mechanism" for those dismissed.