Carleton PhD student arrested in Turkey denied bail

·3 min read
Cihan Erdal is being accused of inciting violence in connection with two social media posts he made in 2014, when he was a youth member of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party. (Ömer Ongun/Family handout - image credit)
Cihan Erdal is being accused of inciting violence in connection with two social media posts he made in 2014, when he was a youth member of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party. (Ömer Ongun/Family handout - image credit)

A Carleton University PhD student detained in a Turkish prison for more than six months will have to stay there for at least one month longer after his bail was denied.

Cihan Erdal, 32, was taken into custody in September as part of a mass arrest of approximately 80 people across Turkey, including three students and a university professor.

"It's scary," said Ömer Ongun, Erdal's spouse.

"It's shocking because you always question the rule of law. You really question if this is really a fair trial at the moment."

Ongun said lawyers had been optimistic that Erdal would be released, along with two other students, before the trial scheduled for later this month.

But those hopes were quashed at a hearing Friday, and Ongun said he's now worried about whether the trial itself will be fair.

"It's a continuation of the torture as we defined it," he said. "He's a hostage."

'Swept up' in mass arrests

Since being arrested, Erdal has been held in a prison in the Turkish capital, Ankara. He was originally kept in solitary confinement.

Erdal's arrest violates "the protections of freedom of expression and political participation and freedom of association" and amounts to "arbitrary detention," said Paul Champ, a human rights lawyer in Ottawa and Erdal's Canadian counsel.

"Unfortunately, I think he's just kind of been swept up in this broader wave of arrests," Champ said.

Erdal's legal team in Ankara, Champ said, had put forward arguments that the evidence — two social media posts Erdal made seven years ago — wasn't enough to keep him detained until the April 26 trial.

Cihan Erdal (left) and his spouse, Ömer Ongun. Erdal has been in a Turkish prison since September 2020.
Cihan Erdal (left) and his spouse, Ömer Ongun. Erdal has been in a Turkish prison since September 2020.(Submitted by Ömer Ongun)

In one post, Erdal linked to a national newspaper article about a father who was upset that his son had been killed by special forces, Champ said.

The other shared a page from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) — which Erdal belonged to at the time, as a youth member — that wrote about ISIS and the threat to Kurdish minorities in southern Turkey.

The HDP is Turkey's third-largest political party, and its leader has been in prison since 2016. The Turkish government accuses the HDP of supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party — which Turkey and Canada have both labelled a terrorist organization — an accusation the HDP denies.

Turkey's conflict with the PKK has taken roughly 40,000 Turkish and Kurdish lives since 1984.

"They're saying that [Erdal's posts] somehow contributes to disunity of the state," Champ said.

"But, you know, the political reality is that these charges are targeted to undermine the People's Democratic Party in Turkey and anyone who's connected to that party."

'A person of love'

Ongun said he hasn't spoken to Erdal since the arrest. Only his Turkish legal team and family are allowed to talk with him directly, he said, as Turkey doesn't recognize same-sex relationships.

But they do write, and Ongun said he helps deliver Erdal articles, books, and school materials to help him continue his studies.

Ongun said he hopes the growing support Erdal has in Canada, Turkey and internationally will aid his cause, and that the court will eventually recognize he would never support violence.

"He is a person of non-violence. He is a person of love," Ongun said. "We never believe you can resolve any problem with violence."