Lawyer urges government to press Turkey on detained Carleton student

·3 min read
Lawyer urges government to press Turkey on detained Carleton student
Lawyer urges government to press Turkey on detained Carleton student

The lawyer for a Carleton University PhD student in solitary confinement in Turkey says he hopes the Canadian government will raise the matter with Turkish authorities.

"Canada does have the right to make inquiries or ask questions of Turkish authorities in a situation like this, where it appears that there may be fundamental human rights at risk," said Paul Champ, Cihan Erdal's lawyer.

Erdal, a 32-year-old PhD candidate at Carleton and a permanent resident of Canada, was taken to a detention centre in the Turkish capital, Ankara, in late September. Erdal was in Turkey in August to check on his parents during the pandemic, and stayed a few more weeks to conduct his doctoral field research.

He was among dozens of people across Turkey named in warrants and arrested on Sept. 25.

Cihan is a loved member of the Ottawa community and ... we'd love to have him home. - Paul Champ, Cihan Erdal's lawyer

"Many of the people in prison with him right now are elected officials — mayors, parliamentarians — and so Canada can reach out in those kind of circumstances and ask questions and [raise] concerns about the reasons for his arrest," said Champ.

Allegations against the detainees relate to a letter written in 2014, which called on the Turkish government to step in to help the Kurdish town of Kobani, in Syria, at the height of ISIS attacks. The Turkish government accuses the signatories of supporting demonstrations that ensued in 2014, as people filled the streets to protest the Turkish military's inaction.

Champ said he doesn't know for sure what Global Affairs Canada has done in Erdal's case, if anything.

Submitted by Ömer Ongun
Submitted by Ömer Ongun

"Even when it's a Canadian citizen abroad, I don't always know exactly what the Canadian officials are doing," he said. "It's very sensitive obviously, because it deals with sovereignty of another nation, and Canada doesn't want to overstep and make the situation worse."

In September, Global Affairs Canada told CBC it was aware of Erdal's detention, and said "Canadian officials continue to monitor this case closely."

In an email response to CBC Thursday, Global Affairs said it "has raised concerns with Turkish authorities," but did not expand on exactly what officials have done.

WATCH | Federal government could make inquiries, says lawyer:

Erdal 'doing much better,' says partner

"It's very difficult. You feel like you're outside of the prison, but you're somehow in a different prison," said Erdal's partner Ömer Ongun, a permanent resident living in Ottawa. Ongun hasn't been able to see or speak to his partner since he was detained.

"It's day 27 behind bars," said Ongun on Wednesday, explaining that Erdal is waiting for a trial without formal charges being presented to him.

WATCH | Professors, activists are calling for the release of Carleton student:

Ongun said Erdal's parents were able to visit him this week, and brought back news that he's doing better than earlier. He said Erdal was able to receive newspapers and a few books.

"He's doing much better mentally, but of course the conditions are challenging."

He said Erdal is "receiving a lot of respect" from guards at the detention centre. "He said they're calling him 'professor,'" Ongun said.

Champ said the next step is getting Canadian authorities or the ambassador in Ankara to get involved.

"Hopefully [get them] just asking questions and reinforcing with Turkish authorities that Cihan is a loved member of the Ottawa community and that we'd like him home," said Champ.