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Turkish health workers face jail for helping dying citizens

HEALTH workers in Turkey face jail on trumped-up terrorism charges after helping dying civilians during the Turkish army curfew in the largely Kurdish city of Cizre in the country’s south-east.

Fourteen public service workers who assisted those injured during the 79-day military siege of the city appeared in a Mardin court today accused of spreading terrorist propaganda and of membership of an illegal organisation — the banned Kurdistan Workers Party.

The workers, who are members of the Trade Union of Employees in Public Health and Social Services (SES), were part of a volunteer ambulance crew who aided those trapped in basements as Turkish security services bombarded the city.

At least 189 men, women and children were trapped for 20 days in three basements across the city in March 2016 taking shelter from the crossfire. 

They had no food, water or medical supplies with harrowing audio recordings of phone calls pleading desperately for help.

Sadik Cayan Mulamahmutoglu, one of those facing charges, explained: “As health workers we were called by citizens trapped in Cizre’s basements, asking us if they could drink their own piss. 

“Their voices were broadcast on live TV, but no-one was responding. This was the moment we knew we had to act.”

He gathered a team of volunteers to deliver emergency medical assistance to those trapped, but despite informing the authorities of their operation they were detained under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws.

Those trapped were killed as Turkish security forces poured petrol into the basements and set them on fire, burning them alive. Many of the bodies have not been recovered and authorities blocked human rights organisations from the area.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, Public Services International health officer Baba Aye said: “The labour movement across the world stands with these courageous workers who face imprisonment for doing their job; helping people in need.”

SES co-president Gonul Erden, said: “This court case targets not only our colleagues but also our professional values and responsibilities as health officers. There is a crime in this case, yet the criminals are not our colleagues but those who attempted to try them.”

Jan Willem-Goudriaan, general secretary of the European Public Services Union, said: “The Turkish authorities should stop prosecuting trade unionists and volunteers that seek to help workers and people in cities affected by violence and in which public services have been destroyed. We stand with our members for solidarity and peace, we want them to be acquitted from this unjust trial.”

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