The Leveller: Carleton University student arrested in Turkey

October 11, 2020

by Josh Lalonde

On September 25, Turkish prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 82 people, most of them members of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP). One of those arrested, Cihan Erdal, is a PhD student in sociology at Carleton University and a Canadian permanent resident. Erdal’s partner Ömer Ongun, also a permanent resident, has not had contact with Erdal since receiving a phone call from him as he was about to be arrested.

A Turkish court ordered the detention of Erdal and 16 other former and current HDP officials and politicians on October 2, apparently on the basis of Twitter posts “calling on people to join the October 2014 demonstrations,” according to Human Rights Watch. According to the Free Cihan Erdal website, Erdal was not even present at the HDP meeting at which the posts were approved.

If convicted of “attempting to destroy the unity of the state,” one of many charges levelled by prosecutors at the HDP defendants, Erdal could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Canada’s response to Erdal’s arrest

The government of Canada has so far not commented publicly on the arrest. When reached by The Leveller, Global Affairs Canada did not answer detailed questions. Spokesperson John Babcock instead sent a statement saying, “Global Affairs Canada is aware of the detention of a permanent resident of Canada in Turkey. Our thoughts are with Mr Erdal’s family and loved ones during this difficult time. Canada has raised concerns with Turkish authorities and continues to monitor this case closely.” 

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University, where Erdal is a PhD student, has issued a statement condemning Erdal’s arrest “in the strongest possible terms.” According to CBC, the university has asked Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, the Canadian embassy in Turkey, and the Turkish embassy in Canada to help secure Erdal’s release.

The Executive Board of CUPE 4600, the union representing Carleton teaching assistants and contract instructors, likewise released a statement calling for Erdal’s “immediate release.” A number of other academic, labour and civil society organizations have released similar statements. A petition of scholars and academics across Canada calling for Erdal to be freed also drew hundreds of signatures, as did a public petition

As of the time of publication, Erdal remains in detention in Ankara. It is unclear whether or not he has been able to meet with a lawyer or whether the specific charges against him have been presented. Other HDP members arrested at the same time as Erdal have begun a “food boycott” in response to what they say was food poisoning from the meals provided in jail. The embassy of Turkey in Ottawa did not answer questions regarding Erdal’s arrest and the conditions of his detention by the time of publication.

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