Activists call for release of Carleton doctoral student detained in Turkey – The Charlatan

By Safiyah Marhnouj – October 21, 2020 

Professors and activists are calling for the release of Cihan Erdal, a Carleton doctoral candidate who was detained in Turkey last month. 

Erdal was detained in the early morning of Sept. 25, along with 16 other politicians, academics and activists. He was in Turkey visiting family and conducting fieldwork for his doctoral research on youth-led social movements. 

According to a statement released by the department of sociology and anthropology at Carleton University, the ongoing investigation surrounds a series of tweets posted on October 6, 2014, while Erdal was serving as a student member of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey. Erdal’s lawyers have confirmed this statement.  

The tweets—allegedly sent out by the executive committee of the HDP following an executive meeting—were urging people to join demonstrations calling on the Turkish government to assist the Kurdish town of Kobani, which was under attack by ISIS.  

In an open letter published in the Ottawa Citizen on Oct. 7., Jacqueline Kennelly, a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology and Erdal’s doctoral supervisor, said Erdal was “neither present nor aware of the decision to send out these tweets.”

Kennelly added that although Erdal was serving as a student member of the HDP at the time, he was never a major player in the party and has not lived in Turkey or been active in Turkish politics since 2017. 

In an interview with the Charlatan, Kennelly said she was shocked when she first heard of Erdal’s arrest after receiving an email from his partner, Ömer Ongun.

“Horror. Disbelief. Anger. Fear. To be honest, I read [his email] and teared up. It was such an awful, unexpected, and terrifying thing to read about.” — Jaqueline Kennelly, professor in the department of sociology and anthropology

Kennelly said that immediately after finding out, the department of sociology and anthropology put out a statement condemning Turkey’s actions, and has been providing updates on Erdal’s situation. 

While Kennelly said the school has been supportive—including sending a letter to Global Affairs Canada—Erdal’s status as a permanent resident complicates steps the government can take.

“Consular services are only available for citizens, so we’re trying to work around that and continue putting pressure on the Canadian government to support Cihan, despite the fact that he does not yet have Canadian citizenship,” she said. 

Ongun, Erdal’s partner who is currently living and working in Ottawa, said he hasn’t spoken to Erdal since a phone call he received from him while being detained on Sept. 25. 

“He basically gave me a call and he says, ‘they’re at my door, they’re taking me away, and I love you, please reach out to my school and let everybody know this is what’s happening here,’” Ongun said. 

Since then, Ongun said he has only received communication from Erdal through his lawyers. 

While detained, Erdal is only allowed to speak to his immediate family, which does not include Ongun. Despite being together for 10 years, Ongun said he and Erdal are not recognized as spouses under Turkey’s same-sex marriage laws. 

Following a hearing on Oct. 2 in Ankara, Turkey, Ongun said Erdal is currently in solitary confinement in prison awaiting trial. 

“Neither the police nor the prosecutor nor the judge really listened to his statements. They sent him to prison right away,” Ongun said, adding that Erdal wasn’t allowed to take any clean clothes or money with him. 

Hijaab Yahya, a fourth-year law and legal studies student and co-president of Carleton University Students for Scholars at Risk, has been working to increase awareness and campaign against Erdal’s detainment.

Carleton University has reached out to the Turkish embassy and ambassador to advocate for Erdal’s return. [Photo By: Saarah Rasheed]

“We need to increase recognition of this issue among other departments and faculties across Carleton. The lack of recognition and action from various departments is discouraging,” Yahya said in an email.

Yahya encouraged those who want to show support to write a letter to their local Members of Parliament and the Turkish embassy. She said she’s hopeful that efforts like these can bring more attention to Erdal’s situation. 

Steven Reid, Carleton’s media relations officer, said in an email that the university has been engaging with the Canadian government to assist towards Erdal’s release. 

The university has also reached out to the Turkish embassy in Canada, the Canadian embassy in Turkey and the office of Foreign Affairs minister Francois Philippe-Champagne. 

Reid added the school will continue to monitor the case and advocate for Erdal’s return to Canada. 

Although Ongun said he is thankful for the support from the department of sociology and anthropology, the school and members of the community, he’s hoping to see more concrete and public actions taken by Carleton. 

“The question for Carleton University right now is what will they do to make sure they evaluate their relationship with Turkish universities and the relationship with some of the funding that might be coming from Turkish resources,” he said.

“When these rallies for freedom of speech and democracy or the safety of their researchers and academics are under threat, where is the university’s stance on this?” Ongun added.

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