Carleton student Cihan Erdal freed from Turkish prison, partner says

A Carleton University PhD student and Canadian permanent resident who spent the last 262 days in a Turkish prison has been ordered released, according to his partner.

Cihan Erdal, 32, was taken into custody in September while visiting Turkey as part of a mass arrest of approximately 80 people — including three students and a university professor — who were accused of fomenting anti-government protests six-and-a-half years ago.

Erdal’s partner of 10 years, Ömer Ongun, told the CBC Radio’s World Report Nil Köksal Tuesday that the release is conditional and Erdal can’t return to Canada yet.

“I’m jazzed. I am so happy that he’s finally free. [It’s] just unbelievable. I am struggling to believe it,” Ongun said in an interview. 

“This was the first time he actually made a defence and he made a beautiful defence, an excellent defence.”

A Turkish court has decided to release Cihan Erdal, a 32-year-old PhD candidate at Carleton University and a permanent resident of Canada. He was taken into custody in Turkey during a mass arrest in September 2020. (Submitted by Ömer Ongun)

Deadly protests

Erdal, who is also an LGBTQ and environmental activist, was once a member of the youth arm of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party that is the country’s third largest.

The government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses the HDP of encouraging supporters to take to the streets in 2014 to protest the government’s lack of support for the Kurdish town of Kobani, in Syria, while it was under attack from ISIS fighters.

Thirty-seven people were killed in clashes in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast that October as people filled the streets, angry that the Turkish Army wasn’t moving in to protect Kobani and its people.

Erdal had been held at a detention centre in the Turkish capital of Ankara and was originally kept in solitary confinement.

“He hasn’t been politically active in the last six, seven years and has been living in Canada for quite some time,” said Ongun. “He was just arrested arbitrarily and unlawfully and was charged for lifetime imprisonment.”

Once he is freed, Ongun said Erdal will travel to Istanbul until he and his lawyers can secure permission for him to return to Canada. He will have to check in with local police twice a week.

In this undated photo, Ömer Ongun, left, poses with Erdal, his partner of 10 years. Once Erdal is released from prison, Ongun said he will have to remain in Turkey until he gets permission to return to Canada. (Submitted by Ömer Ongun)

Pressure campaign

Ongun said a pressure campaign that saw Canadian officials raise Erdal’s case in private discussions with the Turkish government and supporters write thousands of letters to Turkish and Canadian embassies likely had an impact on Erdal’s release.

“Cihan’s name was very, very much around and circulated. The campaign became very strong globally,” said Ongun.

Ongun said he hasn’t been able to speak to Erdal throughout his partner’s entire detention, but that he’s put on his favourite t-shirt in anticipation of an imminent video chat.

CBC News has reached out to Global Affairs Canada for comment but has not yet received a response.

Carleton student Cihan Erdal freed from Turkish prison, partner says

By ariox