Gönül Erden, the two-term co-chair of the Health and Social Work Labourers’ Union (SES) under the Confederation of Public Employees Union (KESK), has been detained many times during her chairmanship. Her latest detention was on May 25th, 2021, during a police raid on her home. Amongst the detainees on that day were 8 SES executives including the new co-chair of the union, Selma Atabey. Currently under arrest, Gönül Erden and 8 others are being charged with “running a terrorist organization”, “being a member of a terrorist organization” and “creating propaganda for a terrorist organization”.
Dersim-born Gönül Erden has served as the Co-chair during the 8th and 9th terms of the Health and Social Work Labourers’ Union (SES), between the years 2014-2020. She was detained countless times during and after this period.
Erden has supported not just health laborers but all laborers and the labor movement during the period of her chairmanship. She was amongst those who demanded justice for the Academics for Peace in front of the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan in 2017. The students and academics of Istanbul University had organized open-air classes at Beyazıt Square protesting the law draft for dismantling 13 universities. Gönül Erden was amongst the attendees of this demonstration held on May 8th, 2018.
On January 31st, 2016, an ambulance carrying members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and the Health Labourers’ Union (SES) comprising 9 physicians, 4 nurses, and an ambulance driver on their way to the Cizre district of Şırnak to help civilians during military operations and the imposed lockdown was pulled over by the military on the road to Cizre. These 14 health workers were charged with “membership of an illegal organization” by the Mardin 3rd High Criminal Court. On September 28th, 2018, a press statement was held before the first hearing in Mardin. It was Gönül Erden who read the statement.
On November 26th, 2018, Erden was among the 16 people - most of them union members- detained during a raid on their homes in Ankara. Erden was sent to court for arrest on the charges of “creating propaganda for an illegal organization”. SES issued a statement on the same day demanding the release of Erden. She was released on bail after giving her statement in court.
During the Covid-19 pandemic that broke out at the beginning of 2020, Gönül Erden contracted the virus at the hospital where she worked. Her mother Fadime Erden died from Covid-19 on January 2021.
The following police raid took place on May 25th, 2021. SES co-chairs Selma Atabey and Gönül Erden were detained along with SES executives Fikret Çağlayan, Belkıs Yurtsever, Rona Temelli, Bedriye Yorgun, Erdal Turan and Ramazan Taş as part of the investigation led by the Public Prosecutor of Ankara. The following day the Branch Platform of the Confederation of Public Employee’s Union (KESK) held protests against the detainment of SES executives in five cities. The Platform stated that union activities could not be considered a crime and demanded the immediate release of the executives. After being held in custody for eight days, SES members and executives were released on bail following their court appearance on June 1st.
Gönül Erden was detained again subsequently and sent to Sincan Women’s Closed Penitentiary after being arrested on September 22nd, 2021. SES held a press meeting about the violation of Erden’s rights during her time in prison. A banner that was hung during the meeting held at the SES Headquarters read “we do not accept the inhumane treatment of our Former Co-chair Gönül Erden in prison.” It was disclosed that Erden, then under arrest for a month, was held in isolation on the pretext of the pandemic and later placed in solitary confinement without having been assigned a correspondence address.
Besides statements by anonymous witnesses, the 305-page-long indictment against the eight SES members presented union activities, posts made by members and executives from their social media accounts, and press statements as evidence and contained charges such as the defiance of pandemic policies that have been maintained for over a year by the government.
The first hearing of the lawsuit filed at the Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court based on the allegations of “being a member of an illegal organization” and “creating propaganda for an illegal organization” was held on April 6th, 2022.
In her defense, Gönül Erden demanded her release by stating that “The whole of the indictment file contains union activities. The witness statements on these activities are all fabrications. I was the co-chair of the union during the dates that they’ve given in their statements and everything I did was in the limelight. I’ve been under arrest for six months because of these statements. I’ve been through all this in a state of mourning. I caught Covid-19 at the hospital where I was working and infected my mother, causing her death. It was an incredibly difficult period for me. I spent this period in prison. The basis for this is the statements of two witnesses. I reject these statements.” The court ruled to continue Erden’s arrest and to hear the statements of the anonymous and known witnesses that constituted the basis of the indictment at the upcoming hearing.
The second hearing was held on July 4th, 2022. The court ruled to continue Gönül Erden’s arrest and to arrest SES Co-Chair Selma Atabey.
There was no ruling for release on the third hearing held on October 3rd, 2022, and the hearing was adjourned to December 26th, 2022.
Gönül Erden, at the fourth hearing on December 26, 2022, regarding the anonymous and public witness Kerem Gökalp, said, "I reject all the allegations of the confidential witnesses. There is only one thing he is telling the truth, that I am operating within the SES. It is definitely a lie that I went abroad illegally. He slanders us, then forgets what he slandered, and remembers when you ask him. This file is a case about the self-protection of a secret acquaintance and his attempt to acquit himself."
Two witnesses were heard that Gönül Erden was involved in union activities and was in Turkey on the alleged dates. Both witnesses said that Gönül Erden was in intense union activities on the specified dates. They stated that they saw Gönül Erden almost every day because of their union activities. HTS records that Gönül Erden was in Turkey on the dates according to the confidential and open acquaintance's statements were presented to the court. The lawyers stated that the HTS records refuted the allegations that the witness Erden was in Qandil in the summer of 2015. Öztürk Türkdoğan stated that Kerem Gökalp was specifically asked about the months of June-July 2015 and said, “All the statements of the witnesses were refuted with these records, even these records alone are sufficient to end the detention.”
Despite the HTS records, the prosecution demanded that Selma Atabey and Gönül Erden continue to be detained on the grounds of "intensity of evidence and suspicion of escape".
After the break, the court decided to continue the detention of Atabey and Erden, by removing the signature obligation of Erdal Turan and Ramazan Taş, who were on trial pending trial, and to continue the ban on leaving the country, citing the failure to examine the HTS records.
In the fifth hearing on March 13, 2023, the court decided to release Gönül Erden from Sincan Women's Closed Prison and to continue the detention of Selma Atabey on the grounds of "suspicious escape". The next hearing will be held on June 5, 2023.
Gönül Erden, who was under house arrest after her release, attended the ninth hearing on 5 June via Audio and Visual Information System (SEGBİS). Announcing its decision after the defenses, the court board decided to release Selma Atabey on condition of judicial control and postponed the hearing to October 2, 2023.