Ottawa

Despite release from Turkish prison, Carleton student still fighting for his freedom

Two weeks after his conditional release from a Turkish prison, Carleton University doctoral student Cihan Erdal continues to fight for his freedom.

Cihan Erdal's conditional release prevents him from travelling as he awaits hearing in September

Cihan Erdal, a 32-year-old PhD candidate at Carleton University and a permanent resident of Canada, spent nearly nine months at a detention centre in Ankara, Turkey. (Submitted by Ömer Ongun)

Two weeks after being released from a Turkish prison, Carleton University doctoral student Cihan Erdal continues to fight for his freedom.

"I'm very happy, but I'm conditionally released, [which] means the struggle continues," Erdal, 32, said Monday in an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. 

"So the risk is still there and we are not out of the woods yet."

The Canadian permanent resident was detained last September while visiting his home country as part of a mass arrest of dozens of people in connection with anti-government protests in 2014.

Erdal was once a youth member of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party that the Turkish government accuses of instigating the protests that left 37 people dead in 2014. He was accused of inciting terror and violence and faced a life sentence if found guilty.

But Erdal maintains he had no involvement in the protests and is completely innocent. 

"I really don't know why I was detained and why they released me, but what I do know is that the case is highly political," said Erdal.

He was released on June 15 after spending 262 days at a detention centre outside the country's capital, Ankara. According to the conditions of his release, he can't leave the country and must check in every two weeks at a local police station.

Ömer Ongun, left, poses with his partner Cihan Erdal in this submitted photo. (Submitted by Ömer Ongun)

The travel restrictions prevent Erdal from being reunited with his partner of 10 years, Omer Ongun, at their home in Ottawa.

Erdal, who is also an LGBTQ and environmental activist, said he experienced a "roller-coaster of emotions" during his time in prison, including 25 days in solitary confinement, but that letters from Ongun kept him going. 

"Solitary confinement is an extremely horrifying experience for anyone, let alone someone like me who had never even been to a detention centre before," Erdal said. 

"There were days I felt very upset, down, and there were days when a single letter lifted my spirits."

Ongun helped organize an international campaign for his partner's release that saw the Canadian government raise Erdal's case privately with Turkish government, the European Parliament condemn his imprisonment and a petition signed by thousands of people, including prominent academic Noam Chomsky.

Erdal's next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 20. In the meantime, he's remaining positive about his situation.

"I'm strong knowing that I will make it to my home in Ottawa," he said.

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