The Covid-19 epidemic increased the pressure on labor unions. Members of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) were not allowed to enter Taksim Square on May Day and executives of the confederation were taken under custody. DİSK/Textile Gaziantep Region Representative Mehmet Türkmen was taken under custody after he became a target in the local media following his social media posts on conditions under which workers are forced to work at the factories during the pandemic. He was released upon giving a statement at the prosecutor’s office.
DİSK/Textile Gaziantep Region Representative Mehmet Türkmen works as a carpet weaver. He started working as an apprentice at carpet workshops the age of nine in Ünaldı Industrial Zone of Antep. In 15 years of his working life, he became acquainted with the unionist movement at an early age. He assumed an active role in many resistance, strike and unionization actions in Antep in the past 25 years.
Türkmen served as an organizer for the DİSK Textile Union during 2010, then for the Gaziantep Branch of the Petrol-İş Union between the years 2011-2013. Since September 2019, he has been serving as the DİSK/Textile Gaziantep Region Representative, representing textile factory workers in the provinces of Antep, Urfa, Maraş, Adıyaman and Malatya.
There are two lawsuits brought against Türkmen following his social media posts, one pending and another one he acquitted from. In 2016, he criticized the state’s attitude towards Suruç Massacre in a social media post. Following that a lawsuit was launched against him with the accusation that he was “making propaganda for a terrorist organization”. This lawsuit was appended to the 2014 lawsuit against him following social media content he shared on Kobane. The aforementioned trial is ongoing at Gaziantep 8th Assize Court. Mehmet Türkmen was taken under custody on January 23, 2018 and detained under another lawsuit following his critique of government’s decision to pursue military operations in Afrin on his social media. On December 20, 2018, he acquitted from the trial he faced for the accusation that he was “making propaganda for a terrorist organization”.
The period that led Mehmet Türkmen to be taken under custody on April 3, 2020 started with his social media posts dating to April 1 and 3, through which he announced that some factory workers were being forced to work despite the pandemic. Türkmen was targeted in local media outlets and accused of provocation. The factory mentioned in his social media posts suspended operations for 15 days following the protest of the workers.
Türkmen was taken to Gaziantep Provincial Directorate of Security from his home in the night hours of April 3, 2020 following a notification accusing him of “provoking the public to hatred, hostility or degrading”. He gave his statement at the office and was taken to the Prosecutor’s Office the next day. After presenting his statement in front of the prosecutor, he was released without a referral to the court.
Following Mehmet Türkmen’s statements, approximately 10 factories in the region stopped production lines and offered paid leave to their workers.
DİSK Tekstil management dismissed Mehmet Türkmen on 11 November 2021. In his social media post on November 18, 2021, Türkmen said, “I have been dismissed as of November 11. A message has also been sent to Uğur Tekstil workers today. They even informed the SGK and the Governor’s Office days before. And there is no document. At least, don’t make it so secret. I’m being dismissed from my job in the union, where I’ve been working as a regional representative for two years and contributing to overcoming the threshold by making more than a thousand members during this time, but I’m condescending while I’m doing this and no explanation is given to me. Shame on you” said.