SINCAN, Turkey - A jailed former teacher who has been on a six-month hunger strike to protest his dismissal in a crackdown following Turkey’s failed coup appeared in court for the first time on Thursday.

Semih Ozakca and academic Nuriye Gulmen have been on hunger strike since March over their sacking by government decree under the state of emergency imposed after last year’s attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ozakca appeared emaciated but in good spirits as he appeared in the court in Sincan outside Ankara to applause from his supporters in the public gallery.

He exchanged comments with his wife Esra and waved to friends, an AFP reporter said.

Gulmen was not brought to court after being transferred to intensive care on Tuesday. The pair’s families said she was moved against her will to prevent her appearing in court.

Neither were present when their trial opened on September 14.

The second hearing is taking place under heavy security at the Sincan prison complex, where they have been held.

The two have become symbols of the biggest purge in the country’s history and a rallying cause for critics who believe thousands of people have been unjustly affected by the crackdown.

The two were arrested in May on charges of belonging to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), which has carried out sporadic attacks in recent years and has been called a “terror” group by Ankara, the European Union and the United States.

They face up to 20 years in prison for charges which include making propaganda for a terrorist organisation. The pair say the charges have been trumped up to punish them for protesting.

There have been growing fears for the health of the pair, who are only consuming salty or sugary water, herbal tea and vitamin B1.

Gulmen has lost 18 kilos (40 pounds) and Ozakca 33 kilose, Ozakca said this week.

More than 140,000 public sector workers have been suspended or fired since the attempted coup. At least 50,000 people have been also arrested in the crackdown that has been criticised by Ankara’s Western allies.

Last week a court jailed 14 lawyers from the law firm representing the two teachers, the Office of People’s Rights (HHB), on charges of “membership of an armed terror group”, referring to the DHKP-C.