Some one hun­dred pris­on­ers, mem­bers of the Islamist orga­ni­za­tion “Hizbul­lah” who were under heavy sen­tences includ­ing per­pe­tu­ity, have just been released in Turkey.

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What is Hizbullah?

Hizbul­lah in Turk­ish. The Turk­ish Hezbol­lah has not direct link with the Lebanese Shi­ite Hezbol­lah,  even though it is also a Sun­ni Islamist orga­ni­za­tion. Hizbul­lah is on the list of ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions both in the Unit­ed States and in Turkey.  It was at the ori­gin of the bloody Sun­ni Islamist move­ment, with a major­i­ty com­po­nent of ultra-rad­i­cal attacks against Kurds.

Their last attacks in 2003 con­sist­ed of sui­cide bomb­ings of  two Istan­bul syn­a­gogues fol­lowed, five days lat­er, by an attack against the HSBC bank and the British con­sulate. These attacks claimed a total of 62 lives.

In pur­suit of the the estab­lish­ment through vio­lence of a State based on the Charia law, Hizbul­lah first appeared in Turkey in the eight­ies. Ini­ti­at­ed by Adnan Ersöz, led by Hüseyin Velioğlu, the orga­ni­za­tion was vir­u­lent for years in Turkey, in Kur­dish regions as well as in big cities, and proved par­tic­u­lar­ly vicious against the Kur­dish lib­er­a­tion move­ment in Amed.

By 1990, the orga­ni­za­tion that had start­ed by extort­ing mon­ey from the pop­u­la­tion had become a threat to the Kur­dish move­ment which was then on the ascen­dant. Many activists, sym­pa­thiz­ers, jour­nal­ists, busi­ness­men but also ordi­nary Kur­dish cit­i­zens includ­ing women in short skirts or peo­ple who drank alco­hol were sav­age­ly mur­dered in the streets or kid­napped and tor­tured before being killed.


The orga­ni­za­tion was made up of sev­er­al groups. The two best known, Ilim and Manzil, had estab­lished links with Iran. They ben­e­fit­ed from finan­cial and logis­ti­cal help in this way, in exchange for infor­ma­tion on Iran­ian dis­si­dent refugees in Turkey, or on Turk­ish mil­i­tary posi­tions in the bor­der area.

At the same time, because of  their com­mon hos­til­i­ty aimed at the Kur­dish strug­gle and their sta­tus as an armed orga­ni­za­tion against rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, the Hizbul­lah also ben­e­fit­ed of unof­fi­cial sup­port from suc­ces­sive Turk­ish gov­ern­ments rep­re­sent­ing var­i­ous polit­i­cal ten­den­cies. For exam­ple, Fikri Saglar, a deputy of the Pop­u­lar Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (SHP), for­mer min­is­ter for Cul­ture, stat­ed dur­ing an inter­view that the army not only made use of the Hizbul­lah but also con­tributed to its found­ing and gave it finan­cial sup­port.1Appar­ent­ly, these con­nec­tions con­tin­ue under legal cov­er… Under Hüda-Par, the Par­ty for the Free Cause, Hizbul­lah moved out of clan­des­tin­i­ty into legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Found­ed at the end of 2012,  the Hüda-Par sup­ports AKP can­di­dates in the June 24 election.

Yet, start­ing in the sec­ond half of the nineties, suc­ces­sive Turk­ish gov­ern­ments had engaged in repres­sion against Hizbul­lah. Turk­ish author­i­ties, attempt­ing a rap­proche­ment   with the Euro­pean Union, want­ed to main­tain a dis­tance with inte­grism and to open a dia­logue with the Kurds.  This pro­vid­ing the expla­na­tion for that: Hizbul­lah leader Hüseyin Velioğlu was killed near Istan­bul, in Beykoz, on Jan­u­ary 17 2000 dur­ing a live tele­vised police oper­a­tion that last­ed four and a half hours.

Unspecifed number of armed members and sympathizers

Accord­ing to esti­mates done in 2003 by some jour­nal­ists and the Cen­ter for Defense Infor­ma­tion (CDI), the orga­ni­za­tion num­bers some twen­ty thou­sand activi­tis. The report titled “Pat­terns of Glob­al Ter­ror­ism” pub­lished in 2002 by the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists (FAS) gave an esti­mate of a few hun­dred armed mem­bers and of thou­sands of sympathizers.

First releases in 2011

Hun­dreds of sus­pect­ed mem­bers have been brought to court. Some mem­bers have declared they were  sub­ject­ed to tor­ture and ill treat­ment them­selves. Their tes­ti­mo­ny was doc­u­ment­ed under the cat­e­go­ry “Action Alert” by Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al. “The Hizbul­lah Tri­al” end­ed in 2009.  The accused were sen­tenced to var­i­ous prison terms, includ­ing six­teen sen­tences to perpetuity.

On Jan­u­ary 4 2011, 24 detainees, includ­ing top lead­ers of Hizbul­lah, were released under pro­ba­tion fol­low­ing Penal Code revi­sions lim­it­ing the dura­tion of incar­cer­a­tion to ten years. These indi­vid­u­als, the brains of the orga­ni­za­tion, dis­ap­peared into thin air the moment they were released.

One hundred members released recently

On May 21, Gökçer Tahin­cioğlu of T24 pub­lished an arti­cle announc­ing that, 8 years lat­er, anoth­er hun­dred mem­bers of Hizbul­lah had just been released. The total­i­ty of indi­vid­u­als con­sid­ered as exer­cis­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties with­in the orga­ni­za­tion, and sen­tenced to heavy prison terms, are now free. And this lat­est hun­dred or so have prob­a­bly fol­lowed the same route as the pre­ced­ing ones, and dis­ap­peared with­out a trace…

This is the result of  a sequence of judi­cia­ry deci­sions and of the arbi­trary appli­ca­tion of rul­ings and case law… Abdul­lah Altun, a pris­on­er sen­tenced to per­pe­tu­ity, called on the Euro­pean Tri­bunal of Human Rights. The Tri­bunal ruled that the court respon­si­ble for  Altun’s case had not pro­vid­ed an inde­pen­dent judg­ment  and that he must be tried again. Fol­low­ing the request sub­mit­ted in Abdul­lah Altun’s case, the Turk­ish Con­sti­tu­tion­al Tri­bunal ren­dered a deci­sion on July 17 2018: “the pres­ence of mil­i­tary judges among the body of judges con­sti­tutes a motive  for a new tri­al.“This deci­sive rul­ing allows for the release of detainees sen­tenced to heavy prison terms.

Justice: it depends on the customer

Fol­low­ing this deci­sion by the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Tri­bunal, many polit­i­cal pris­on­ers  to which the same con­di­tions applied sub­mit­ted their requests. The total­i­ty of those involv­ing pris­on­ers sen­tenced for “belong­ing to the PKK” were denied. Vis­i­bly, the deci­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Tri­bunal is only valid for the mem­bers of the Islamist orga­ni­za­tion, despite the fact they were sen­tenced for “attempt­ing to over­throw the con­sti­tu­tion­al order through armed action, assas­si­na­tions and attacks.”

More­over, the Tri­bunal in Van did not stop at the deci­sion by the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Tri­bunal and, under the pre­tence of dis­missals for belong­ing to the orga­ni­za­tion of Fetul­lah Gülen, bet­ter known as FETÖ, the judges that had pre­vi­ous­ly sen­tenced Hizbul­lah mem­bers decid­ed a new tri­al was called for, open­ing the road to their release.

Here again, the appli­ca­tion of the law is arbi­trary… A num­ber of tri­als ini­ti­at­ed by judges and pros­e­cu­tors affil­i­at­ed to FETÖ – and who were lat­er put on tri­al them­selves – con­tin­ue with­out rais­ing any qualms in their col­leagues employed by Erdo­gan. The case of the Ankara tri­al of 19 aca­d­e­mics who were sig­na­to­ries of the 2015 Peace Appeal is but one exam­ple among oth­ers, and serves as a good illus­tra­tion of what con­sti­tutes Jus­tice in today’s Turkey…

In many ways, these releas­es  are to the advan­tage of the Erdo­gan regime.

Rein­forc­ing a rad­i­cal reli­gious wing can’t hurt in the new Istan­bul election.

What is more, it allows a pre­tence of a denial, at a time when the EU points a fin­ger at the anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic manip­u­la­tions of the elec­toral code, over Istan­bul, pre­cise­ly, and while inter­na­tion­al com­men­ta­tors on Turkey, mul­ti­ply descrip­tions of the coun­try as “anti demo­c­ra­t­ic” or “a democra­ship”. Beset by eco­nom­ic prob­lems, Erdoğan must reas­sure a world-wide and Euro­pean lib­er­al wing, by main­tain­ing the myth of respect­ing a demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tion­al façade.  He may even con­cede a few crumbs to the Kur­dish move­ment, as would seem to indi­cate the recent relax­ing of con­di­tions imposed for vis­its to Öcalan…

Dur­ing the reshap­ing brought on by the Euro­pean elec­tions, an anti-Turk­ish pres­sure, from the left as well as from the right, could unob­tru­sive­ly deprive him of sub­stan­tial aids, both diplo­mat­i­cal­ly and in hard cash. Erdoğan has not for­got­ten that play­ing the lib­er­al EU card helped him in his rise to pow­er. Throw­ing it away would be both a polit­i­cal and a finan­cial mis­take, at a time when the black­mail over migrants has lost some of its use­ful­ness, and his “Ottoman” project for the Mid­dle East is in a bad way.

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