In 1989, for the first time in Turkey, Tayfun Gönül and Vedat Zencir announced their conscientious objection through a campaign conducted by Sokak Magazine. Both were charged with the offense of “alienating people from military service” is governed by the Article 318/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

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In 1992, with the establishment of the Anti-War Association in Izmir, conscientious objection movement gained momentum. However, new cases have started to be brought against conscientious objectors either.

The president of Anti-War Association Osman Murat Ülke who declared their conscientious objection in 1995 was arrested on 7 November 1996 according to Article 155 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Ülke was tried 8 times in a court on charges of “disobeying orders” and so, stayed 701 days in prison.

In 2006, European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey in the case of Ülke’s trial and their punishment considering the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 3 of the “prohibition of torture”.

During this process, a military law amendment came with the regulation that “not to defend the idea of conscientious objection, but to declaring oneself as a conscientious objector” is a crime. Thus, conscientious objectors began to be protected from Article 115.

Mehmet Bal, who declared their conscientious objection on October 18, 2002 while doing military service, was imprisoned for 17 months in 2003/2004 due to same Article 155 of the Turkish Penal Code.

In 2001, Mehmet Tarhan declared their own conscientious objection. Tarhan was detained and arrested on April 8, 2005 and subjected to severe torture as a result of being both “traitor” and “rotten” homosexual.

Mehmet Tarhan was taken to the disciplinary ward called “DISKO” (disco) in Sivas Military Prison. In here, their hair were forcibly cut. They were repeatedly beaten and tried to be lynched. Tarhan tried to protect himself from these pressures by going on hunger strike.

Tarhan did not accept the “rotten report” that was asked to be given because they were gay. They refused the report by saying “I regard this report as self-rot of the military order”.

After Mehmet Tarhan, İnan Süver was arrested.

Towards the end of the 2000s, with the socialization of conscientious objection, Enver Aydemir and Serdar Delice declared their conscientious objection. They were the first in Turkey to declare their conscientious objection due to religious belief. They refused to serve in a “secular” army. Both were tried in military courts and kept in prisons.

Yunus Erçep, Barış Görmez İlke, Fethi Demirtaş from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused be armed following the promise of the Prophet Jesus “there will be no war“ were tried in a court and stayed in military prisons.

Lawsuits that filed in 2016 against conscientious objector Ercan Jan Aktaş, Meral Geylani and Yannis Vasilis Yaylalı under the Article 301 “Crimes against the Signs of Sovereignty of the State and the Reputation of State Organs” and Article 318 “Alienating People From Military Service” are ongoing.

The severe experiences faced by conscientious objectors can be defined as “civil death” which was also stated by ECHR in the case of Osman Murat Ülke. Conscientious objectors do not have the freedom to travel or stay. They cannot work in social security jobs. Conscientious objectors cannot continue their lives at open house addresses, cannot work in any public job they want and finally cannot attend university after a certain age. They are sentenced to a bad life on their own far from the assurance of economic and social life.

Especially in recent years, high fines have been imposed on conscientious objectors. Since they did not pay this money, their bank accounts were confiscated and blocked. Following this context, in 2008, the bank accounts of Yavuz Atan and in 2009 Burak Özgüner and Şendoğan Yazıcı’s accounts were blocked.

The case opened for Şendoğan Yazıcı under Article 53/1 of the Turkish Penal Code points to a new situation. Their trial for this article continues. In case of being sentenced from this article, possible results would be as in the following::

  1. Banning from public office and civil service.
  2. Banning from the right to vote and to be elected.
  3. Restraint of custody and guardianship rights.
  4. Banning from being a supporter, member or administrator of foundation, association or political party
  5. Not being able to perform the profession and art subjected to the permission of a professional organization.

In this way, “civil death” that conscientious objectors in Turkey experienced is combined with “legal death”. Thus, all living spaces of conscientious objectors are being blocked and taken away from them. Through exclusion in the education, expulsion in the economic life, leaving without social security, not being able to use the freedom of travel and accommodation and being deprived of the right to vote, it is called to conscientious objectors “you will either be a soldier, you will pay the money, or leave this country and go”

Because of these harsh conditions, in the last 3 years, dozens of conscientious objectors abandoned their cities, their lives and defected to various European countries. This heap escape continues.

Under above-stated conditions, reminding Turkey that its implementations subject conscientious objectors to severe human rights violations considering the framework of international conventions and carrying out the necessary work has become urgent.

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Ercan Jan Aktaş
Objecteur de conscience, auteur et journaliste exilé en France. Vicdan retçisi, yazar, gazeteci. Şu anda Fransa’da sürgünde bulunuyor. Conscientious objector, author and journalist exiled in France.