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Some of the imprisonment stories in Turkey are so kafkaesque, they leave you flabbergasted. They demonstrate the extent to which justice there is everything, except independent. The judicial system is under the regime’s control and used as tool to deliver from “on high” verdicts that amount to persecutions.
Don’t even expect to find in them elements congruent with international law. Turkish justice disregards it shamelessly, this explaining why, although it is a member of the Council of Europe, it is regularly called to order for this very reason. There are countless decisions of the European Court of Human Rights calling for liberations, decisions that are binding in principle, that Turkey simply ignores.
Of course, in Turkey, “going straight to jail” is easy, all it take is singing out of tune with Erdoğan’s regime… As a reminder, let’s mention yet again a few of the names you regularly come across on Kedistan, representing all the imprisoned hostages or those still being harassed: for example, novelist Aslı Erdoğan whom the Turkish State still wants to imprison for life, after putting her on trial twice, acquitting her twice, – is the saying true, that there’s always a third time? Or Zehra Doğan who was sentenced for “pushing her art beyond the limits of criticism“. Both are now free, but both say they are not totally so, and will not be as long as the others are in prison… Prison, over and over again: among other elected members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Figen Yüksekdağ, ex-deputy, ex co-president, as also her counterpart, Selahattin Demirtaş, a brilliant, charismatic politician, close to the people, a type of politician Turkey has rarely seen… What about Nûdem Durak the Kurdish singer, whose crystal clear voice the regime is attempting to silence forever? Nedim Türfent, thrown behind bars like all those others journalists imprisoned for having done their job. But also Sara Kaya, Nusaybin’s co-mayor, imprisoned for standing with the population that had elected her…
But not only known personalities are targeted, the same holds true for everyone, even for a simple passerby. Often, one has the awful impression of a lottery…From one day to the next, an ordinary person can find himself or herself crushed by the incredible judicial machine destroying his or her life.
Mazlum İçli, designated scapegoat
Mazlum İçli’s story is the kind that makes you want to hit your head against the wall.
Born in 2000, son of a family originally from Ergani, residing in Bağlar, a modest neighborhood of Diyarbakır, Mazlum is the youngest of five brothers and sisters. Their father, a local musician, is a soloist in their group, “Sidar”, of which his sons are members. Mazlum plays percussions. Music is their livelihood.
Mazlum was arrested on December 8 2014, following demonstrations that occurred in October of that same year in Kobanê. He was put on trial and imprisoned for his presumed ’involvement’ in the murder of four people. He was then 14 years old. He was attending his first year of High School.
Let’s think back to the Kobanê demonstrations that occurred from October 6 to 8 2014… While the Islamic State was laying siege to Kobanê, just on the other side of the Syrian border, indignant at the Turkish government’s “inaction” in protecting the Syrian Kurds, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in southeast Turkey, a predominantly Kurdish area. Several dozen people were killed and many were wounded during the protests.
At the opening of the inquest and trial, a total of 108 HDP politicians, including former co-presidents Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ were put on trial, – among others – in this case known as the “Kobanê Trial”.
The Turkish regime accused the HDP of “incitement to violence” while the party stated it had done everything in its power to avoid bloodletting, by keeping in contact with governmental representatives…
The events of October 6 to 8 and the murders included in this file are considered to be the main elements in the prosecutor’s case for the closing down of the HDP, a call for which was filed with the Constitutional court claiming “that the HDP is the hub of the violence” which is to say the epicenter from which the murders and other incidents were directed.
In passing, tweets considered by the Turkish regime as “incitements to murder” were also covered by the December 22 2020 decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR ) relative to the case of Selahattin Demirtaş vs Turkey. The ECHR decision was that “there existed no causal relationship between the HDP’s tweets and the incidents of death, nor with the call to a peaceful demonstration.”
Where does Mazlum fit in all this?
Mazlum is simply a collateral victim of this procedure, one for which you can’t even say “tough luck, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time” because… he wasn’t even there!
Turkish in-justice claims Mazlum was at these events in Kobanê and that he was “involved” in a quadruple murder….
According to official figures, 37 people died and hundreds were wounded during the events in Kobanê. The part concerning Mazlum took place on the evening of October 7 when Yusuf Er was wounded and 4 people lost their lives: Ahmet Dakak, Hasan Gökguz, Riyat Güneş and Yasin Börü, a 16 year old associated with Hüda-Par, an Islamist party allied with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Yet, young Mazlum has repeatedly stated from the beginning and during every phase of the trial, that on October 7 2014, he and his father were playing music at a marriage in a village of the Kulp district (Diyarbakır) and since he was not in possession of the “gift of ubiquity” he could not be the person who committed the murders. His lawyer Mahsuni Karaman says: “Mazlum was put on trial with some twenty other people for having taken part in said murders and, in its judgement on April 24 2017, the 2nd High Penal Court of Ankara sentenced him without any investigation being conducted in this matter.”
At that precise moment, Mazlum was at a marriage in Keçiveren, which is to say 140 kilometers from the demonstrations in Kobanê…
Following 1 year of investigations, the tribunal obtained the following evidence:
- A video sequence discovered in 2020 showed him playing the drum at a marriage. These relevant images were examined by a commission of experts who stated that the person on the images was “quite likely” to be Mazlum İçli.
- To remove any doubt left by the “quite likely” comment, when consulted, the commander of the gendarmerie of the district in question confirmed that a marriage had taken place on October 7 2014 in the village of Kulp in Dyarbakir, a hamlet of Keçiveren.
- The bridegroom, Muhsin Bayram confirmed that Mazlum İçli and his father had played music at his marriage which “lasted until late into the night, and that they only left the village on the following day, October 8 2014”.
- A land expertise, based on an examination on location, determined that the video recording was done where the marriage took place. This expertise also confirmed the season when the video was done: “seeing the condition of their foliage, the trees show the characteristic signs of October”.
- The taxi driver, İdris Aslan, whose activities were also checked by the tribunal, testified and confirmed he had taken Mazlum and his father to the marriage on October 7 2014 and had only brought them back to Diyarbakır the following day, October 8.
- Topping off all this, data obtained from relays for Mazlum İçli’s phone recorded proximity to the zone of the marriage.
Prosecutor and tribunal, the weather vane effect
Based on these results, at the hearing on May 28 2021, the prosecutor called for Mazlum’s acquittal, including a notice motivating this decision with the evidence obtained.
One week later, this same prosecutor decided instead to “punish Mazlum” by reversing his opinion, although no further development justified a change of opinion; this immediately modified Mazlum’s judicial status with the tribunal.
At the hearing on June 25 2021, given the evidence mentioned above, in a unanimous decision, the tribunal decided to accept a new trial, and split off Mazlum İçli’s case from that of the 15 other suspects. It ordered the suspension of the execution of the prison sentence.
But, on the same day, the prosecutor who had changed his mind within the same week, raised an objection
Then, on September 29 2021, the tribunal examined the appeal and annulled its own decision to hold a new trial and to place a stay of execution of the sentence.
Please, let’s not even try to imagine how Mazlum and his family must have felt as they lived through all this…
But this is not all. During the judicial procedure, a new “witness” suddenly appeared. None other than İ.Ö., a man presented as being a former member of the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK) and whom the media discovered had “testified” as a witness for the prosecution in some 150 trials over a few years. Here again, he testified against Mazlum.
Faced with the declarations of this new witness, and despite the fact he immediately withdrew his testimony, declaring it consisted of “declarations obtained under duress”, Ankara’s 2nd Penal Tribunal modified the decision and sentenced Mazlum on November 29 2021: no, not to perpetuity. I should say rather to “perpetuities”…
The sentence rests on a number of accusations: “attacking the integrity of the State and the unity of the country”, “murders of four persons done with hatred and torture”, “attempted murder of a person” and “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”. The bill was thus for 6 “incompressible perpetuities”. This consists of a particular “perpetuity” that does not allow sentence reductions and which is in fact the sentence substituted for the death sentence after the latter was abolished in 2004 in Turkey.
A further detail: • For actions attacking the integrity of the State: “incompressible perpetuity”, the sentence was reduced to 22 years given his young age. • For the murder of 3 people: 3 “incompressible perpetuities” reduced to 66 years. • For attempted murder”: “incompressible perpetuity” reduced to 12 years. • For the murder of Yasin Börü”; “incompressible perpetuity” reduced to 23 years. • For propaganda:” 2 years and 8 months.
Yes, you’ve read correctly, the tribunal provided a grace note of “sentence reductions” due to his young age – thus sentencing him “only” to 125 years and 8 months in prison…
A grotesque trial, six perpetuities, a life interrupted like a drum with a split skin.
Mazlum’s lawyer, Mahsuni Karaman constantly reiterates the fact that the tribunal’s decision is “purely political”. Mazlum found himself behind bars at the age of 14 and, as termed by his lawyer, in the middle of “a governmental political operation”. Who underlines the fact that “the government intervened in the matter because of its underlying link with the Yasin Börü matter”. Since the government was using Börü’s death as “proof of violence” and accusing the HDP for the adolescent’s death, one easily sees that Mazlum’s acquittal “did not suit” the regime, since it threw off course the discourse built against the HDP.
Therefore, lawyer Mahsuni Karaman brought the matter to the Court of appeal stating in his request that the matter of Yasin Börü’s death was being used to “political ends”. The evidence for looms as big as a ten-storey house, but how can Turkish justice, under the regime’s control still allow itself to render justice?
A way of doing things, ordinary injustices…
There are several cases in Turkey where the accused who are innocent of the accusations brought up against them, have been sentenced and “maintained” in prison. Because their acquittal would mean that the regime acknowledges that the crimes attributed to these people through every ploy imaginable, were in fact the work of the State, and often committed by the JİTEM, the Turkish gendarmerie’s intelligence and counterterrorist services, opened in 1987 and officially declared “closed” in 1990. In the 90s, this clandestine organization was guilty of more than 1 500 disappearances during custodies and of 5 000 exta-judiciary executions.
To keep the lid on this pressure cooker, it is so much more practical to leave innocent ones in prison, robbing them of their life, with no in the absence of evidence or yet again, despite evidence proving their innocence.
Two most emblematic cases illustrate this: that of Mehmet Emin Özkan, now an old man. He was accused of “starting a fire in Lice and causing the death of commander Bahtiyar Aydın” in 1993. At the time, the general was the regional commander of the Turkish gendarmerie in Lice, Diyarbakir district. He was assassinated in front of his casern by a sharpshooter using a Kanas rifle. He is “officially” a victim of the PKK, who denies all responsibility, and his death has long been considered as suspect. He purportedly had “close ties with the public” and did not approve of the extra-judiciary violence commonly used at the time by the Turkish army in southeastern Turkey.
In short, Mehmet Emin Özkan, “presumed assassin” was first put on trial with the prosecution demanding the death sentence, then, following depositions of two witnesses whose testimony was later invalidated, he was sentenced to “incompressible perpetuity”. Well, Mehmet Emin Özkan had no skills whatsoever as a sharpshooter, and he had not been granted the “gift of ubiquity” either; in simple terms, he was not on the scene of the crime…And yet, he is still in prison today. A grandfather of 83 years, seriously ill, for whom imprisonment has become true torture.
Another case is that of İlhan Çomak, arrested in 1994, put on trial for “belonging to an organization” (meaning the PKK) and for “provoking forest fires”. A trial based on documents established under torture during a 16-day long custody. He was acquitted on the charge of setting fires since ’ubiquity’ has out of the question for him also; there was no way he could have been in three different places at the same time, in order to set fires simultaneously several kilometers one from the other. But he had to be condemned so that’s what the tribunal did. For İlhan, despite the absence of any evidence at all, the verdict was the death penalty. This was later transformed into perpetuity. We added the following lines to our article (in French) about him:
Bitter addition on October 5 2016:
Today İlhan was brought up before the court again. The court of appeal confirmed the sentence of perpetuity. İlhan’s father was heard howling his grief in the Tribunal’s corridors:
“Down with your Justice! Down with your Justice…. Justiiiiice! Justiiiiiice!”
İlhan Çomak is still in prison, no liberation for him before 2024…
As for Mazlum… he has been behind bars for 7 years, for nothing.
He has become a young man of 22 inside this prison in which he was thrown while still a child. Even if some day, he is allowed to see the light of day again, even if he can recover his freedom, who will give him back all those stolen years of his youth?
In Turkish, the word “Mazlum” has two meanings: “calm, discrete, docile person” and “wronged, oppressed, persecuted person”.
Turkey would need so many Zolas to write so many “J’accuse”1
Because in fact, in all these “cases”, there is a common thread. It involves the political protest against a regime where Turcity implies obedience to the State, be it military, political and nationalistic or, today, a Turco/ Islamic /nationalist alliance. Given a State machinery in which no autonomy is allowed to justice, all of the regime’s settling of political accounts against the oppositions crushes indistinctly “designated guilty ones” for their exemplary value and as affirmations of the State’s truth prevailing over all other considerations.
Turkish prisons are thus filled with truths cobbled out of the regime’s injustice.
Headline photo: Aynur İçli, Mazlum’s mother (Mezopotamia Agency/ MA)
Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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