Français | English

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.

Mazlum İçli à la batterie

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.” 

kobanê 2014

Kobanê demon­stra­tions, Octo­ber 6 — 8 2014

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…

mazlum içli

On Octo­ber 7 2014, Mazlum plays the drum and dances at a mar­riage… (Shots from a video brought to our atten­tion in 2020 which can no longer be accessed on inter­net due to its being part of the evi­dence sub­mit­ted at the trial)

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.

Mehmet Emin Özkan

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.

Mazlum hier, Mazlum aujourd'hui...

Mazlum yes­ter­day, Mazlum today…

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

Sup­port Kedis­tan, MAKE A CONTRIBUTION.

We maintain the “Kedistan tool” as well as its archives. We are fiercely committed to it remaining free of charge, devoid of advertising and with ease of consultation for our readers, even if this has a financial costs, covered up till now by financial contributions (all the authors at Kedistan work on a volunteer basis).
You may use and share Kedistan’s articles and translations, specifying the source and adding a link in order to respect the writer(s) and translator(s) work. Thank you.
Naz Oke on EmailNaz Oke on FacebookNaz Oke on Youtube
Naz Oke
REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.