UPDATE: 29. November 2008

Military Court Delivers Bad Jokes:
Notes On the Second Session of Mehmet Bal's Torture Trial on November 25th 2008

Earlier this year, on the night of June 8, 2008 conscientious objector Mehmet Bal was taken under custody near his apartment in Arnavutkoy, Istanbul. Mehmet was taken to the Besiktas Military Police station that night where he was subject to severe maltreatment including the violation of his right to use bathroom facilities, getting punched and insulted and being forced to wake up with hot water. The next day, June 9th, he was taken to the 3rd Army Corps Hasdal Military Court and arrested for failing to attend some ongoing trials at the Adana Military Prison. After being taken to the Hasdal Military prison in order to wait for his transfer to Adana, Mehmet was heavily beaten by three inmates with a 45 centimeters long wooden rod under running cold water. The inmates were acting under the direct orders of the interior security officer of the military prison. With the intervention of his lawyers, Mehmet had filed a lawsuit against those responsible both for the maltreatment at Besiktas Military Police Station and the torture at Hasdal Military Prison.

In August 2008 Mehmet received a decision of “No Grounds for Prosecution” prepared by the military prosecutor Ertan Aydil. This document pushed the events at Besiktas Military Police station entirely out of the range of prosecution and also pronounced that there was no ground for prosecuting the ranked officers at Hasdal Military prison for ordering Mehmet's torture. However, the office of forensic medicine had documented the torture, especially the fact that Mehmet had been beaten with a blunt object. Thus even though the high rank officers were protected, the military prosecutor felt obliged to open a case on the charges of “wounding on purpose” against the three inmates who did the actual beating. But even then the military prosecutor asked for a reduction in their sentence on the allegation that they had committed the crime “under provocation.” Moreover, the same military prosecutor also applied to the Eyüp Attorney General in order to sue Mehmet from article 301 as some of the witnesses and the accused alleged in their statements that Mehmet “insulted the Turkish Military Forces and the state.” We have not yet heard back from the Ministry of Justice about this ridiculous allegation. But we are hoping that this attempt to turn the victim into a suspect will remain as a bad joke.

But there seems to be no end to the jokes in this whole court process. For instance, Mehmet Bal and his lawyers were unable to attend the first session of this torture trial that was held on October 21st because in what seems to be purposeful orchestration, the court invitation was sent to his lawyer Suna Coşkun only a few days before the trial, although the trial date was set almost a month prior to that. The invitation reached Suna Coşkun the night before the trial, making it impossible for Coşkun who resides in Ankara to attend the trial in Istanbul the next morning. So the statements of all three of the accused and most of the witnesses were taken in the first session of the trial in Hasdal without being confronted or cross-examined by the complainant and the lawyers of the complainant. Furthermore, many witnesses gave their statements out of the courtroom between court sessions. And the worst was that the court excused the accused from attending any more court sessions after the first one.

Mehmet attended the second session of the trial that was held on November 25th along with the lawyers Suna Coşkun, Ahmet Tamer (from the Human Rights Association (IHD)) and Murat Özdemir (from the Comission for the Prevention of Torture within the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (THIV)). There were also four of us present as observers of the trial and supporters of Mehmet. The surprised look on the military judge's face when he saw Mehmet, his lawyers and the observers, as well as the fact that three accused who were previously excused from attending were present suggested that they were intending to conclude the trial in this session in the absence of Mehmet. Another bad joke was that it was the very same military prosecutor who penned both the allegation against the torturers in Hasdal, as well as the “No Grounds for Prosecution” decision and the complaint against Mehmet from article 301, was present at the session on the 25th as the prosecutor of the complainant! This prosecutor who prepared every single file of this case, who alternately works for and against Mehmet, did not speak throughout the entire session except to raise his objection against the demands of the lawyers to re-summon the witnesses heard in the previous session.

Other than the three accused, there were three previously unheard witnesses at the session. One of the witnesses was a soldier who was detained in the same ward at the time of torture. Another “witness” was the interior security officer who gave the actual order for torture himself and should have been sitting in the seat of the accused but was absolved thanks to that decision of “No Grounds for Prosecution” mentioned earlier. Another witness was a sergeant. The witnesses and the accused generally repeated the statements they had made at the first session of the trial. Only the sergeant significantly changed his story from the earlier obviously fabricated account to a more truthful one.

Despite all odds the four hour long session was a success on many grounds. The lawyers worked in coordination as they demonstrated the discrepancies between the earlier statements of the accused and the witnesses as well as the contradicting statements from different witnesses that annulled one another. The lawyers demanded that the matter of the late court invitation be investigated; that the witnesses who were heard at the first session be summoned again; to be informed about the witnesses who were discharged from the military and be present at their hearings at local courts. In addition to the evaluation of these demands, there are also unheard witnesses from the complainant's side and some documents that are still to arrive. Thus the trial was adjourned to December 30th, 2008.

The minutes of the court session of November 25th is a filtered and coded document prepared under the absolute control of the military judge in charge. The judge was manipulating, steering and protecting both the witnesses and the accused throughout the session. Further, he was remolding these manipulated statements before they were ever typed by the court reporters who could write down only what he dictated to them. For instance one of the accused said something to the effect of “If I had really hit him, he would have died or become crippled. Look, let me hit him once here. If he does not fall to the floor at the first strike, I'll accept all the accusations.” These threatening words were softened by the judge into the following: “There is a difference of stature between us. If this was true, he should have been crippled.” Because the monitors in front of the judge and the court secretary could not be seen by the lawyers, they could not object to the contents of the court minutes right there and then but they will officially file objections in retrospect both against the contents of the minutes, the physical make-up of the court room that prevents them from seeing the monitors, as well as the fact that the same prosecutor seems to prosecute everything.

in Turkish

20. August 2008

We just received bad news about the case Mehmet Bal had against his torturers. The military prosecutor decided there was no need for trial in the case of officers and soldiers neither for the mistreatment at Besiktas military police station nor for the outright torture at Hasdal military prison.

They did press charges against the three soldier-inmates in Hasdal military prison for "wounding" but they ask for reduction in their sentences because they were purportedly "provoked."

On a ridiculously ironic note, because the inmates argued in their statement that Mehmet "insulted the Turkish armed forces", the crafty military prosecutor filed a 301 case against Mehmet. Because of the new amendment in the law, now 301 cases require authorization from the Ministry of "Justice." If the MoJ gives their OK, then we're looking at a new 301 case.

Here's a short news story about this new developlent in English from bianet:

The Military Prosecutor sees no need to file a lawsuit for the bad treatment and torture conscientious objector Bal had to endure. Instead, Bal may be sued under article 301 for insulting the Turkish Armed Forces.

Bia news center - Istanbul

Merspeaksout's Weblog

UPDATE 4. April 2008: Ismail Saygi withdrew his conscientious objection
after beeing mistreated.

July 2007: Conscientious Objector (CO)
Osman Murat Ülke, currently again under immanent threat of 17 months imprisonment for refusing military service. Please support Mr. Ülke and other COs with signing this online petition and letters to the representatives in charge. (further infos: first blog entry below)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Interview with Ossi

Interview of Hakan Ataman, SG of the Human Rights Agenda Association with Osman Murat Ülke via e-mail on 26.07.2007

H.A: Dear Ossi, you spent almost 2 years in prison for refusing military service and now the prosecutor's office in Eskişehir called you on 14 June 2007 to defend yourself on a prison term of 17.5 months. How do you evaluate the call (order)?

O: I was not called to defend myself. I was called to serve a sentence of 17 months and 15 days imprisonment relating to two verdicts from the trials until 1999. This situation in itself is weird, because I almost served all of these sentences. On 9 March 1999, the day of my release, we reckoned that there were three or nine days that I had not served – maybe less or none at all. But the prosecutor first issues an order and intends to make the exact count later.
In the end all of this is unimportant, because after the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the promises the Turkish authorities made to the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe, I should not serve 3 to 7 days, not even one single day. What has to be done is to stop the violation on a general and individual level. Even if this does not lead to imprisonment, the violation, in the words of the court the "civil death", continues in an aggravated form day by day.
Therefore, we demand that on the individual level the procedures are stopped and further that my obligation to do military service is ended and that I am legalized in every respect.

HA: Do you think that a connection can be detected between the fast rise of militarism in Turkey lately and the call you received despite the judgment of the ECHR and the suggestions of the Committee of Ministers? What is your opinion on this?

O: There is no direct hint that the prosecutor's office in Eskişehir acted on direct intervention of the General Staff. But even if the situation can be explained with a Kafkaesque irony of bureaucratic mechanisms and the lack of communication within the State, we cannot ignore the role of militarism in this equation. Did we not live under the custodianship of the military, no military official would have repudiated the Ministry of Defence that announced that a law on conscientious objection would be passed right after the judgment of the ECHR and the necessary steps would have been taken by now.

HA: The notion of conscientious objection is not limited to the judgment of the ECHR. It is a basic human right with an intense ethical and political background. This background is too broad and rooted to be reflected in courts' decisions. Therefore, we speak not only about abiding to courts' decisions, but of a much wider problem. What can you say about this?

O: Certainly. Concerning the judgment of the ECHR and the question to put the right to conscientious objection into the context of universal law, we can say that detecting the "disparity of the sentence and its consequences" the Court postponed a decision concerning the essence of the problem.
The right to conscientious objection is taken as a standard among the individual rights in countries where the relationship between State and individual is determined in a liberal framework. But in countries where the State believes to have the right to form the citizens ideologically and to have power on their bodies and will, conscientious objection becomes a threat to undermine the whole socio-political framework. If the individual insists on having the first say on his body and will, in short his or her life, this is an aspect that starting from each questioning individual relates to the whole social construct and, therefore, exceeds the individual.
If the State responds to such a pressure with an even more rigorous attitude and insists on authoritarian norms, the area of questioning expands and the loss of legitimation intensifies. This is the general dilemma of authoritarianism.
Conscientious objectors in Turkey have always, that is for 17 years now, accepted conscientious objection as a concrete indicator of criticism towards militarism. Like in the example of Ghandi, that many people do not take serious or worth to be studied, this attitude of civil disobedience goes beyond individual losses and punishment and leads to discussions of the negative aspects of society and structural problems based on libertarian and ethical arguments. Just to name some of the headings: occupation of politics by the military; the continuing war; the militarist manipulation in education; the distorted historiography built on taboos; the militarized construction of gender identities and the related role divisions...
You may say that I am exaggerating, but I have seen conscientious objection as a litmus paper among all those who have said something on the subject in Turkey so far, clearly marking those who are in favour of a free and humane structure of society and those who promote an abstract raison d’etat.

HA: Even though there are not too many at risk of being imprisoned for being conscientious objectors in recent years, there has been an increase in imprisonments. Halil Savda was arrested and just recently released. In addition, during the latest arrests of Halil Savda and Mehmet Tarhan torture and ill-treatment occurred. Taking the subject as a whole, it seems that what is done to the conscientious objectors does not only aim at them but is planned in order to traumatize the whole society. That is, the society is given a message. What do you think about this?

O: This has always been the common aim of torture, whatever the reason for it may be. The State announces the impossibility of being questioned with violence and hopes to take all dynamics and minds in society as hostage. Concerning the example of conscientious objection, the completely indefinite future of conscientious objectors must be mentioned here. The individual burden is much heavier and therefore reservations in the face of State power dominate the majority. But disquieters, who do not sacrifice the voice of conscience to concerns of security have always existed and the effects have been bigger than the persons. This is one of the dark spots that authoritarianism cannot take under control.

HA: The last question: What can organizations of civil society do for recognition of conscientious objection or what would you suggest?

O: Speaking for Turkey, first of all, they can start to do something. There are some exceptions, but so far the activities are far from being sufficient.
At least since the judgment of the ECHR the question marks in many people's mind as to the legitimation of conscientious objection have been lifted. I wish that our struggle on this soil over the last 17 years could have had such an effect by itself.
This being so, many NGOs have not taken the problem as an issue for themselves or are unconsciously calculating the risks and prefer to wait and not to prioritize the matter. Any NGO that is truly concerned about the custodianship of the military and/or individual liberties should get in touch with conscientious objectors and should try to understand the history and basics of the problem in order to draw its own conclusions.
There should be seminars and internal education not only on conscientious objection, but also on contents, dimensions and meaning of antimilitarism in Turkey.
Abroad a huge amount of literature was developed on the subject. This has to be studied.
The individual objectors need legal and political support. I'm not saying that all NGOs have to appoint a lawyer immediately, but sending observers to the trials and reflecting on what can be done afterwards would be a beginning.
The government must be put under pressure to implement indisputable legal documents. Open letters can be written and interviews can be given to the press.
Platforms that were established on the war in Iraq or other specific subjects should be extended to cover conscientious objection.
Of course, this list can be extended.

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