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

UPDATE:
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:
http://www.bianet.org/english/kategori/english/109129/torture-goes-unpunished-conscientious-objector-may-be-sued-for-insulting-military

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)

Friday, November 9, 2007