Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Earth News writes today that one of the accused in the trial for killing three Christians (pictured here) in Turkey has called the suspected leader of the gang that carried out the attack a murderer.. Emre Gunaydin, 19, cut the throats of Tilmann Geske of Germany and Turkish national Necati Aydin, local media reported, citing testimony by defendant Hamit Ceker from Monday.

It was unclear who killed the third victim, Ugur Yuksel, who was also Turkish.

Ceker said that Gunaydin also gloated about having close contacts with the police chief in Malatya, south-eastern Turkey, where the trial is taking place. He testified he wanted to tell the police all the things Günaydın told him before the incident took place but another of the defendents told him that Günaydın was on good terms with the local police chief.

Since the trial opened in November, press reports have emerged alleging police collusion in the murders and accused prosecutors in the central Turkish city of Malatya of seriously mishandling the investigation. The allegations were brought by lawyers representing the families of the victims, based on evidence introduced to the court.

Hurryat reports according to some of the testimony offered up yesterday by one of the suspects in the case, part of the reason for the murders was the shared belief by the young men that "missionary activities in Turkey had reached dangerous levels."

The victims were tied to chairs in the offices of a small Bible- publisher, tortured with knives and then had their throats cut.

Lawyers representing the victims' families objected to the tone of the indictment and investigation, declaring that 16 of the 31 files focused on the religious activities of the Christian victims rather than on the murderers, who tied up, stabbed and slit the throats of Turkish converts Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske.

According to an article on the Turkish Bianet (Independent News Net) the tone of the criminal investigation and biased reporting in the Turkish media marks “a dangerous shift of focus from the presumed perpetrators of a crime to conspiracy theories linking Christian missionaries and PKK [the separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party] activities.”

Zafer Üskül, head of Parliament's Human Rights Committee, talked to the journalists about the trial yesterday. He said, "Murders occurred in Malatya and a fundamental human right was violated. As the head of the Human Rights Committee I need to be informed about this case. One of the essential necessities of state secularism is to guarantee the freedom of religion. The state has to have an equal distance from all belief systems. However, these people were killed because of their beliefs. This is unacceptable," he said. Üskül also stated that Turkish society needed to be more tolerant about religious differences.

The following is from EurasiaNet.

Yigal Schleifer: 1/16/08

The brutal murders of three Christians in a Bible publishing house last April in the central Turkish city of Malatya shocked many Turks. The country has continued to be scandalized by reports that have come to light amid the trial of the five people charged in the case. Among the more sordid allegations is that police officers may have colluded in the killings, and that investigators have mismanaged the criminal probe.

The killings of the Christians -- a German and two Turks -- occurred only a few months after the Istanbul murder of Hrant Dink, an outspoken Armenian journalist. Dink’s killing, the first anniversary of which will be commemorated on January 19, has also been surrounded by accusations of police and prosecutorial impropriety. The cases have led to renewed concerns about the continuing influence of rogue nationalist elements in Turkey’s security forces. They have also helped refocus attention on the conduct of the country’s police force and judiciary. Recent reports produced by international human rights groups argue that law-enforcement structures in Turkey are in urgent need of reform.

“Torture, ill treatment and killings continue to be met with persistent impunity for the security forces in Turkey,” Amnesty International said in a report released last summer. “The investigation and prosecution of serious human rights violations committed by officers of the police and gendarmerie are flawed and compounded by inconsistent decisions by prosecutors and judges. As a result, justice for the victims of human rights violations is delayed or denied.”

Dink’s murder on an Istanbul sidewalk was quickly followed up by reports that top police officials had been informed months before about a plot by Turkish nationalists to kill him. Meanwhile, a video showing several policemen proudly posing with the murder suspect – a 17-year-old from the Black Sea city of Trabzon – after he was caught soon surfaced after the murder.

In the Malatya case, press reports have indicated that the suspects, also young nationalists, had phone conversations with police officials, and possibly even with a prosecutor from Istanbul, in the months before the murders. Prosecutors have not followed up on these reports. The defendants’ trial began in late November.

According to various media accounts, police in Malatya are purported to have destroyed videotapes recorded in the hospital room of one of the accused, who injured himself during the crime. “The security forces and the judiciary here are protecting each other by not conducting a detailed investigation,” Husnu Ondul, head of the Human Rights Association (IHD), a Turkish watchdog group, told the English-language Today’s Zaman on December 8.

“The common point among all these similar incidents is this protection,” Ondul added.

Says Volkan Aytar, a researcher at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), an Istanbul-based think-tank: “There is a huge lack of transparency and a huge lack of accountability in the Turkish security services.”

In response to the questions swirling around the Malatya case, Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay announced in early December that two senior police officials would be conducting a probe. “Be sure of this: as a ministry, we will increase our transparency,” the minister told reporters.

Observers say that as shocking as the allegations of misdeeds in the Dink and Malatya cases have been, the fact that they are coming to light so quickly in itself represents a kind of step forward. “There have been a lot of political murders and crimes in the past in Turkey, but it was always very difficult to find out who did it,” says Hakan Bakircioglu, a lawyer who is monitoring the Dink murder trial on behalf of the slain journalist’s family.

“These two cases might be the first time we can find the murderers and maybe not catch, but at least touch, the members of state organizations who might be behind the crimes,” Bakircioglu added.

The Turkish police force has already taken some unilateral steps towards reform. Under one program, about 250 police officers over the last decade have been sent to study in the United States and European Union, where they obtained advanced degrees in criminal justice. Upon their return, it was envisioned that this corps of foreign-trained officers would play a key role in fostering a more transparent culture within the broader Turkish police force.

“There is no doubt that there has been an improvement in the last 10 years,” says Onder Aytac, a lecturer at Turkey’s national police academy in Ankara.

“But there is a kind of fighting between the old system and the new system,” he continued. “There are some people in the police force who are trying to go along the old way.”

Turkey’s judiciary, today seen as one of the pillars maintaining Turkey’s secular system, has also made some reform efforts. Over the last few years, more than 9,000 judges and prosecutors have undergone European Union-sponsored training concerning European human rights law. Turkey is a candidate for EU membership and is a member of the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

Still, a recent survey of judges and prosecutors conducted by TESEV found that a majority still believe that the interests of the state take precedence over those of the individual. Of those surveyed, 51 percent said they believe human rights could pose a threat to state security. Only 28 percent said they didn’t. Meanwhile, 63 percent said they did not believe that Turkey’s EU-inspired reform process was benefiting the country.

“At the end of the day, we need judiciary reform and police reform,” says TESEV’s Aytar. “If that doesn’t happen, then we will have a very static bureaucracy that will not be able to adapt itself to the realities of a modern Turkey that is on its way to the EU.”

Yigal Schleifer is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul.

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