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Turkey: Sentencing of Ms Pinar Selek to life imprisonment
On 24 January 2013 Ms Pinar Selek was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted on terrorism related charges. The human rights defender's conviction was pronounced in the context of a trial that has spanned fifteen years for which the only evidence is a statement made by another defendant that he subsequently disowned as having been made under torture. This conviction followed three consecutive acquittals and serious procedural irregularities.
Pinar Selek is a prominent human rights defender, writer and sociologist who has been actively defending the rights of marginalised communities in Turkey for over 16 years, and has been subjected to continued judicial harassment as a result of this work.
On 24 January 2013, Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 12 sentenced Pinar Selek to life imprisonment on terrorism-related charges, including allegedly causing a bomb to explode in the Egyptian bazaar in Istanbul on 9 July 1998 and alleged membership in a terrorist organisation. The lawyer of Pinar Selek has appealed the Court's decision to the Supreme Court.
During the trials, no evidence was ever presented which would link Pinar Selek to any terrorism-related activity, while expert opinions ordered by the Court did not find evidence of a bomb and attributed the explosion instead to a gas leak. The other defendant in the trial, Mr Abdulmecit Öztürk, whose confession was the only evidence linking Pinar Selek to the alleged bombing, subsequently revealed that his statement had been made under torture and disowned it in court. Nonetheless, the Court used this withdrawn testimony as evidence in formulating its recent decision on the conviction of Pinar Selek.
The Chief Judge of the Court delivered a dissenting opinion and voted in favour of Pinar Selek’s acquittal, on the grounds that the Court had the right to insist on an acquittal ruling and that there was no adequate evidence for a conviction. According to reports from international trial observers, a number of other procedural irregularities were also observed during the trial.
Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 12 had previously acquitted Pinar Selek from these very same charges on three occasions, in 2006, 2008, and 2011. The Public Prosecutor appealed each acquittal before the Court of Cassation, which ordered a re-trial twice, in 2007 and 2010, on unclear grounds. In November 2012, in an unprecedented and legally untenable ruling, the Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 12, sitting in a new composition, revoked the acquittal it had pronounced in 2011, an act which opened the way to the January 2013 conviction by the same court.
This legal action against Pinar Selek began in 1997, reportedly motivated by the research conducted by the human rights defender on the Kurdish question, whereby interviews were held with different parties affected by the conflict. On 11 July 1998, Pinar Selek was arrested and the above-mentioned charges presented, while her research was confiscated. The human rights defender was subsequently detained for two years, during which time she was subjected to torture and ill-treatment, until her provisional release in 2000.
Front Line Defenders expresses its utmost concern at the sentencing of Pinar Selek to life imprisonment and at the gross and blatant violations of international fair trial guarantees and of Turkey's own criminal procedure regulations during the trial. Of grave concern is also the use in court of alleged confessions made as a result of torture. Front Line Defenders believes that this legal action, ongoing since 1998, forms part of a targeted campaign of judicial persecution against Pinar Selek, motivated by her legitimate and peaceful human rights work, in particular her documentation and investigation of the Kurdish issue.
Front Line Defenders supports the dissenting opinion of the Chief Judge of the Court that that there was no adequate evidence for a conviction and that Pınar Selek should have been acquitted.
Front Line Defenders reiterates its grave concern about the abuse of terrorism-related legislation against human rights defenders and independent voices in Turkey, and expresses concern at the alarmingly high number of human rights defenders who face judicial harassment in Turkey.