Tribunal with Special Powers: Court at Silivri Prison Campus, Turkey

Statement written by Tony Simpson of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and Patrick Deboosere, Professor at Vrije Universiteit Brussels, who are part of an international delegation monitoring the trial of Ayse Berktay. 

 

13 July 2012

More than 200 people are before the court charged with support for a terrorist organisation, the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK). The vast majority are Kurdish members of the Peace and Democracy Party, which has 36 elected representatives in the Turkish Parliament. In addition, there are some Turkish supporters of the BDP, including our friend and colleague Ayse Berktay.

Ayse has been remanded in detention until the court reconvenes in October, together with most of the accused, although she has already been detained for nine months, since October 2011. The judges granted bail for an additional 16 accused, including the distinguished academic, Professor Busra Ersanli.

Our international delegation attended four of the eight days of proceedings. During this time only part of the 2,400 indictment was read to the court. Defendants had about an hour to make personal pleas, strictly in the Turkish language as the court refused to hear statements in the Kurdish language, although this was the preferred tongue of many of those in the dock. Fifteen individual defendants made such pleas.

Lawyers representing defendants collectively, as well as those representing some individual defendants, made submissions lasting about six hours. Not all lawyers who wanted to speak had the opportunity to address the court. Those who did speak exposed serious inaccuracies and shortcomings in the indictment.

The prosecutor spoke briefly to refute requests made by lawyers.

Unfortunately, the international delegation was excluded from the final session of the hearing, together with the many relatives and friends of the accused. The reasons for this are unclear. We were therefore prevented from hearing the judgment of the court in refusing requests for release for most of the 200 people on trial. Apparently, the court used some new provisions to grant 16 people bail, while the others continue be interned, awaiting October’s hearing.

Based on what we heard in court our impression is that the act of indictment is extremely thin. There was not one convincing argument supporting the heavy accusation of terrorism. The elements of the dossier that have been presented in court are mostly only related to membership of the BDP or to the fact that the defendants were attending or giving courses at the political academy of the BDP. We are astonished that the judges decided to keep so many persons in jail based on the evidence that has been presented whilst we were in court. There is absolutely no relationship between the facts presented and the extreme measures of keeping the indicted in prison.

Next week, a similar and related trial of lawyers commences in Istanbul. This will be followed by a trial of journalists in September.

The proceedings in Silivri were accompanied by a massive display on the part of the jandarma security services. Although we confine our comments at this time to what we have, and have not, seen inside the court, it would be remiss not to remark that such displays are inimical to democratic politics, bringing to mind, as they do, modern Turkey’s troubled history of repression of free and open debate.

 

Tony Simpson
Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation

Patrick Deboosere
Professor Vrije Universiteit Brussels

 

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