Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Turkish writer's 15-year struggle for justice over the Spice Market 'bombing'

The court ordered a life sentence for Pınar Selek. Photo: Selek's Facebook Page
RECENTLY, Café Pacific reported on the fate of many journalists in Turkey after an otherwise invigorating visit to this fascinating country. But the number of journalists, many of them ethnic Kurds, languishing in prison on trumped up charges reveals a sinister side. So does this Global Voices story.

By Baran Mavzer

PINAR SELEK, a French-based sociologist and a writer, previously accused of bombing the Istanbul Spice Bazaar in 1998, has been sentenced to life in prison in Turkey.

The final verdict was delivered on January 24, 2013. If she returns to Turkey, she will be arrested by the police.

During her nearly 15 year-long trial, she was acquitted three times. She now lives in Strasbourg.

First arrest
Selek's long journey with the Turkish Judicial System began on July 11, 1998, just two days after the explosions at the entrance of Istanbul's Spice Bazaar. The explosion killed seven and wounded approximately 100 people.

Despite suspicions regarding the cause of the explosion being caused by a PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) bombing, six investigative reports indicated that the explosion was not due to a bombing or terrorist attack.


Things started to get interesting after this. Pınar Selek was arrested two days after the explosion; authorities assumed that she was a member of PKK.

Another suspect, Abdülmecit Öztürk, was arrested around two weeks after Selek and confessed that they had planned and carried out the bombing together.

But, as soon as he was transferred to court, he claimed that he had been tortured and had been made to accept the charges despite non-involvement. During the trial,  Öztürk's confession indicated that his aunt had met with Pınar Selek as her nephew's fiancée.

The indictment indicated that when visiting the house, Öztürk and Selek entered a room together and stayed in there alone for a while. The aunt recognized Selek by her picture and admitted that Selek and her nephew had visited.

But, while on the witness stand at trial, Öztürk's aunt clearly did not know any Turkish and could only speak Kurdish, which cast doubt on her ability to give a statement in Turkish without any linguist or translator present.

This was in addition to dubious reports concerning the explosion, as all reports failed to establish a connection between the explosion and a bomb. The reports suggested that the main reason of the explosion was a gas leak.

The acquittals
Pınar Selek was arrested in July 1998 and freed after two and a half years, on December 22, 2000, by a local court. After an appeal by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Istanbul Police Department's, another group of experts (members of gendarme) proposed that the explosion could have occurred by a bomb, even though, one of the civil experts in the group did not accept the result of the report.

This expert prepared another report showing that explosion did not occur by a bomb and claimed that the report prepared by the gendarme experts was unacceptable and not scientific or trustworthy.

On June 8, 2006, the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court announced its first ruling of acquitting Pınar Selek and Abdülmecit Öztürk, saying that, in regard to the Spice Bazaar explosion, “no certain and believable evidence that requires punishment could be found".

This decision was reversed by the 9th Penal Department of the Supreme Court on April 17th, 2007, on the basis that “no verdict had been given.” On May 23, 2008, Selek was acquitted for the second time by the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court.

After another appeal to this decision, on February 9, 2011, she was acquitted for the third time. The public prosecutor appealed the acquittal, just one day after the decision given by Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court. And on January 24, 2013, the court ordered a lifetime sentence on Pınar Selek.

Selek's supporters
On her Twitter account, Pınar Selek called her supporters to the gates of the court during a break before the announcement for the final verdict.

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