Press Release: War Resisters' International submits the case of Turkish conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan to the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

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War Resisters' International submitted the case of gay Turkish conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan, sentenced on 10 August to four years imprisonment on two charges of insubordination, to the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Tarhan, who had been arrested in Izmir on 8 April, declared his conscientious objection on 27 October 2001. After his arrest, he was transferred to a military unit in Tokat, where he was given a military order, which he refused. He was charged with insubordination, and imprisoned in the Military Prison in Sivas. On 9 June 2005, he was released from prison, but again sent to his military unit, given an order, refused, arrested, and charged. He was sent back to the Military Prison in Sivas on 13 June. On 10 August, he was sentenced on both charges to two years imprisonment each - a total of four years.

Both sentences are in violation of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [1], of which Turkey is a signatory. In addition, the sentence for the second charge is in violation of Article 14 paragraph 7 ICCPR: "No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure." WRI's submission of the case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention focuses on this aspect.

Turkey does not recognise the right to conscientious objection, generally derived from Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [1]. Since 1990, more than 50 Turkish men and women declared their conscientious objection to military service publicly [2]. From 1996 to 1999, Osman Murat Ülke spent 2 1/2 years in prison for his conscientious objection - based on several charges of insubordination [3]. His case is presently pending at the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention already ruled on arbitrary detention of conscientious objectors in Turkey in 1999. In its Opinion 1936/1999, the working group stated in the case of Osman Murat Ülke: "The Working Group is of the opinion that there is, since, after the initial conviction, the person exhibits, for reasons of conscience, a constant resolve not to obey the subsequent summons, so that there is “one and the same action entailing the same consequences and, therefore, the offence is the same and not a new one” (see Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, 18 September 1999, No. 2, No. 130/95). Systematically to interpret such a refusal as being perhaps provisional (selective) would, in a country where the rule of law prevails, be tantamount to compelling someone to change his mind for fear of being deprived of his liberty if not for life, at least until the date at which citizens cease to be liable to military service."[4]

Mehmet Tarhan declared his conscientious objection on 27 October 2001. He was arrested on 8 April 2005 in Izmir, and again stated his conscientious objection. In analogy to the above mentioned opinion, the arrest and imprisonment for the first charge of insubordination does not violate Article 14 paragraph 7 ICCPR (although it violates Article 18), while the conviction for the second charge of insubordination (from 13 June 2005) violates Article 14 paragraph 7 and Article 18 ICCPR.

>From 25 May until 21 June 2005, Mehmet Tarhan was on hunger strike, in protest against maltreatment in the prison and the inaction of the prison authorities to protect him. After 28 days of hunger strike, the prison authorities accepted his demands. Mehmet Tarhan then said in a press statement, made with the help of his lawyer Suna Coskun, that he had chosen to end his hunger strike after the prison management had chosen to accept his conditions.

The prison authorities accepted Mehmet Tarhan's demands for equal treatment. As he is in a cell of his own (to protect him from abuse by other prisoners), he is given a TV, is able to make his own tea, has access to books and should receive his mail regulary.

Andreas Speck, CO Campaigning Worker at War Resisters' International, says: "The case of Mehmet Tarhan is a very worrying development. Since the release of Osman Murat Ülke, the Turkish authorities did seem to avoid a confrontation on the issue of conscientious objection, and those conscientious objectors that were arrested - Mehmet Bal and Halil Savda - were released pretty soon. This policy seems to have changed, and the four years sentence against Mehmet Tarhan is a clear warning for all declared conscientious objectors. It is also a clear sign that all talk about Turkey's respect for human rights is mere Sunday talk, and cannot be taken serious."

Andreas Speck
War Resisters' International
tel +44-20-7278 4040
fax +44-20-7278 0444

More information at http://wri-irg.org/co/turkcampaign-en.htm

Notes

[1] Article 18 ICCPR

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
  2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
  3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

[2] see http://wri-irg.org/news/2005/turkey05-en.htm#Heading28a
[3] A brief documentation is available at http://wri-irg.org/news/2005/turkey05-en.htm#Heading21
[4] The full opinion is available at http://www.hri.ca/fortherecord2001/documentation/commission/e-cn4-2001-14-add1.htm#page53