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TURKEY: Conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan released unexpectedly

  • Turkey

Yesterday, Turkish conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan (TK14724) was released from military prison in Sivas unexpectedly, following an order of the Military Court of Appeal in Ankara. The court had to deal with appeals against the decision of the Sivas Military Court from 15 December 2005 (see co-alert, 15 December 2005), brought to the Appeal Court by the prosecutor and by Mehmet Tarhan. The court gave as reason that, in case Mehmet Tarhan would be finally sentenced, the sentence would unlikely be higher than what he had already served. However, the full reasons for this decision are not yet known, and won't be available before some time next week. The decision is a surprise, because normally the Court of Appeal does not have the power to order the release of a prisoner - it can only refer the case back to the military court, and judge on the validity of a ruling by a military court.

After his release from the military prison in Sivas, Mehmet Tarhan was brought to the recruitment office in Sivas, where he was given an order to present himself to his military unit. Mehmet Tarhan did not follow this order, and is presently visiting his family. This means that soon he will be officially classified as "deserter", and could be re-arrested any time. The procedure is very similar to the case of Osman Murat Ülke, who recently won his case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

It can be assumed that the Court of Appeal reacted to the pressure created by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Osman Murat Ülke. The Strasbourg court ruled: "The numerous criminal prosecutions against the applicant, the cumulative effects of the criminal convictions which resulted from them and the constant alternation between prosecutions and terms of imprisonment, together with the possibility that he would be liable to prosecution for the rest of his life, had been disproportionate to the aim of ensuring that he did his military service. They were more calculated to repressing the applicant’s intellectual personality, inspiring in him feelings of fear, anguish and vulnerability capable of humiliating and debasing him and breaking his resistance and will. The clandestine life amounting almost to “civil death” which the applicant had been compelled to adopt was incompatible with the punishment regime of a democratic society."
Mehmet Tarhan is now in exactly the same situation. Although released from prison, he faces a "clandestine life amounting almost to “civil death”", unless Turkey finally recognise the right to conscientious objection and solves a backlog of almost 80 existing conscientious objectors.

War Resisters' International nevertheless welcomes the release of Mehmet Tarhan, and sees this as a success of the international support campaign for Mehmet Tarhan, and of the work of CO activists in Turkey. However, at the same time War Resisters' International demands from Turkey to finally recognise the right to conscientious objection.

Andreas Speck
War Resisters' International
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