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Turkey: Outrage at Sentencing of Scarf Case Student

On May 11 Cihan Kirmizigul, an engineering student at the prestigious Galatasaray University in Istanbul, was sentenced to 11 years and 3 months in jail for firebombing a building – but many believe his only “crime” was wearing a Kurdish scarf in the vicinity of the attack.

The number of imprisoned Turkish journalists and politicians has doubled in the last few years, prompting strong reactions both locally and internationally. Kirmizigul's sentencing on May 11 was just the latest in a series of controversial cases. He was sentenced to 11 years and 3 months on charges of membership in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), possession of explosives and causing damage to private buildings. However, in what has become known as the “scarf case”, it is widely believed that Kirmizigul just happened to be in the area wearing a Kurdish poşu (keffiyeh or scarf).

On Twitter, reactions were immediate. Fatih Aker commented on the lack of evidence [tr]:

@mesutbahtiyar: kaçıranlar için #cihankirmizigul davası özeti: -soru:molotof kokteyli atan kişi bu muydu? -tanık:hayır değildi. (delil:poşu karar:11 sene)

for all those who missed the case, an executive summary. – question: was he the one who threw the Molotov cocktail? – witness: no he wasn't. (evidence: keffiyeh. sentence: 11 years.)

The Turkish judicial system has for some time been under the scrutiny of social media activists because of unfair court decisions. While a special “terror law” (separate from the usual criminal law) is terrorizing political dissidents, rapists and abusers are evading heavy punishment under the regular law.

Melis Tasan looks at the reason Kirmizigul was singled out by the police, which was the scarf he was wearing [tr]:

@melistasan: tecavüzü meşrulaştıran, katilleri kahraman ilan eden, hırsızları büyük iş adamı yapan hükumet poşuya dur dedi

the government that legalized rape, proclaimed murderers to be heroes and thieves to be big businessmen, declared “no to keffiyehs!”

Actor and movie director Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan tweeted [tr]:

@taylan1789: Poşu takarak Beyoğlu'nda yürümek suretiyle devleti yıkmaya kalkışan Cihan KIRMIZIGÜL'e 11 yıl ceza veren adalet; Dümen senin kolpa senin!

The justice system that punished Cihan Kirmizigul with a sentence of 11 years for trying to destroy the state by walking at Beyoglu wearing a keffiyeh: you are the ones running the show!

Demonstrators occupying Beyoglu in protest at Kirmizigul sentencing, May 11, 2012. Photo courtesy of Elif Ilgaz (@elifilgaz)

After his arrest, Kirmizigul's friends and professors started a blog [tr] to make his case known:

Galatasaray Üniversitesi Endüstri Mühendisliği Bölümü öğrencisi Cihan Kırmızıgül, 22 aydır Tekirdağ F Tipi Cezaevi’nde tutuklu bulunmaktadır. Bir süpermarkete yönelik gerçekleştirilen Molotof kokteylli bir saldırıdan iki saat sonra, olay yerine yakın Kağıthane’de otobüs beklerken, saldırıya katılmış olduğuna dair hiçbir somut delil bulunmaksızın, zor kullanılarak gözaltına alınmıştır. O gün boynunda taşıdığı ve polis tarafından Kürt hareketiyle özdeşleştirilen “poşu”, gözaltına alınması için öne sürülen tek suç unsurudur. Bir gizli tanık tarafından “giysilerinden” teşhis edilmiş, fakat bu tanık, daha sonra ifadesini geri çekmiştir. Suç delillerinin zayıflığına işaret eden savcı, Kırmızıgül’ün beraatini istedikten sonra görevden alınmıştır.

Galatasaray University industrial engineering student Cihan Kirmizigul has been in detention for 22 months (since February 20, 2010) at Tekirdag F-Type Prison. Two hours after a Molotov attack at a supermarket in the Kagithane neighborhood (in Istanbul), he was forcefully arrested while waiting for a bus at a bus stop although there was no evidence for his involvement in the incident. The keffiyeh he was wearing that day, which is identified as a sign of the Kurdish movement by the police, is the sole reason and evidence for his arrest. He was then identified by a secret witness by his clothing, but that witness later retracted his statement. The initial prosecutor of the case who accepted that the evidence against Kirmizigul was weak was removed from his office after stating that.

While most wrote in support of Kirmizigul, some defended the state's stance. Hasan Ceylan tweeted [tr]:

@Hasan_133: #CihanKirmizigul ne poşu davası lan örgüte yataklık etmek molotof atmak patlayıcı bulundurmak çarpıtmayın pkklı piçler…

The Cihan Kirmizigul case is not about the keffiyeh, it's about abetting and using Molotovs and explosives. Do not twist things, you PKK bastards…

Some took the case as a matter of reciprocity. Twitter user a.l.g. wrote [tr]:

 @friendsinhell: TÜRK vatandaşı bir ÇERKES arkadaşım KÜRDİSTAN'da PUŞİ takmadığı için sınır dışı edilmişti:/ süreç şu anda AİHM'e intikal etti.

A friend of mine with Circassian origins and Turkish nationality was extradited from Kurdistan for not wearing a keffiyeh. The case is in European Human Rights Court now.

Demonstrators wearing keffiyeh and demanding justice. Photo courtesy of Elif Ilgaz (@elifilgaz)

Kirmizigul's quest for justice has been taken up by others. His professors at university started “Öğrencime Dokunma Kampanyası” [tr] (Don't Mess With Our Students campaign) under the leadership of Mehmet Karlı, research fellow at Galatasaray University. They have organized meetings and issued press statements throughout the trial. Upon the issuing of the court decision, the group immediately gathered at the courthouse where Mehmet Karlı criticized the proceedings [tr]:

Bizimle dalga geçiyorlar. Bizimle oyun oynuyorlar. Daha önce Cihan serbest bırakılmıştı, biz umutlandık. Dedik ki ’Galiba hakikat görünüyor’ ama bu umut malesef bir taktiğin parçasıymış. Bizim bu işin peşini bırakacağımız zannedildi. Biz mücadeleyi bırakmadık buradayız. O dosyada Cihan’ı suçlayacak bir delil bile yok. Bir tek satır dahi yok. 22 yaşında genç bir çocuğun hayatıyla oynuyorlar.

They make fun of us. They play games with us. Cihan was previously released pending trial, and we were hopeful. We said maybe they'd started to see the facts, but that hope unfortunately was part of a bigger plan. They thought we would let the issue go. We will continue our fight for justice, we are here. There is not one single piece of evidence against Cihan in the case file. There is not one single line against him. They are messing with the life of a young 22-year-old man.

The supporters of jailed students gathered in Taksim Square in Istanbul on the evening of May 11, to protest injustice against political prisoners.


  • […] For some excitement, there was a rally, march, protest kind of thing down the main road here on our way to dinner.  Walking through it was hard because of the number of people, but also interesting from a social perspective.  The reason for the protest was apparently the following (warning, I have not read through this entirely… possible strong language): […]

  • […] Link: Global Voices Online: Outrage at Sentencing of Scarf Case Student […]

  • […] and contradictory testimony.  By many accounts, the chief evidence against him was that he was young, male, and wearing a keffiyeh, or traditional scarf, on the wrong day. A student protester in Istanbul holds a poster with images of Turkish leaders and university […]

  • […] Many of the cases against students are particularly sloppy.  Many, like the French exchange student, Sevil Sevimli, are charged not with violence, but rather with “affiliation with a terrorist group.”   Others have been charged with “terrorist propaganda” for singing Kurdish songs and shouting slogans or even dancing.  After an international outcry, Sevimli was released pending trial, but students like Ezgi Özgün can languish in pre-trial detention for many months without even knowing what they have been charged with. Trials based on secret testimony and shoddy evidence can result in long prison sentences.  For example, Amnesty has highlighted the case of Cihan Kırmızıgül, an engineering student at Galatasaray University in Istanbul, who has been sentenced to prison on terror charges despite weak evidence and contradictory testimony.  By many accounts, the chief evidence against him was that he was young, male, and wearing a  keffiyeh, or traditional scarf, on the wrong day. […]

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