After 15-year Trial in Turkey, Pınar Selek Sentenced for Life

Pınar Selek, a Strasbourg-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.

Selek's 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 court ordered life sentence for Pınar Selek. Picture taken from her Facebook Page.

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, by tweeting:

@Pinar_Selek: Davaya karar icin ara verildi.Herkesin Caglayan Adliyesi C kapisinda acilen toplanmasi cok onemli. Gidisat iyi gorunmuyor

A break given before the final verdict. It is so important to meet up in front of the Caglayan Court Gate C. It does not seem good.

Author of “Blood & Belief”, Aliza Marcus expressed shock with the Turkish Judicial System by tweeting:

@AlizaMarcus: The Turkish court system is so unbelievable: sociologist Pınar Selek acquitted 3 times & then sentenced to life in prison

Journalist Balçiçek İlter tweeted:

@Balciceki: Pınar selek'e 3 kez beraattan sonra müebbet! Bu ülkede hukuk bitmiştir! Adalet mi? Guldurmeyin beni!

Life sentence for Pınar Selek after three acquittals. There is no law in this country any more! Justice? Do not make me laugh!

Another journalist Cüneyt Özdemir supported her by tweeting:

@cuneytozdemir: Pınar Selek yalnızca yanlış zamanda yanlış yerde bulunmadı. Yanlış zamanda yanlış ülkede doğdu!

Pınar Selek was not only at the wrong place at the wrong time. She was also born in the wrong country.

Pınar Selek supporters shared this picture on the Facebook Page of “Collectif Solidarité Pınar Selek” to rally support for her acquittal:

Supporters of Pınar Selek are protesting the verdict of the court by carrying a banner saying “We want Pınar Selek's acquittal back”. Picture taken from Collectif Solidarité Pinar Selek Facebook Page.

International organizations were trying to draw attention to Pınar Selek's trial earlier this week. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) posted articles on January 21 on their websites mentioning the continuous judicial harassment against Pınar Selek. In December 2012,  PEN, the worldwide association of writers, also expressed concerns regarding the judicial harassment of Pınar Selek.

After all she has been acquitted three times and still fighting for a fourth acquittal. It might be hard to understand how she can handle a 15 year-long trial which might end up in a definitive life sentence. But, her words on [tr] website which has been lauvhed by her friends to support her, explains how she still fights for her freedom:

Yoksunlukları, adaletsizlikleri, şiddeti keşfettikçe kendi kendimize soruyoruz: “Mutluluk mümkün mü?” Ben, bu kısacık varoluş macerasını güzel yaşamak için adalete ve özgürlüğe ihtiyaç duyanlardanım. Bunun için politika yapıyorum. Başkalarını kurtarmak için değil, mutlu olmak için, herkesinkiyle derinden ve karmaşık bağlara sahip olan hayatımı değiştirmek için… Gözümü yumup mutsuz olmamak için gözlerimi açıp acı çekiyorum.

We ask to ourselves when we explore the poorness, unfairness, violence: “Is happiness possible?” I am one of the people who need freedom and justice to live the very short and beautiful adventure of existence. That is what I am fighting for. Not to save others, to be happy, to change my life which has deep and complicated connections with the lives of others… I am keeping my eyes open and suffering, instead of closing my eyes and being unhappy.


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