Turkey June 1999
Osama Daneshyar, Barrister-of-Law, England
IHRC sent a legal observer to Malatya, Turkey in June 1999 to observe
the trial of the Malatya 75 which includes , journalist Huda Kaya. IHRC
became involved in this case due to the extremely harsh nature of the penalties
being demanded by the prosecution - namely the death penalty, for those
participants arrested at a demonstration in October 1998. The defendants
all took part in the demonstration over the banning of Muslim female students
from university in Turkey on the basis of their adherence to their Islamic
dress code. Originally charged with a variety of offences as well as being
detained without charge, most of the 75 were then re-arraigned at the end
of June under section 146 of the Penal Code which charges them with attempting
to overthrow the constitutional system of Turkey. The basis of these charges
is solely due to their participation in the demonstration, which took place
The observer arrived in Malatya on 22 June 1999 the date that the arraignment
and trial was scheduled to begin. He attended the courtroom where there
was a high presence of military police and armed security personnel. Press
were allowed to attend, although certain observers from human rights groups
including the Turkish human rights group Mazlumder were refused admission.
The observer initially had some problems in getting into the courtroom,
and at one point was excluded however he did manage to gain access.
Despite the high security presence, many of the defendants were in fact
seated in the public gallery, indicating that they were not in themselves
perceived to be a threat to the public. Indeed by the end of the proceedings
it became clear that some forty of the 75 were on police bail. Whilst the
other 35 charged were remanded in custody. During the course of the day,
the charges against 5 people were dropped.
The court session began at 9.40a.m. The hearing took place before a
bench of three judges. The defendants went through the process of being
arraigned and their defences to the charges being noted. The defendants
were called one by one and their addresses taken. The names and addresses
of male defendants were taken first and at around 10.10 a.m. the women
were identified. The president of the court then warned the press against
exaggerating the proceedings. He added a stern warning, that should they
do so he will ban the presence of the press and he will no longer leave
the court open to the public. Proceedings then adjourned at 10.45 a.m.
The afternoon session began once more at 2.55 p.m. when the defendants
returned to court. The investigating magistrate gave a summary of allegations
against each defendant. Mehmet Kaya asked if anyone objected to the allegations.
All the defendants raised their hands and said they denied the charges
levelled against them. Each objector then rose and stated their objections.
The observer noted the general fact that this procedure leaves the possibility
open that with so many defendants the court could make a mistake and note
incorrectly who is pleading guilty or not guilty to each charge. Following
this the defendants were asked who accepted the police allegations against
them. Those who did, in total 7, gave their names. It should be noted that
of the 75, 51 face the death penalty the rest face sentences if found guilty
of between five and twenty-two years in prison.
Following this the judge investigated openly without any indication
of irregularity, whether any of the defendants were beaten whilst in custody.
Several raised their hands. Following this, evidence was handed out to
each defendant who requested it. They were then asked to comment upon it.
For example certain photographs and police statement were handed to defendants.
However the observer noted that there was no primary disclosure- that is
full disclosure of all documents, photographs, in short evidence to be
used by the prosecution against the defendants. One of the defendants,
who was later identified as Huda Kaya by the observer, was asked by the
prosecutor if she wrote a newspaper article whereby, she had stated that
the system must be changed. She accepted such an article was written whilst
she was in custody.
Huda Kaya stated that what she was saying was that, the government took
her basic human rights away and she had to do something about this. Her
reaction was writing in the newspaper on this matter. One student was asked
why he had certain newspaper articles in his house. He answered that he
enjoys reading and this was the reason for their presence in his house.
Other defendants were also asked by the prosecutor as to the reason why
they possess certain reading material. This is in itself appear to be the
sole basis for the prosecution claims against the men and women charged.
An example of the reading material is given below. Another defendant was
asked why he had a book on the Iranian Revolution. He replied that he has
over 500 books and possibly one or two of these were on this subject. These
one or two books however were used in evidence against him. It is noted
from a defendant that possessing such books was not illegal in Turkey.
However this did not stop possession of these books being the basis of
evidence against him.
One high school student who was also charged was asked why he had a
book on socialism in his study, which was found by the police upon investigation
after the arrest. His claim that the book belonged to his grandfather who
had died three years previously. Huda Kaya was asked why she had a book
by Ayatollah Khomeini. Again it appears that possession of books on Kurds,
in Kurdish, about the Kurdish issue, socialism or political Islam formed
the basis of evidence against Huda Kaya and those charged. It exemplified
the fact that there was no value in the evidence against the defendants.
Indeed it seem only to be a design to create prejudice against the defendants.
Indeed if the comments of the prosecution were to be taken seriously, Turkish
justice would have it that an individual is criminalised by what he or
In pursuing this line of enquiry the judge took it upon himself to question
some of the defendants as to why they had books on the Kurdish issue in
Kurdish. It should be noted that the city of Malatya has a mixed population
of which forty to fifty percent are of Kurdish origin. Lawyers for some
of the defendants pointed out that the books the accuse were found to be
in possession of were legal and as evidence their relevance was spurious.
There then followed the representations of some of the advocates for the
defendants on behalf of the accused. A variety of representations were
made and in fact individual advocates were critised by the judge for repeating
the representations of other advocates. For example some of the advocates
tried to pursue the point that whatever crime the defendants were charged
with and indeed if they were found guilty to have committed such "crimes,"
it did not merit the punishment of death. At one heated point one lawyer
accused the judge of bias and indeed of being subject to political pressures.
In response to this the judge asked everyone who was in the courtroom to
identify themselves with their driving licence, subject to exclusion. He
then waited to note if anyone in the courtroom who had came from outside
of Malatya. It was at this point that the observer"s presence there was
questioned once more. He was eventually allowed to continue. The proceedings
adjourned for 15 minutes at 6.40 p.m. and a decision was handed out at
7.05 p.m. It was at this stage that the case was dismissed against 5 of
The trial for the others were adjourned to the following month. Upon
further enquiry the observer found that this was a normal procedure whereby
a trial was protracted over sometimes for many years with continued adjournments
after one day sessions. Indeed the observer found out cases have lasted
for as long as seven years.
The observer made several comments to the press including Turkish television.
His main observation is that by asking for capital punishment the Turkish
authority is in contravention with the European Convention of Human Rights,
to which it is a signatory. Further they also breached several other articles
with regards to freedom of expression, due process, political and educational
rights. The overall impression of the proceedings was that of a macabre
farce. Indeed elements of the proceedings were plainly ridiculous, and
in particular evidence cited against the defendants have no basis except
to create prejudice in the minds of public to whom the press would report
the issue in a limited manner.
It appears that these demonstrators are in fact the first demonstrators
who have been charged and detained, for whom the prosecutor is requesting