Lawyer Esber Yagmurdereli to serve 17 years for freedom of expression

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The Kurdish people has risen up for the first time in its history for liberty and democracy, and found its leadership ... They have reached a crucial point where they refuse oppression and inhuman conditions which they have endured for thousands of years ... If we are not many here today it is because we are many in the mountains and there will be more and more of us every day. -- Esber Yagmurdereli

Written and oral propaganda and assemblies, meetings and demonstrations with the aim of damaging the indivisble unity of the State of the Republic of Turkey, the nation and territories are forbidden. Those conducting such activity are to be punished by a sentence of one to three years' imprisonment. -- Anti-Terror Law, Article 8

20 October 1997, blind lawyer Esber Yagmurdereli was arrested on his way home on the order of a court. His 'crime' was to have expressed his views on the Kurdish issue. He was effectively sentenced to 17 years imprisonment. In Turkey, freedom of expression is a terrorist offence.

Esber Yagmurdereli was sentenced to 10 months under infamous Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law (Statute 3713), a law that does not permit free speech. Esber Yagmurdereli was effectively given a much longer sentence as it was ruled that he had breached the terms of a conditional release from prison for a life sentence, of which he had already served 13 years and 5 months.

Esber Yagmurdereli has been blind from an early age as the result of a childhood accident. As a lawyer, he acquired a formidable reputation as a defence lawyer acting for trade unionists and other political opponents of the State. He was arrested in March 1978 and charged in connection with an armed robbery and also charged with 'trying to change the constitutional order by force'.

A client of Esber Yagmurdereli was found to be in possesion of weapons. A subsequent raid on the house of Esber Yagmurdereli found only political literature, but a neighbor claimed to be keeping stolen goods on behalf of Esber Yagmurdereli. Police rounded up and detained nine people. Under torture they confessed to armed robbery and that Esber Yagmurdereli was their leader. In court, virtually all 'confessions' were retracted. Esber Yagmurdereli stated that he too was tortured whilst held in custody at Bursa Police Headquarters - beating of the soles of the feet, electric shocks, hosing with high pressure water jets, lighted cigarettes stubbed out on his body.

Esber Yagmurdereli was prevented from attending many of the hearings of his own trial, prejudicial material was published in newspaper articles, inadmisable 'confessions' were submitted to the court.

March 1985, Esber Yagmurdereli was sentenced to death, commutted to life on account of his blindness. Esber Yagmurdereli was offered a pardon, but he refused to accept on the grounds that he was not guilty, seeking a fair retrial instead. In 1991, under a general amnesty for political prisoners Esber Yagmurdereli was granted conditional release.

In September 1991, Esber Yagmurdereli spoke at a meeting in Istanbul organised by the Turkish Human Rights Association. Because he spoke on behalf of the repressed Kurds, he was charged and sentenced to 20 months under Article 8, of the Anti-Terror Law. The court judgement stated that '... part of the country was named as Kurdistan and the inhuman activities of the PKK were called the struggle of the Kurdish people for independence ... the Turkish Republic was slandered by praising these illegal activities.'

August 1997, the Samsun Criminal Court ruled that Esber Yagmurdereli had broken the conditions of his release from his original life sentence, and ordered him to serve 17 years and 3 months.

Whilst in prison Esber Yagmurdereli acquired an international reputation as novelist, short story writer, playwright and human rights activist.

Amnesty International has condemmed the trial and retrial of Esber Yagmurdereli as a traversty of justice, not meeting international standards for a fair trial.

Turkey is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Turkey has failed to investigate the charges of torture, as it is bound to do under Articles 12 and 13. Its submission of 'confessions' obtained under torture is a contravention of Article 15.

Turkey is a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In failing to guarantee Esber Yagmurdereli his fundamental right of freedom of expression Turkey is in breach of Article 10. The failure to guarantee a fair trial has contravened Article 6.

Since his imprisonment Esber Yagmurdereli has been in and out of prison several times. He was released November 1997 on grounds of ill-health, but has subsequently been rearrested.

Esber Yagmurdereli is one of many lawyers, intellectuals and human rights activists targetted by the Turkish State. Amnesty International has adopted Esber Yagmurdereli as a Prisoner of Conscience and demanded that his sentence be quashed and all prisoners of concience be released.

Turkey: Unfair trial of lawyer Esber Yagmurdereli, Amnesty International

Turkey: 17 years in the balance: Esber Yagmurdereli returns to prison in freedom of expression case, Amnesty International

More information on the case may be obtained from:
Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, LONDON WC1X 8DJ, England
tel +44-171-413-5500 / fax +44-171-956-1157

Justice in Turkey?
(c) Keith Parkins 1998 -- June 1998 rev 0
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