Judges reject request to investigate links to suspected masterminds.
MALATYA, Turkey, February 24 (CDN) — On Friday (Feb. 19) judges eager to wrap up the trial over the murder of three Christians here rejected plaintiff appeals to investigate the suspected masterminds behind the stabbing deaths.
At the 24th hearing regarding the 2007 murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske in this city in southeastern Turkey, the prosecution demanded three life sentences without chance for parole for each defendant.
Judges and prosecutors pushed for a conclusion to the case that has lasted nearly three years. In the last few weeks the Istanbul prosecutors sent a police report to Malatya’s Third Criminal Court linking the murders to a larger “deep state” operation led by a cabal of retired generals, politicians and other key figures called Ergenekon. The judges, however, rejected plaintiffs’ requests that the Malatya court further probe into the possible links between the two operations.
In a 17-page statement, prosecutors detailed accusations against the five young defendants, Emre Gunaydin, Salih Gürler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim, and demanded three consecutive life sentences for each of them if convicted. The five men are charged with murder, being part of a terrorist organization, holding citizens against their will and stealing.
The prosecutors’ recommended sentence is the maximum possible in the case. Plaintiff and defense lawyers are to present their rebuttals to the proposed punishment at the next hearing, scheduled for April 15.
“They requested the highest possible penalty, however, we are defeated in this case when we consider that these five guys are part of a bigger plan . . . and this incident occurred as part of this plan,” said plaintiff lawyer Murat Dincer in a press briefing after the hearing.
Dincer said the recommended sentence takes into account only the five young men and not the suspected high-level officials who planned the murder. He and his colleagues said bringing those behind the scenes to justice is still a possibility, and that therefore they would evaluate the proposed sentence and make their petition accordingly.
“The trial is important in the sense that we expected such a penalty, but we did not want them [prosecutors] to stop searching for connections with Ergenekon,” said plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan.
Over the last three years, plaintiff lawyers have presented volumes of evidence showing how the Malatya murders were just one operation in a series of many targeting the country’s Christian minorities in an effort to destabilize the current Islamic-leaning government.
On behalf of the team of plaintiff lawyers, Dogan told judges in court that research into a recent indictment over a stash of military artillery found on the property of a foundation in the Istanbul suburb of Poyrazkoy showed there were links to violent attacks against Christians. He cited the 2006 murder of Catholic priest Andreas Santoro in Trabzon, the kidnapping of a Syrian Orthodox priest in Mardin, the stabbing of a priest in Izmir and threats against the pastor of the Protestant church in Samsun all in the last three years.
The Poyrazkoy indictment took place within the context of the Ergenekon probes. The murder of the Armenian Christian editor of Agos in Istanbul three months before the April 18, 2007 Malatya murders has also been linked to the Ergenekon investigation.
Dogan speculated that the court decision to start bringing the trial to a close without further probes into Ergenekon links may have sprung from last week’s decision by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors to disqualify four prosecutors in Erzurum in a judicial power struggle over other investigations into the alleged clandestine operation.
“It may be that the prosecutors are nervous because of that,” said Dogan. “Because among those implicated in Malatya is an army commander, a gendarmerie commander, soldiers and professors, so it may have made them nervous in that sense. That’s why they want to drop it at this point.”
Plaintiff lawyers said that the latest decisions do not necessarily mean the end of investigation into the links between Ergenekon and the Malatya murders. If by the end of the Malatya murder case the Istanbul prosecutors have not outlined an action plan directing the court to pursue Ergenekon leads and the case is closed, plaintiff lawyers said they are ready to take the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
“But of course we wish those connections would be made here,” said Dogan.
Report from Compass Direct News