Why was this Turkish sociologist given a life sentence?


Fifteen years after she was detained for allegedly perpetrating a terrorist attack in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar, and eleven years after she was acquitted of those charges, the Turkish sociologist Pınar Selek again found herself on the wrong side of the law when Turkey’s High Court sentenced her to aggravated life imprisonment last week. The Court issued an arrest warrant, which was sent to Interpol, since Selek is living in Strasbourg, where she is pursuing her doctoral studies.

Selek’s court case had been controversial from the beginning. The attack with which she was originally charged, which killed seven people and injured 127, came at a time when the conflict between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party was at its peak. For some months after the event took place, the media reported that the explosion was caused by a gas leak.

But this account of events changed when Turkish police detained a Kurdish man who, it was claimed, had been responsible for preparing a bomb. He mentioned Selek’s name while in custody and confessed to preparing together with her the bomb which he then placed in the Bazaar.

At the time of her detention Selek had been researching Turkey’s minorities and politically marginalised groups. During her interrogation she was asked to reveal the names of persons she interviewed while working on her studies. She said she was subjected to torture and it was later revealed that the deposition of the first man had also been taken under torture. Months after his interrogation, the man denied even knowing Selek. He was released and so was Selek, but only after spending two-and-a-half years in prison.

According to the prosecutor’s initial reports, there was evidence showing the explosion was caused by a bomb. Later, Istanbul University’s Analytic Chemistry Department and Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty’s Forensic Departments issued reports challenging that version of events, having concluded that the explosion was resulted by a gas leak.

The case went back and forth from one court to another. In the course of 11 years following her first acquittal Selek was acquitted two more times before being sentenced again on 24 January. The history of the case had become so complicated that it began to sound like a story straight from the pages of Dickens’s Bleak House.

Life imprisonment is currently the most serious sentence in Turkey after the country abolished capital punishment in peacetime in 2002. Selek’s lawyers appealed the sentence on Tuesday and said they would bring the case to European Court of Human Rights.

Writing in the Al-Monitor website, Turkish columnist Cengiz Çandar argued that Selek’s case would go down in history as a notorious example of judicial miscarriage and compared it to France’s notorious Dreyfus affair.

“The story of the trial, known as the Pınar Selek case, easily dwarfs the Dreyfus case in comparison,” he wrote.

This piece was originally published by Index On Censorship.

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