Seventy Turkish Islamic activists, four of them Muslimahs from a single family, are facing possible capital punishment for attending a protest in Malatya last October against the ban on hijab at universities. At the opening of their trial on June 22, the prosecutor demanded death sentences against 51 of them for ‘attempting to change the constitution by force’, which is interpreted as a treasonable offense.
Prominent among the defendents is Sister Huda Kaya, a journalist with the Islamic newspaper Selam. Three of her daughters are also facing the death penalty. One of them, sixteen-year-old Gulan Intisar Saatcioglu, is accused of reading a poem called ‘Song of Freedom’ at the protest. Nine other high school students also face possible death sentences. The other defendents face sentences of between five and 22 years.
The trial began under heavy security, and observers from Turkey’s Mazlumder human rights group were not permitted to enter the courtroom. Mazlumder’s own offices, and the homes of some of its senior members, had been raided by police the previous week.
However, Barrister Osama Daneshyar, an observer sent by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), was permitted to observe the proceedings.
After the defence had responded to the prosecution’s charges, the senior judge accepted that 5 of the 75 defendants had been tortured, and dropped the charges against them. The charges against the other 70 were upheld, and the proceedings adjourned until next month. The evidence offered by the prosecution in support of their charges included attendance of Islamic demonstrations, possession of books in Kurdish and on Kurdish issues, and possession of books on ‘political Islam’.
Speaking after the hearing, Daneshyar said “the Turkish system is trying to deny these girls their basic human rights to the freedom of religion and religious expression, and their right to education. This trial in particular is based not on evidence but on conjecture and prejudice. These prosecutions have more to do with the paranoia of the state. There is still no evidence to support the prosecution claim that these people were trying to overthrow the system. You cannot have a fair trial when these people are charged with an act which is considered their right under the European Convention of Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory.”
Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the IHRC, said that the organization would try to send observers to future hearing of this and other similar trials which are pending. “With the Turklish state now cracking down on Mazlumder, the Turkish human rights group which has done excellent work in this and similar areas, it is even more important that Muslims outside Turkey, particularly in western countries, let the Turks know that we are watching their actions very closely indeed.”
Lawyers for the 70 activists are afraid that the process will deliberately be drawn out over a series of one-day hearings without any conclusion being reached. Previous political trials have lasted up to seven years. Forty of the defendents, including Huda Kaya and her daughters, were refused bail.
The Islamic Human Rights Committee, London, is concerned that its work is hampered by lack of resources. He also contrasts the western media’s and human rights lobby’s attitude to the persecution of Muslims for trying to practice their Islam with their attitude towards other, non-Islamic cases. “This is work which Muslims must take up,” he says, “because nobody else ever will.”
[The IHRC may be contacted on 0181-902-0888 or e-mail ihrc@ dial.pipex.com.]
Muslimedia: July 1-15, 1999