More than two weeks have passed since a lawyer representing three Christians murdered last year in the southern province of Malatya requested that authorities provide him with protection after he was the subject of threats and intimidation on a number of occasions; his request has not yet been granted.
The case’s third trial will take place in Malatya on Monday, when Orhan Kemal Cengiz will continue his work without any protection because a “bureaucratic examination” as to whether his demand is necessary has not yet been finalized.
Cengiz has worked as a human rights defender in Turkey for 15 years, including as a founding member of a number of human rights initiatives, including Amnesty International Turkey, and as a legal representative of human rights violations victims from across the spectrum. He currently serves as the president of the Human Rights Agenda Association.
Threats and intimidation directed at Cengiz have intensified since November last year, when the trial of those accused of killing the three men at the Zirve Publishing House began.
On April 18, 2007, Christian Turks Necati Aydın and Uğur Yüksel and Christian German national Tilman Geske were tied to their chairs, stabbed and tortured at the publishing house in the eastern Anatolian city of Malatya before their throats were slit. The publishing house they worked for printed Bibles and Christian literature. The killings drew international condemnation and added to Western concerns about whether Turkey can protect its religious minorities. Five people were arrested and charged with murder related to the incident.
The petition for protection penned by Cengiz and submitted to the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office is dated Feb. 8. After the prosecutor said that the issue was not in his realm of authority, Cengiz gave the same petition to the Ankara Governor’s Office. Since then, whenever Cengiz has called authorities to inquire about the progress of his application a bodyguard, he has been met with the same reply: “We are examining your request and we have been collecting the views of different departments concerning it.”
Despite the fact that the Turkish authorities have apparently considered both the threats against Cengiz and his request for protection to be trivial, Amnesty International issued an urgent action call for his protection on Feb. 13. While expressing concern that the threats against Cengiz are a direct result of his legitimate work as a lawyer and human rights defender, Amnesty International also called for a prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the threats.
“It is not the first time that a lawyer is being threatened in this country just because of his legitimate profession. But it is the first time that a lawyer is simply being demonized and made into a target via serious disinformation,” Cengiz said this week in an interview with Today’s Zaman.
“I have been working as a human rights lawyer for the last 15 years and I am well known to human rights circles in Turkey and abroad. I cannot help thinking what kind of devastating effects this campaign would have on a person with less experience, with less of a support base and [less] networking around.”
In November, Cengiz saw an article in a local newspaper in Malatya attributed to the İhlas News Agency that included details he believes could only have been obtained through the interception of his telephone and electronic communications regarding the case. He later learned that a letter had been sent to the Malatya public prosecutor accusing Cengiz of involvement in the publishing house murders. The letter also contained other false information apparently designed to damage his reputation and make him a target.
In January of this year Cengiz received a letter — the substance of which indicated it had been written by the same person or people who had sent the letter to the Malatya public prosecutor — that purported to be a letter of support but in fact contained both veiled and direct threats to his safety.
‘Şemdinli is just the dragon’s nose’
“All of these incidents clearly display that the killings in Malatya were not ‘the job of five kids.’ There is a power like a dragon that doesn’t even bother to hide. In a case such as the Malatya murder trial, which is being closely watched by the world, they feel themselves free in their efforts to harass the victims’ lawyers. This is the reflection of the general problem in Turkey onto a micro level,” Cengiz said.
“This dragon showed its nose for the first time in the Şemdinli case, which should be read as a milestone in this country,” Cengiz continued, referring to the bombing of a bookstore in Şemdinli in November 2005 that resulted in one death. In May 2007 the Supreme Court of Appeals quashed the 39-year sentences of two gendarmerie intelligence officers who were caught at the scene of the bombing.
“Şemdinli is the milestone in devilish actions by paramilitary forces,” he said, stressing that he considered the killing of a Catholic priest in Trabzon in 2006, the murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink by an ultranationalist youth in January 2007 and the brutal attack in Malatya as further acts in the same vein.
“Ergenekon is the tip of even the tip of the iceberg,” he said, referring to an operation against Ergenekon, a shadowy and illegal crime organization, some of whose members were arrested in a recent police crackdown.
Over the weekend, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that some circles within the state were had been disturbed by the operation against Ergenekon.
However Cengiz, who says he saw positive moves in the field of democratization by the government until one or two years ago, said the government cannot play “the aggrieved or disadvantaged party” in regard to this issue anymore.
“There is still room for hope; this opportunity to eliminate the so-called deep state has not been missed yet. But unfortunately I cannot see any governmental will to do so. Without having this issue resolved, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government will never be able to wield power, although being elected to power with a majority vote. There is an illness and this illness will also catch hold and [only] let this government go if it remains inactive.”
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan once said that the AK Party knew well the value of rights and freedoms, referring to Erdoğan’s imprisonment in 1999 for reciting a poem at a public rally in Siirt that was determined to have violated Article 312 of the penal code then in force.
Following being charged and ahead of his imprisonment, Erdoğan had called Cengiz and the two had a lengthy meeting in İstanbul upon the now-prime minister’s request. At that time, Erdoğan listened to Cengiz’s professional advice and briefings concerning international law and his case. Hopefully, Erdoğan will again give ear to Cengiz’s views this time, both as a man of law and simply as a citizen.
EMİNE KART ANKARA Today’s Zaman