Turkish court wants scholar on Interpol list

International Red Notice could be issued for academic Pinar Selek who is accused of a 1998 bombing.

Some critics suggest that Pinar Selek was punished for her academic work on Kurdish issues in Turkey [AFP]
Some critics suggest that Pinar Selek was punished for her academic work on Kurdish issues in Turkey [AFP]

Istanbul, Turkey – Pinar Selek, a Turkish scholar who was sentenced to life imprisonment earlier this year for her alleged role in the 1998 Spice Bazaar blast in Istanbul, might soon be added to an international wanted list.

A criminal court in Istanbul has started to process an Interpol Red Notice, the organisation’s “closest instrument to an international arrest warrant,” for Selek, her lawyers, who have continuously appealed the case, told Al Jazeera.

Over the past 15 years, Selek, who was convicted in absentia on January 24, has been tried and acquitted three times of all charges against her.

Selek, who is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in political science at the University of Strasbourg in France, is accused of having a role in the blast that claimed seven lives and wounded dozens of people.

During the 1990s, Selek was researching Kurdish issues and conducting interviews as part of her research.

The court has taken the issue to the Ministry of Justice, but it is not yet clear whether the ministry itself had applied for the Interpol arrest alert, Selek’s father and lawyer Alp Selek told Al Jazeera.

“They will probably follow regular procedure and apply for [the Red Notice],” he said. “However, it is unlikely that Interpol would accept it. It rejected Turkey’s request for a Red Notice many times before. Besides, even if the notice is issued, France would not extradite Pinar to Turkey as it has supported her case from the beginning.”

Pinar Selek, speaking to Al Jazeera from Strasbourg, said that she does not believe that Turkey will go ahead with applying for the Red Notice.

“I feel more comfortable at this moment because now this issue has an international dimension, which is Interpol,” she said. “I am a political asylum seeker under protection of the Geneva Convention.”

Three acquittals

Durmus Tezcan, a professor of law at Istanbul Kultur University, told Al Jazeera that when a Red Notice is issued, a country must return the defendant if he or she is convicted of a “terror act”, but France may not return the defendant if it decides that the crime was political in nature.

“However, the definition of a ‘political crime’ has been narrowed with respect to a contract agreed on by the  European Council in 1977,” Tezcan said.

Interpol is not a politicised institution, he said, so the agency would issue a Red Notice only in cases that obviously aren’t political crimes.

The 1998 explosion took place in one of the city’s most popular and historic markets, the Spice Bazaar or Misir Carsisi in Turkish.

Pinar Selek, seen here in February [AFP/ Getty Images]

Pinar Selek was taken into custody and put on trial two days after the incident. At the time, she was not accused of a role in the attack, but of membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Two months later, Selek was charged with being an accomplice in the bomb explosion. The two trials were merged into one in 1999.

Selek, now 42, was acquitted of all charges in 2006, 2008 and again in 2011. Each time the prosecution appealed the ruling.

Although several forensic reports suggested that the blast was caused by a gas leak, the court on the last appeal ruled that it was caused by a bomb, and sentenced Selek to life imprisonment in January 2013.

“The court based its reasoning on testimony from Abdulmecit Ozturk, which was given to the police under torture, and without the assistance of a lawyer. He later disowned the testimony in court,” Selek’s lawyers said in a press release in March. 

When he was detained in 1998, Ozturk, who was the co-defendant, claimed that he and Selek planned the attack together.

However, he later testified in court that he did not know Selek in person, and that the “confession” was false, and made under torture.

In an interview with the Turkish newspaper Radikal in 2011, Ozturk reiterated that he had never met Selek and that he gave his testimony under torture.

Ozturk was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for being a member of an armed group, but he was acquitted of his role in the explosion, and the prosecution did not appeal his case as it did with Selek’s.

Part of the evidence leading to her March 2013 conviction was that Selek was a member of the PKK and worked in a managerial level within the organisation. It was also argued that Selek, who was using “Leyla” as a code name, headed the plan for the bomb attack in the bazaar. Additionally, according to a forensic report, bomb materials were found in her bag.

International reaction

Alp Selek said that in the past 15 years, the rule of law had been violated many times with regards to his daughter. He said Pinar Selek was severely tortured when she refused to name the people she had interviewed for her research on Kurdish issues.

I will not allow this trial to influence my life any more

Pinar Selek, Turkish scholar

She had also reportedly been prevented from contacting her lawyers while in detention between 1998 and 2000.

The case, which has drawn international reaction, has been taken to the European Court of Human Rights. Some critics suggest that Pinar Selek was punished for her academic work on Kurdish issues in Turkey.

According to Human Rights Watch, the case is “a travesty of justice”, and Scholars at Risk (SAR) stated that the charge of being a member of PKK stems only from Selek’s research and writing on Kurdish issues.

The University of Strasbourg maintains its confidence in Selek’s innocence.

On the other hand, relatives of victims who lost their lives in the 1998 explosion, also want the trial to be finalised.

In an interview with Ihlas News Agnecy in 2010, Mustafa Haki Karacan, whose child was killed in the explosion, said that 12 years is too long for the court to finalise its decision.

If Selek is really innocent as her supporters maintain, she should come back to Turkey to defend herself and prove it, Karacan said. 

“She should sue the court for damages if she is not guilty,” he said.

Turkey’s current ruling party, the AKP, was not in power at the time of Selek’s conviction 15 years ago and in general the country’s judiciary exists and acts independently from the executive branch of government. The Turkish government does not tend to comment or get involved in the matters of the judiciary other than under special circumstances.

When Al Jazeera contacted the Ministry of Justice on Monday, a representative said an information request regarding the status of the Red Notice had been received and it is currently being processed.The representative said the ministry could not provide a response prior to Al Jazeera’s publishing deadline.

As a member of the PEN Writers in Exile programme between 2009-2011, Selek continues her academic work. She has published many articles and books, including three fairytales.

“I will not allow this trial to influence my life any more,” she said. “If I do, I would be lost in it. I haven’t been this productive before. I write; I concentrate on my work. I am not alone. 

“There is big support for me out there. I am a lucky person.”

Source : Al Jazeera

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