Devrimci Yol

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AI Index: EUR 44/47/88

27 June 1988


Although martial law was lifted on 19 July 1987 in the four remaining provinces out of 67 in Turkey, trials at military courts involving hundreds of civilian defendants continued in May 1988. According to figures published by the Ministry of Justice on 6 April 1988, 5,309 civilians were still being tried by military courts, with 1,392 of them held in pre-trial detention.

One of these trials is being conducted at Ankara Military Court against 723 alleged members of an illegal organization called Devrimci Yol (Dev-Yol = Revolutionary Path). Dev-Yol was a movement rather than a tightly structured organization, with many supporters in trade unions and other professional institutions. It had no formal membership and gathered its supporters among people sharing the views expressed in a journal under the same name. Until the military coup in September 1980 this journal was legal like many other political publications. The journal and supporters of Dev-Yol were not opposed to violence, but tried to put into practice a defence policy centred around the idea of 'committees of resistance', which were to counter attacks against the population by right-wing militants known as the 'Grey Wolves'.

Most of the defendants were detained at the end of 1980 and the beginning of 1981. Following the military coup of September 1980, the period of incommunicado detention by the police was increased between November 1980 and September 1981 to 90 days (it is currently 15 days). Almost all defendants in the Ankara Dev-Yol trial were severely tortured during interrogation by the police and in their testimonies indicated the existence of a special torture centre in Ankara, known as DAL (Devlet Arastirma Laburatuvari = State Research Laboratory).

At the beginning of February 1981 Recep Ergun, Martial Law Commander for the Ankara region, announced that "the central committee of Devrimci Yol has been apprehended and the traitors are expecting the penalty they deserve". On 26 February 1982 the military prosecutor presented the 1,319 page indictment to Ankara Military Court, supported by 204 files of written evidence, which were transported to court in a lorry.

However, the trial did not open until 18 October 1982. Initially it involved 547 defendants, 418 of whom were in pre-trial detention. Death sentences were demanded for 186 of them. Some of the defendants did not appear at the opening hearing because the judges were not aware that these defendants were held in a civilian prison, not in Mamak Military Prison where the majority of the defendants were imprisoned.

Severe torture allegations

Following the reading of the indictment the defendants were to start giving their testimonies on 6 December 1982. However, the defence lawyers submitted an application demanding the suspension of the trial, arguing that their clients had not only been tortured during their initial interrogation, but that many of them had been taken back to the police for further interrogation after having been committed to prison. The lawyers argued that the evidence obtained under such circumstances could not serve as evidence and asked for a new indictment to be written. Ankara Military Court rejected the demand by the lawyers.

Defendant No. 1, Oguzhan Müftüoglu, started his testimony during this hearing. He asked for permission to sit because of severe pain in his waist. He pointed out that his initial police statement of 17 pages had been destroyed and that the subsequent police statement had been dictated by the police. On 13 December 1982 defendant No. 2, Ali Alfatli, gave his testimony. He said:

"I was detained on 16 February 1981 (all other alleged members of the central committee had been detained previously). At the police station I was stripped naked and hosed with highly pressurized water. In addition, I was suspended from the ceiling and I was given electric shocks to various parts of my body. They accused me of being responsible for a certain area and claimed that I must have killed at least three to four people. .. The torture continued even after my statement had been written down. Kemal Yazicioglu was one of the main torturers. I saw him. When I was hosed with water my blindfold slipped. I know Kemal Yazicioglu from the time when I was a student. He had tortured me before. It is known that he belongs to the MHP [Nationalist Action Party, extreme right-wing)... This treatment continued in prison. In prison I (was interrogated under beatings and blindfolded. Mehmet Ali Yilmaz is a witness to this."

There is no indication that this and similar testimonies were seriously investigated and no prosecution was brought against the alleged torturers except in one case which resulted in an acquittal. On 17 December 1982 another defendant, Ali Baspinar, said in court that he had been tortured. When on 20 December 1982 Akin Dirik mentioned his treatment by the police, presiding Judge Ekrem Çelenk reacted with the words: "Right- and left-wing people always talk about torture. This here is not the place to prosecute torture."

The next defendant, Melih Pekdemir, again raised the question of the validity of statements extracted under torture, during the hearing of 22 December 1982. He pointed out that under the current prison conditions he had not been able to prepare his defence and continued:

"for two years I have been held in isolation. In a cell of 4 square metres containing two beds four prisoners are held for 24 hours a day. Only when someone gets up, is another able to lie down."

In particular, the seven alleged members of the central committee (Oguzhan Müftüoglu, Nasuh Mitap, Melih Pekdemir, Ali Alfatli, Mehmet Ali Yilmaz, Ali Baspinar and Akin Derik) were held under these conditions at Mamak Military Prison for more than six years. Only at the beginning of 1987 were they transferred to large communal wards and taken out for fresh air. Mamak Military Prison has been one of the prisons from which routine beatings have been reported since the military coup of September 1980.

The effects of torture on the fairness of trials have become most obvious in this trial where different groups of people have been charged with the same offence, but under differing descriptions of the circumstances. There are at least two instances in the Ankara Dev-Yol trial in which two groups of defendants are charged with a particular killing, described in two differing versions which are based on different statements taken from defendants by the police. The killing of Ali Özaydin in Ankara is alleged to have been carried out by Atilla Kilic and two friends, but is also alleged to have been carried out by Zeynel Abidin Çayir and two of his friends, all defendants in the Ankara Dev-Yol trial.

For at least eight killings (out of some 90 by the end of the trial) differing versions were given based on defendants' statements taken by the police. On 8 May 1988 the weekly journal 2000e Dogru reported that of some 400 actions, the subject of this trial, 103 with differing descriptions had been attributed to several defendants.

At one stage Judge Ekrem Çelenk felt obliged to voice his opposition to torture, having heard so many allegations. Defendant No. 152, Ayse Gülay Özdemir, testified on 13 June 1983 and her final statement was:

"Either the statements taken by the police are not used or torture is legitimate."

Judge Çelenk replied: "Torture is not legitimate. It does not exist within the law. No civilized person can advocate it." Then he tried to put an end to the allegations of torture.

Referring to Article 380 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Article 143/5 of the Military Criminal Procedure Code the court ruled on 29 June 1983 that anything happening to the defendants outside the court room was not the business of the court. During this hearing defendant Sabahat Jale Artun had applied for a medical examination alleging that she had been ill-treated on the way to court.

In the meantime the number of defendants in this trial was increased by combining smaller trials against further alleged members of Dev-Yol in Ankara. At the beginning of 1984 the number of defendants had exceeded 700 and the number of death sentences demanded had increased to 213.

Prosecutor's final pleeding

The military prosecutor started his summing-up at the end of 1987. It took him 43 days to read. Finishing his summing-up on 4 May 1988, he demanded death sentences for 74 out of 723 defendants, prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for 13 defendants, of eight to 12 years for three defendants, five to 15 years for 136, five to 10 years for 198, three to five years for 68, and acquittal for 172 defendants. He recommended that the cases of the remaining defendants should either be dropped (some of them had died in custody), separated or taken to another court. Following a court hearing on 1 June the trial was adjourned to 17 June 1988. However, it is not expected that the main defence will start before July-August 1988, and a verdict may be reached only towards the end of the year.

The military prosecutor reportedly argued in his final speech that statements taken from defendants by the police should be used as evidence, in particular if they contradicted later statements by the defendants. Statements extracted under torture could, therefore, become the dominant evidence in the trial. In an article in the weekly journal 2000e Dogru, defendant Oguzhan Müftüoglu, himself a lawyer, wrote on 8 May 1988 that such proceedings, frequently witnessed in military courts in the 1980s, were in contravention of Article 15 of the UN Convention Against Torture And Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. ratified by Turkey in April 1988. Article 15 prohibits the use as evidence of statements extracted under torture. In addition, Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution of 1982 provides that international provisions once ratified are binding on national law.

Expected Sentences

Current practices at military courts in Turkey give an indication of the verdict that might be expected. A comparison with similar trials demonstrates how other military courts have dealt with allegations of torture and to what extent even death sentences were based on statements extracted under torture.

In 1982 a trial "against 212 alleged members of Dev-Yol started at Erzincan Military Court. They were charged with activities in the area of Giresun. The military prosecutor initially demanded death sentences for 22 defendants, among them the alleged leader Ersin Ergün Keles.

On 24 January 1984, 16 defendants were sentenced to death, including Ersin Ergün Keles, under the provisions of Article 146/1 of the Turkish Penal Code for an "attempt to overthrow the constitutional order by force". Eight of the death sentences were commuted to terms of imprisonment. Of the remaining eight death sentences, three were confirmed in June 1986 by the Military Appeal Court and five were quashed following a ruling that investigation by the court of first instance had been insufficient. Ersin Ergün Keles was among these five defendants who had to be retried and on 9 May 1988 the court changed the initial verdict to life imprisonment for him and three others. The fifth, Recep Hisar, was again sentenced to death.

At the court hearing on 25 October 1982 Ersin Ergün Keles made the following statement:

"I was arrested in Samsun in the firs week of July 1981. First I was taken to the military regiment in Samsun. At the garrison entrance they blindfolded me. I assume from the smell that I was taken to the storage depot for cleansing materials. That day I was beaten. Later I was taken to a place 50 or 60 metres away, where the torture took place. Here they applied falaka, electric shocks and I was put into an iron cage. I remained blindfolded.

Some time later they took me to Trabzon Police Headquarters. There I was beaten on my knees, on the joints of my arms and on my head. Later taken back to Samsun and they continued with the torture. Whenever I wanted to stretch out and sleep in my cell of iron bars they beat me with truncheons and other things to keep me awake. This lasted for 20 to 25 days. During this time they did not remove the blindfold. Later I was taken to Trabzon Boztepe Detention House and from there to Trabzon Military Hospital. The torture traces were obvious, but the doctor in the hospital said that although he could provide medicine for my treatment he could not report it. Although I reminded him of his Hippocratic Oath he did not certify the traces of torture and violence."

During the same hearing Ersin Ergün Keles explained how aggression from the extreme right had increased in the 1970s and how he, like many others, had tried to defend himself against it. He said that he had not been in possession of a weapon, but said that arms had been a necessity for self-defence against the attacks. He admitted having read the journal Devrimci Yol and having shared its views on anti-fascism. "But", he said "I do not know an organization Dev-Yol and I have not participated in it."

On 12 November 1982 other defendants in the Giresun Dev-Yol trial made further allegations of torture. Temel Kerimoglu, who like Ersin Ergün Keles initially had been sentenced to death, said that he had been taken to the military prosecutor's office on 15 August 1981. Without questioning hirn the prosecutor had written down his testimony. Having raised allegations of torture Temel Kerimoglu had been taken to Giresun Health Centre but according to his own account he had to wait in the van outside and did not know the contents of the medical report issued on his behalf.

Fahrettin Demiral, whose death sentence was commuted to 16 years and eight months' imprisonment because he was a minor, said on 12 November 1982 in court:

"I was detained by Giresun Police and tortured in the way the other defendants have described in detail. Whenever I regained consciousness they continued. Finally I said that I had fired at the coffee shop. This time they said, 'You were only 15 years old then, how could you shoot at it?' I asked them why in that case they were torturing me. They wanted me to accuse Osman Baran Can, Tarik Uygun, Zeki Subasi, lbrahim Kiranli and Hikmet Üzer... Finally I signed a statement in accordance with the scenario they had prepared and even added some of my own words to make it look more credible in order to escape torture. I wrote a four-page hand-written statement and the torture stopped."

Of the defendants implicated by Fahrettin Demiral, Osman Baran Can, Tarik Uygun and Hikmet Üzer were sentenced to death (commuted to life imprisonment after the retrial). The death sentence for Ibrahim Kiranli was commuted to life imprisonment at the end of the first trial.

In the detailed written verdict by Erzincan Military Court No. 2, dated 24 January 1984, the judges stated that the allegations of torture were all unfounded (pages 169 to 177). The judges concluded that none of the defendants could have been tortured, because there was no evidence in the medical reports; investigations into allegations of torture had all resulted in either dropping of charges or acquitting alleged torturers.

According to the court's verdict anyone, if tortured, would sign a statement prepared by the police following a certain scenario, and there would be no contradictions in those statements. Therefore, the fact that even defendants who did not make any confessions at the police station made allegations of torture and the fact that many statements included contradictions was, in the eyes of the judges, further proof that nobody had been tortured.

The explanation of the court reflected the official view that the large number of allegations of torture raised by political defendants after the military coup had only one purpose, namely to discredit the Turkish State. The conclusion of Erzincan Military Court was:

"A number of organizations, founded in support of this organization, have made such allegations and raised a clamour not only inside but also outside Turkey," (page 170)


In a report issued on 3 October 1986 entitled Unfair Trial of Political Prisoners in Turkey (AI Index: EUR 44/22/86) Amnesty International concluded that more than 48,000 political prisoners tried by military courts since the first declaration of martial law in December 1978 had been sentenced to imprisonment or the death penalty after an unfair trial. This conclusion was particularly based on international standards such as Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a State Party. The report found that

a) military courts are not independent from the executive authorities, either in law or in practice;

b) lawyers defending political prisoners have been harassed and impeded in many ways, in particular by insufficient access to their clients and the denial of private conversations;

c) detainees charged with political offences have been subjected to excessively long trials and periods of pre-trial detention, amounting to more than five years in many cases; and

d) military courts trying political prisoners have repeatedly failed to investigate allegations by defendants that statements had been extracted under torture.

The Ankara and Giresun Dev-Yol trials suffer from the same deficiencies as those cited above. In addition, trials at military courts, including both Dev-Yol trials, may be in violation of the basic principle of equality be fore the law.

Under current legislation in Turkey two people charged with the same offence may be tried by two different types of courts and, on conviction, be sentenced to different sentences. Anyone suspected of a political offence committed between December 1978 and May 1984 and detained before martial law was lifted, has to be tried by a military court. Article 17/1 of Martial Law Act 1402, applicable in military courts, provides for a mandatory increase by at least one third of prison sentences and fines for offences committed after the declaration of martial law. Military courts have as a rule increased the sentences of political defendants by 50%.

If the person has been detained after martial law was lifted, even for the same political offence committed during the same period, s/he has to be tried by a civilian court and, on conviction, would receive a lesser sentence for the same offence than the person convicted by a military court.