Malatya murder case lawyer says prosecutor Öz’s removal ‘scandalous’

Erdal Doğan, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the Zirve murder case »»

Erdal Doğan, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the Zirve murder case of 2007 when three people who sold Christian literature were brutally killed, said that removal of the chief Ergenekon prosecutor from his post is scandalous as he has been dealing with murder cases.

“Öz had ordered the arrest of seven individuals, including military officers and a theology professor due to suspected links to the Zirve killings. In other words, when prosecutor Öz was taking steps to solve the bloodiest and most brutal acts of Ergenekon, he was stripped of his special prosecutorial duties,” he said, speaking to Today's Zaman for Monday Talk.

Around mid-March seven individuals, including military officers and a theologian, were arrested due to suspected links to the Zirve killings. The arrestees stand accused of having masterminded and instigated the murders as part of Ergenekon's plan to lay the groundwork for a military takeover. Ergenekon is a clandestine criminal network accused of working to topple the government.On March 30, police raided the homes and offices of several theology professors as part of the Ergenekon investigation into suspected links with 2007 Zirve Publishing House murders.

The raid was ordered by an İstanbul court at request of Zekeriya Öz, the chief prosecutor in the investigation into Ergenekon. Dozens of Ergenekon suspects, including businessmen, journalists and academics, are currently in prison on terror and coup charges as part of the Ergenekon case.

‘Öz had ordered the arrest of seven individuals, including military officers and a theology professor due to suspected links to the Zirve killings. In other words, when prosecutor Öz was taking steps to solve the bloodiest and most brutal acts of Ergenekon, he was stripped of his special prosecutorial duties. Unfortunately, this side of the story goes unnoticed because of a campaign to create a different perception about his removal’

The reassignment of Öz, the prosecutor who has overseen the investigation into Ergenekon from the start, has given a new twist to the ongoing trial. In 2007 there was an attempt to strip Öz of his special authority and promote him. However, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) hadn’t allowed that appointment. In 2010, there was talk of plans to reassign him to Tuzla, but this also failed to materialize. He said he wanted to conclude the investigation and remain in his post.

On April 18, 2007, Christians Necati Aydın (35), Uğur Yüksel and German national Tilmann Ekkehart Geske (46) were tied to their chairs, stabbed and tortured at the Zirve Publishing House in the southeastern Anatolian city of Malatya before their throats were slit. The publishing house they worked for printed Bibles and Christian literature. Nine men have been charged in connection with the murders.

Answering our questions, Doğan told us about the significance of recent events in the Malatya murder case in relation to Ergenekon.

Have you been surprised by the recent police search on March 30 of the homes of some theologians in seven provinces in relation to Ergenekon?

I haven’t been surprised to see their names since they are known to be involved in activities together with some of the Ergenekon defendants and JİTEM [illegal intelligence unit inside the gendarmerie] members. We have had suspicions about those people, so we were not surprised by the searches. All of them are known for their research and books on missionary activities in Turkey. In 2002-2008, they frequently appeared on various television shows talking about Christians, Kurds and Alevis, targeting them through racist remarks. Their statements and research papers have been full of hatred and animosity to create the perception that Protestants living in Turkey -– numbering only around 3,000-5,000 -- will dominate the country to make it Christian.

Since when they have been disseminating this propaganda?

First, Rahşan Ecevit [one of the founders of the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and widow of the late Bülent Ecevit, a former prime minister and longtime DSP leader] said in 1999 that “religion is going away.” In 2003, there was the National Security Council [MGK] report to the Prime Ministry on the issue of missionary activities. Missionary activities were seen as a “threat” in a 2002 MGK report, too. Gen. Tuncer Kılınç, who signed that MGK directive in 2003 as the secretary-general of the MGK, is now a defendant in the Ergenekon case. In November, there was a similar directive signed by the next MGK Secretary-General Gen. Şükrü Sarıışık, who is now a defendant in the Sledgehammer case.

How do you explain that? Why are Christians, who number only a few thousand in Turkey, seen as threatening for the country?

The reason for that goes back to 1915 when animosity was created against Armenians through the mentality of the Committee of Union and Progress [İttihat ve Terakki (CUP)]. Later, animosity and hatred toward all Christians were included in this mentality. In the ‘50s, the Sept. 6-7 events – a work of counter-guerilla activity according to the planners -- targeted minorities in Turkey. They were lynched and forced to emigrate. In recent years, in the 2000s, minorities have been targets again since the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] came to power because an “Islamist” party has been seen as a threat by the followers of the Union and Progress mentality. Their plan was to create the perception that the murders occurred because of the “Islamist” government even though they were planned and executed by some anti-AK Party forces. The desire was to create a virtual fear to prepare the groundwork for chaos and eventually for a military takeover that would look justified.

‘Ergenekon is connected to Malatya murders’

Would you talk about the connections between Ergenekon and the Malatya murders?

There are several connections. Recently a tape recording and statement of a secret witness caused Ergenekon prosecutors to start a wave of arrests. The secret witness, [known as] Deniz Uygar, who was a JİTEM aide active in anti-Christian campaigns, decided to scare away missionaries in Malatya. Uygar also says to prepare some youngsters for the murders, some Ergenekon suspects, like Sevgi Erenerol, gave seminars and spoke about missionary activity in Malatya. Another Ergenekon suspect, Ergun Poyraz, was also involved in anti-Christian campaigns. He was detained in July 2007 on suspicion of having links to the Association for the Union of Patriotic Forces [VKGB], a gang whose members include retired army officers. Documents unearthed in the Ergenekon investigation have shown that Poyraz wrote his controversial books with materials provided by JİTEM. In addition, links were identified between Col. Mehmet Ülger, who was serving as Malatya Provincial Gendarmerie Brigade commander in 2007, and Ergenekon suspect Doğu Perinçek. Moreover, writings found in Varol Bülent Aral’s notebook included names and telephone numbers of Ergenekon suspects Erenerol, Veli Küçük, Kemal Kerinçsiz and Muzaffer Tekin, and notes regarding Ergenekon’s actions. Malatya murder suspect Emre Günaydın had said that Aral, who was arrested in 2009 in connection with the Malatya murders, tried to provoke him against Christians.

Indeed, at the beginning of the investigation into the Zirve murders, there were various letters from informants showing some concrete links between the Ergenekon suspects and people who planned the murders at Zirve. Why did the prosecutors not take those into consideration earlier?

The Malatya prosecutor was afraid; he couldn’t take any action. In addition, there was not as much political will behind the case.

What is the significance of Malatya as the center of these brutal murders?

First Army Corps Commander Gen. Hasan Iğsız -- who has recently been accused of ordering the preparation of a military plot aimed at destroying the governing party and a faith-based civilian group -- was the Second Army Corps commander, which is based in Malatya, at the time of the Malatya murders. The court in Malatya had requested permission for a probe from the Second Army Corps Command due to serious allegations being directed at members of the military. However, no permission was given by the military.

‘Zekeriya Öz’s replacement should carry the case further’

What is your view regarding the reassignment of Zekeriya Öz, the prosecutor who has overseen the investigation into Ergenekon?

Erdal Doğan

He has been working as an independent lawyer in İstanbul for 12 years focusing on the issues of freedom of thought and expression, minority rights, torture, women’s human rights and children’s rights. He received his post-graduate degree in human rights from İstanbul Bilgi University in 2003-2005. Since 2001, he has been teaching classes on European law, criminal law, defense lawyers and rights of defendants at the İstanbul Bar Association. His books are “Hitit Hukuku-Belleklerdeki ‘Kayıp’” (Hittite Law “Lost” In Memory), 2008, and “Sanık Hakları ve Uygulamada Müdafilik” (Rights of Defendants and Defense Attorneyship), 2007.

This means that Öz was removed from the Ergenekon investigation, and it was made in the form of a promotion. It is not right to evaluate his removal in relation to the recent arrests of some journalists and the ban on the unpublished copy of a book written by one of those journalists who allegedly have links to the Ergenekon organization. The name of Öz was not initially in the HSYK [the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors] decree. Head of the 1st Chamber of the HSYK İbrahim Okur said that Öz’s name was put on the decree on March 30, the day Öz ordered house searches in the homes of some theology professors. Two weeks prior to that, Öz had ordered the arrests of seven individuals, including military officers and a theologian, due to suspected links to the Zirve killings. In other words, when prosecutor Öz was taking steps to solve the most brutal acts of Ergenekon, he was stripped of his special prosecutorial duties. Unfortunately, this side of the story goes unnoticed because of a campaign to create a different perception about the removal of Öz.

What kind of campaign is that, would you elaborate?

Removal of a prosecutor who has been dealing with a concrete case, like a murder case, is scandalous. It would indeed be hard to control reactions against this kind of a removal, and the people who removed Öz would be in a difficult position. The removal of Öz means interference into an active investigation; it is not justifiable; it is grave. But when the removal of Öz has been tied to some of his questionable actions, such as the arrest of some journalists and a ban on a journalist’s unpublished book, then his removal is somehow justified. We know that there has been great pressure on the prosecutors who have been investigating the links between the Ergenekon organization and the murders of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, priest Father Andrea Santoro and Zirve. Furthermore, some of the prosecutors and courts have been reluctant to reveal the people behind these murders. Prosecutor Öz had just started to untie a knot, and that is when he was removed from his position as special prosecutor.

Now Fikret Seçen has been appointed deputy chief prosecutor with the capacity to coordinate Ergenekon-related cases. Looking back on his record, what do you think he will do?

I hope his actions in appointing a special prosecutor for the Ergenekon case will carry the case further as there have been important steps regarding the Zirve murders. I did not see Seçen’s actions as being really successful when he was a prosecutor in the Dink case, even though he has been courageous when he was dealing with the Sledgehammer case. He must have studied the Ergenekon case well, and I hope he will be diligent in furthering the Zirve murders.

‘Ergenekon case harmed by book copies’ seizure’

As you know there has been a public uproar regarding the seizure of all copies of a book written by now-jailed journalist Ahmet Şık. Was that seizure lawful? And what would you say about the harm of that act, the seizure of the copies of the book, to the Ergenekon case?

It was not lawful; however, the Anti-Terror Law allows such actions in Turkey. There is an urgent need for a complete removal of this law. The only ban concerning freedom of expression should be in regards to racist and hate speech. I have doubts even about the concept of “close threat,” which was used in the universal law literature when limits to freedom of expression are concerned. Those recent actions regarding the draft book’s seizure have been a unique opportunity to be used by the supporters of the Ergenekon organization. You’ll see that supporters of Ergenekon will use those events against the case; they will try to make the case lose credibility. Important developments in the Ergenekon case seem to be overshadowed by the hunt for Şık’s book.

‘Cage indictment connected with Malatya murders’

Would you tell us about the Cage Operation Action Plan in relation to the Malatya murders?

In April 2010 an indictment regarding the Cage Operation Action Plan, a suspected Naval Forces Command plan targeting Turkey’s non-Muslim communities, was added to the case file on the 2007 Malatya murders. The Cage plan was retrieved from a CD seized in the office of retired Maj. Levent Bektaş, a suspect in the Ergenekon case. The CD exposed the group’s plans to assassinate prominent Turkish citizens who are non-Muslim figures and place the blame for the killings on the AK Party. The plan calls the killings of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, Catholic priest Father Andrea Santoro and three Christians in Malatya an “operation.” An antidemocratic group within the Naval Forces Command aimed to foment chaos in society with those killings. Father Andrea Santoro, Hrant Dink and the three Christians in Malatya were killed for the same purpose by Ergenekon. However, even if the cases were criminally solved, some deep-rooted problems will not be solved unless the racist and discriminative mentality in our education [system], judiciary, politics and media changes. Let’s remember that calling someone “Armenian” is still taken as a blasphemous word.

‘Çetin Doğan declared partial mobilization’

“There have been some attacks and even preparations for the murder of a Greek priest in İstanbul’s Fatih district. Just before his arrest last year, [retired Gen.] Çetin Doğan [former head of Turkey’s 1st Army and a major suspect in the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) probe] declared partial mobilization. It was an important declaration as there were 101 defendants, including serving and retired senior military commanders, charged with conspiring in 2003 to overthrow the government. Interestingly, there have been increasing threats to churches and priests. This could be part of a strategy before the June 12 general elections to discredit the government.”