Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has issued a presidential pardon for Mehmet Emin Alpsoy, who was serving a life sentence without parole for torture and murder as part of the fundamentalist Hizbullah.
Alpsoy headed the fundamentalist group’s military wing, and faced the death sentence in 2000 for his involvement in extrajudicial killings. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole when Turkey removed the death penalty.
The Hizbullah convict was charged with the torture and murder of three people in Turkey’s capital Ankara. The bodies of the victims were discovered buried in his brother’s basement. His brother said he had given keys to his house to Alpsoy, and denied any knowledge of criminal activity.
Erdoğan cited a report by the Forensic Medicine Institute and a circular from the Justice Ministry in his pardon on the grounds that Alpsoy was too old to remain in prison. The appeal for Alpsoy’s release came from the Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR), reportedly affiliated with the Hezbollah and currently allied with Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) for Turkey’s crucial elections on 14 May.
Alpsoy’s son Şeyhmus Alpsoy is also behind bars, awaiting the result of another appeal by HÜDA-PAR, for his release on health grounds.
The extremist Sunni group Hizbullah, (not to be confused with the Shi-ite Lebanese Hezbollah), was active in the 1990s in Turkey’s southeast, targeting people they believed to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and civilians they deemed “immoral”, including those who would drink or wear short skirts.
In February 1992, journalist Halit Güngen published a dossier on how Hizbullah militants received training at riot police headquarters. Two days later, Güngen was murdered. Another journalist who wrote about the terrorist organisation’s ties with the state, Namık Tarancı, was also murdered in November of the same year.
At the time, then Culture Minister Fikri Sağlar told the media that the Turkish army had made a decision in 1985 to grow and fund the group, as part of covert counterguerilla operations.
Hizbullah was reportedly responsible for many extrajudicial killings in the Kurdish-majority regions in the 1990s, at the height of Turkey’s war with the PKK.
Prominent Muslim feminist Konca Kuriş, who campaigned against a “dogmatic” interpretation of the Muslim holy book, was discovered in a basement that belonged to the Hizbullah in 2000, hogtied and tortured to death, more than a year after her disappearance in central Konya province.
The Human Rights Association (İHD) published a statement in January 2000 that at least 1,964 people had lost their lives in politically motivated extrajudicial killings. “Eighty per cent of these murders were committed in the southeast region,” the İHD said at the time.
Estimates by various civil society organisations put the number of murders at much higher 17,000 people. The victims include Savaş Buldan, husband of prominent Kurdish politician Pervin Buldan, who currently co-chairs the second-largest opposition bloc in the country, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Erdoğan pardoned three more men on the same day as Aksoy. Former Lt. Gen. Çetin Saner, who had been sentenced to life in prison for attempting to overthrow the government by force, was also pardoned on grounds of his age, while Nihat İliman, serving 25 years for first degree murder, and Sedat Çelik, serving 12 years for drug trafficking, were pardoned on the grounds of “disability”.