In spite of a wealth of compelling contrary evidence, Turkey’s Court of Cassation recently upheld the life sentence of a Kurdish man convicted as a juvenile for committing murder during the 2014 ‘Kobane protests’. At the age of 14 Mazlum İçli was accused of killing 17-year-old Yasin Börü and three other people during widespread anti-government street protests that had erupted in Turkey’s Diyarbakır (Amed) and other Kurdish-majority cities.
Video footage, phone signals and eyewitness accounts prove that İçli was attending a wedding 140 kilometres away from where the victims died on the day of the incident.
We talked to Mazlum İçli’s legal representative, Mahsuni Karaman, to explore the course of the trial from inception to the present day, highlighting irregularities, the court’s stunning disregard for substantial evidence, and the underlying political motivations driving the case.
We understand that Mazlum İçli was initially arrested after the incident, later released and then re-arrested in 2018. What information about this process of arrest, release and re-arrest can you give us? For example, what was the reason for his release, and when was the warrant for his re-arrest issued?
Mazlum was arrested on 8 December 2014. He was released on 2 September 2015 during the trial. The reason for his release was that he was considered likely to be acquitted. So much so that even the prosecution, in its main submission, called for Mazlum’s acquittal. However, on 24 April 2017, the court sentenced 24 people, including Mazlum, to imprisonment, and along with this decision, a new arrest warrant was issued for Mazlum. As you mentioned, he was recaptured and returned to prison in 2018. Of course, Mazlum appealed against this decision, and the prosecutor also appealed on Mazlum’s behalf (arguing that he should be acquitted).
There were 41 defendants on trial in the case, six of whom were under the age of 18 at the time of the incident. What decisions were made regarding the other juvenile defendants? How many people were sentenced to life imprisonment in the case?
There were 24 convictions. As far as I know, there were seven children among the defendants, including Mazlum. With the exception of one, the fate of the others is the same as that of Mazlum. They all received similar sentences. The 24 defendants received five aggravated life sentences for acts against the indivisible integrity of the state and four for murder, as well as an 18-year sentence for attempted murder.
With regard to the children, each aggravated life sentence was converted to 22 years imprisonment due to statutory age reductions. So each child received a total of 122 years in prison, five times 22 years for aggravated life imprisonment and 12 years for attempted murder. (I won’t even mention the two years and eight months for propaganda).
Dozens of people were killed during the events in Kobane; apart from this case, have there been any other trials concerning the victims?
As you said, all we can say is that “dozens of people were killed”. Unfortunately, even the exact number is not known. While politicians are giving speeches in public, claiming 52 deaths, some sources say 42 to 45 deaths. In the indictment of the Kobane conspiracy case, which was opened against HDP politicians, the death toll seems to be 37. Apart from this manipulated case centred on Yasin Börü, there are no other cases that have been opened and are known to the public. This fact alone shows that the state is not really interested in investigating these deaths and punishing the perpetrators. Throughout the trial, we all witness that these deaths and the case have been used as a tool to defame and eliminate the HDP and Kurdish politicians.
Mazlum’s innocence has been proven by telephone signals, video recordings and testimonies. Moreover, the anonymous witness who testified against him later withdrew his testimony, stating that it had been given under pressure. Under these circumstances, how can the Court of Cassation uphold the sentence? What is the legal basis for this verdict? Isn’t the ‘right to reasoned decision’ a fundamental aspect of the right to a fair trial?
There is no possible legal basis for this decision. In fact, this is precisely the reason for the Court of Cassation’s approval without reasoning. Imagine if the Court of Cassation had evaluated the evidence; how would they negate the footage showing Mazlum’s presence at the wedding? How would they ignore the phone signal records showing that Mazlum was at the same wedding? Or how would they ignore statements such as “Mazlum was at my wedding on 7 October 2014” by the groom, M.B., and the taxi driver’s statement “I took Mazlum and his father to the wedding venue”?
The right to a reasoned decision is not only about the right of the parties to know the reasons for the decision that affects them. Reasoning also ensures public scrutiny of judgements and legitimises the decision. The debate about the legitimacy of this decision and its public condemnation is due to this reason. Had the judiciary conducted a proper evaluation of the evidence against Mazlum, the inevitable conclusion would have been his innocence. However, this option was not chosen for political reasons.
One of the defendants was found to have been in military service at the time. Were there any other such inconsistencies during the investigation? How many of those convicted were imprisoned on the basis of the testimony of the secret witness who later retracted his testimony?
It emerged that one of the persons mentioned in S.D.’s identification and statement was in military service at the time and another was in prison. The persons identified as being in military service or in prison were acquitted. However, the same person’s (S.D.’s) identification and statement were used to convict Mazlum. In fact, during the trial, the person identified as S.D. stated, “I didn’t identify anyone as the perpetrator. They showed me people from my neighbourhood and I mentioned the ones I recognised”. This person later refused to confirm his earlier statements.
You mentioned that these sentences are related to the Kobane trial. Can you explain this?
As I said before, I had said that the HDP and Kurdish politics were both defamed and purged by the killing of Yasin Börü and his friends. It’s widely known and seen that during every election period there were intensive campaigns based on this. But it doesn’t stop there. In the Kobane conspiracy case, HDP politicians are on trial for instigating these murders. Therefore, there must be individuals who actually committed these murders in order for these individuals to be convicted of incitement. It’s a simple and confusing narrative. That is why the Yasin Börü case needs a perpetrator. Mazlum’s acquittal would have cast doubt on the convictions in this case and disrupted the narrative. The convictions are based on the secret witness and the identification of the S.D. mentioned above.
So what legal avenues will be pursued from now on to secure Mazlum İçli’s freedom?
As a result of the partial upholding, I held submitted an individual application to the Constitutional Court in 2020. In 2021, following our application for a review, the court, after examining the evidence collected, ordered the suspension of Mazlum’s execution and his release. However, political forces intervened and postponed this decision to the next court on the same day. On the basis of this particular decision, I made a second individual application to the Constitutional Court. Finally, I made a third individual application in response to this latest confirmation decision by the Court of Cassation. Apart from the fact that the Constitutional Court will examine these three applications as soon as possible, either separately or together, there is unfortunately no immediate solution to the lack of a judicial remedy.
Prominent human rights defender Eren Keskin recently announced that İHD (Human Rights Association) will launch a petition for Mazlum İçli. Could you tell us something about the purpose of this petition?
This is a very valuable effort and support. I would like to thank them on behalf of Mazlum and his family. Of course I am in contact with Mrs Eren. There is considerable public sensitivity about what has happened to Mazlum. It is disturbing to the public conscience to see a child convicted without any evidence. No person, position or authority can insist on something that the public conscience rejects. Therefore, I believe that these efforts are important to urge the Constitutional Court to review the applications as soon as possible. I particularly request everyone to support this campaign.
Finally, how are the conditions, morale and health of Mazlum İçli, who has been in prison since the age of 14?
Mazlum is being held in Silivri prison. Everyone knows that prison conditions in Turkey are not favourable. But Mazlum is a very mature and resilient young man. I have never seen him complain during his time in prison since he was a child. On the contrary, whenever our morale and motivation dropped during the trial, he was the one who lifted our spirits. Even during his visits to his family, he is the one who comforts them. Of course, he is the one who knows best that he is innocent. Although this fact upsets him, I sense that he tries not to show it. He knows why he was convicted and the purpose behind it, so he sees the support he can get from the public as vital.