The hashtag #MehmetEminÖzkanıSerbestBırakın (release Mehmet Emin Özkan) was launched yesterday on Twitter calling for the release of Turkey’s latest victim of injustice, Mehmet Emin Özkan who has been imprisoned for 25 years for a crime he did not commit. The hashtag very quickly became a trending topic on Twitter.
Özkan has been locked up Turkish prisons for 25 years. The next hearing in his retrial will be held on 15 September coinciding with new evidence coming to light as to his innocence. He has been kept in Diyarbakir D Type Closed Prison and suffering from numerous physical ailments such as heart, kidney and intestine disorders. He has had 5 heart attacks and 4 bouts of angina since his false imprisonment and he is now hardly able to meet any of his own personal hygiene needs.
The 83 year old prisoner was last seen in news reports in a video being taken to hospital in June. In the video, he is seen shuffling along in between armed soldiers with difficulty while still being held in handcuffs.
Despite all the applications from lawyers, human rights organisations and his family for his release, the pro government’s Forensic Medicine Institute has repeatedly written reports that Özkan can “remain in prison” despite his serious illnesses.
The lastest report was given on the 27th of June when he was referred to the Forensic Medicine Institute in Istanbul for a new medical check to evaluate his health status and whether he was “eligible” for release.
Medya News has previously reported that during the medical check Özkan was made to travel over 3,000 kms between Diyarbakır (Amed), Elazığ (Elezîz) and Istanbul, when he was given no food on his transfer to a hospital in Elazığ.
Despite the evidence and the video clearly showing the serious health condition of Özkan, the board only commented on Özkan’s “mental health” rather than his physical ailments and filed a report that suggested, “he is fit to stay in prison”.
The Lice Massacre 22nd October 1993
On 22 October, 1993, following the assassination of a Turkish Brigadier General called Bahtiyar Aydin, the Turkish army organised a pre-planned attack on the town of Lice (pronounced Leejay) where dozens of people were brutally murdered and almost all the Kurdish residents of the town’s houses and shops were burned down and/or gutted.
Özkan was sentenced for life in prison after being tried for the killing of Bahtiyar in Lice. The only evidence in his conviction was the testimony of two confessors who later withdrew their statements. He was interrogated in Turkish although he could not speak Turkish and his only language was Kurdish.
Özkan migrated to Adana after the Lice massacre due to the burning of his village and state oppression against the Kurds, initially he was arrested for allegedly “helping the organisation”. Two alleged Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) members testified that they saw Özkan with a PKK group they claimed to have participated in the Lice massacre (It is now widely accepted that it was the Turkish army not the PKK that systematically destroyed the town of Lice.) Later these two people declared that they had given their testimony under torture. However, in 1994, the Konya State Security Court (DGM) sentenced Ozkan to life imprisonment for “disturbing the unity and integrity of the state” without even preparing an indictment on the new charge.
The Supreme Court overturned the decision of Konya DGM due to the punishment without indictment. Upon this decision, Konya DGM sentenced Özkan to the same sentence with a half-page indictment. The Supreme Court, which had previously overturned Ozkan’s case upheld the sentence handed down by the half-page indictment this time.
Özkan was retried at the 7th Criminal Court of Adana after new regulations were made after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that trials in these courts were “contrary to the right to a fair trial” due to the presence of military members in the DGM delegations. The sentence of life imprisonment was supposed to be lifted due to the retrial, but the request for release by the lawyers has been continuously denied.
Ozkan’s case has been undergoing a retrial for nearly eight years now, with the next hearing due on 15 September.
In a case, filed in 2013 and 20 years after the Lice massacre, and one day before a statue of limitations ran out relating to the case, the prosecutor’s office stated that retired Colonel Ashraf Hatipoglu, commander of the Diyarbakir Gendarmerie Regiment, was responsible for the killing of Brigadier General Bahtiyar Aydin.
However, the trial ended on 8 December, 2018, with the acquittal of the now retired Colonel Ashraf Hatipoglu, who was the only defendant.
While the court ruled that Hatipoglu was not responsible for the killing, it did not answer the question of who did kill 16 people. The indictment, in this case, stated that the Tukish soldiers, not the PKK, was responsible for the Lice massacre. The indictment found that “no information was found that Mehmet Emin Özkan participated in this action.” but Ozkan is still behind bars.
Two days ago on 30 August 2021, Yeni Yasam Newspaper published the headline “Bahtiyar Aydin was shot by JITEM and Kanas (Dragunov sniper rifle) was burnt and melted.”
In the article, a former intelligence officer claimed that Brigadier General Bahtiyar Aydin was killed by the secret army unit of the Turkish army, JİTEM, by a single bullet with a Kanas (Russian sniper rifle) in the Lice Public Security Company Command building, the assassination weapon was burned, and evidence was destroyed. The report also added that an ex Chief of the General Staff, İlker Başbuğ also had connections to the assassination of Bahtiyar Aydın.”
With all this evidence and confessions it would be under normal circumstances be expected for Ozkan to be released during his next hearing of his retrial. His Attorney Serdar Çelebi, spoke to MA after these confessions were published at Yeni Yasam about the Lice massacre and the assassination of Brigadier General Bahtiyar Aydin .
“It has always been a matter of public discussion about who burned the town of Lice, who perpetrated that massacre and how. Local people would repeatedly tell us all the time, we’ve heard it a lot. The allegations that Lice was burned by the dark military forces within the state, not by any other group. But there has never been an active investigation carried out.” he said.
He recalled that 15 years after, what is now termed, ‘The Lice Massacre’, the case was re-examined by the Diyarbakir Public Prosecutor’s Office
“That investigation was aimed at finding the real perpetrators. As a result of that investigation, an indictment was prepared against two Turkish soldiers. Of course, with the opening of that case, it was confirmed and determined that Ozkan was not involved in the Lice massacre. The indictment prepared by the public prosecutor even stated that Ozkan was not involved in this incident.”
Upon that case the lawyers applied for the release of their client now a victim of a gross miscarrige of justice.
“We then applied for a retrial and the court accepted our request. But Ozkan was never released. Despite all the evidence, we have been thinking about why he wasn’t released. They obviously want him to stay behind bars” he said.
“The Lice massacre is meant to be left in the dark. Since Ozkan was somehow punished by the dark forces of the state as the perpetrator of this incident, they want him to stay in prison and the real perpetrators to remain unpunished”