Mazlum İçli was 14 years old when he was arrested for the murder of Yasin Börü, during the street protests that form the main body of accusations against dozens of Kurdish politicians in 2014. Now at 23, against the expectations of his family and despite exculpatory evidence, Turkey’s Court of Cassation has upheld the life sentence against him for the murder of four people.
“They punish us because we are Kurdish children,” İçli told his mother after the ruling.
Mother Aynur İçli is resentful that her son spent nine years behind bars, when the defence submitted evidence that İçli was 140 km away at the time of the crimes he was convicted of. “They took away Mazlum’s childhood,” she told Mezopotamya Agency. “He was in middle school. They took his life away.”
The then-teenager spent 1.5 years in solitary confinement in a prison in Ankara, and another six months in Istanbul. He is currently in the Silivri prison in the western suburbs of Istanbul, infamous for housing Turkey’s political prisoners.
The murders İçli is accused of were committed while he was in a different city, documented by witness testimony, videos and data from cell phone towers. The family’s men had a wedding band, and young Mazlum was playing drums for his father and uncle.
“Even the groom testified, that my child stayed with them for three days for the wedding,” the grieving mother said. “All of our evidence was rejected. The court, the judges, I call on all of them to re-open the file and release my son.”
“Must all Kurds be tortured so?” she asked. From their hometown of Diyarbakır (Amed), the journey to Silivri takes almost a full 24 hours of driving, with 1,500 km between the two. “I can’t always go, I have a heart condition,” Aynur İçli said.
“That is the wedding season, sometimes bands leave home and not come back for 40 days,” Mazlum’s brother Zülfü Şiyar said. “Mazlum is not guilty, the prosecutor and the judge both know he is not guilty. So does the Court of Cassation. But they upheld the sentence without looking at the file.”
“They need a culprit here so they can convict [Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş] and his colleagues of incitement,” the family’s lawyer Mahsuni Karaman said.
Former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairs Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ are facing charges of terrorism and incitement to violence, along with 106 other prominent members of their party including MPs and mayors, over the 2014 protests against an Islamic State (ISIS) siege of the Syrian Kurdish town Kobane.
At least 46 people lost their lives in the street protests often dubbed the 6-8 October Incidents, NGOs say, while officials have only recognised 37 of the deaths. Demirtaş maintains most of the deceased were HDP members, and were attacked by fundamentalist groups aided by the police.
Forty one people faced trial for the death of four among the 37 recognised deaths, and 25 of them –including minors– have received sentences of up to life in prison.
Yasin Börü was 17 years old when he was killed in the protests. He was reportedly not participating in the protests, instead passing out meat for the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha as part of a group close to the radical Islamist Free Cause Party (HÜDAPAR).
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government officials have cited Börü in campaign speeches often, making the boy into a symbol in the targeting of the HDP. The case against HDP members plays a pivotal role in the bigger case against the party at the Constitutional Court to shut it down.
HDP was the second largest opposition bloc in Turkey’s parliament at the time, a position now held by the Green Left Party (YSP), under which HDP candidates were fielded. If the HDP is shut down, more than 680 party officials will be banned from holding office, and possibly face prison time.