TURKEY: Conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke at danger of reimprisonment

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Turkish conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke, who spent 2 1/2 years in prison from October 1996 until March 1999, and who won his case at the European Court of Human Rights in 2006, received a new order from the military prosecutors office of Eskisehir informing him that he is expected to present himself within 10 days of issue of that notice to the prosecutor in order to serve a sentence of 17 months and 15 days in respect of earlier convictions for refusing to undertake military service. Failure to do so would result in a warrant being issued for his arrest. The document in question had been issued on 14 June 2007, so that it is highly likely that presently there is an arrest warrant for Osman Murat Ülke, putting him at high risk of arrest and reimprisonment.

Osman Murat Ülke was the first Turkish conscientious objector to be imprisoned for refusing to perform military service. On 1 September 1995, he burned his military call-up papers during a press conference in the offices of the Izmir War Resisters Association (ISKD). During this conference, he made the following statement:

Good day. This press conference has not been organised by ISKD. I am personally responsible for this meeting.
As you know, the trial in the Ankara General Staff Military Court in which we were accused of "alienating people from military service" came to its conclusion on 29 August 29.
The Chairperson of the closed-down Istanbul SKD, Arif Hikmet Iyidogan, was sentenced to six months in prison, university student Gokhan Demirkiran to four months, Mehmet Sefa Fersal to two months. I have been acquitted. But, during the trial, and although it was not related to the matter of the trial, the judge asked if we had gone to military service. As I admitted I had not, I was taken to Cankaya Recruiting Office.
The Army, unable to overpower us through jurisprudence, now deems necessary to distance the war resisters from public opinion with such an act.
Before all I am not a draft evader, but a conscientious objector.
I neither think to escape nor to go to conscription. I have no reason to escape conscription, because I am in favour of people using their right not to be conscripted without having to hide.
According to the papers given by the Recruiting Office I am recognised as a conscript and it claimed that I should go to the 9th Constable Soldier drilling Regiment in Bilecik, on 31 August.
As you see, I have not gone, I am here. Even though I cannot be called a draft evader, I consider it meaningless to go of my own accord. On the contrary, here and now, I will burn this Military Pass against which my own will rebels. In addition, I will burn the notification paper and give back the rest of the documents to the state by mail. Perhaps they will need them. Also I will send back the 101.000 TL that was given to me by the Cankaya Recruiting Office for transportation and food expenses.
I am not a soldier and I will never be. Of course I am aware that I will be taken by force. But until I am taken, there will be no change in my daily routine. they can find me here in order to take me by force. But I want to stress that I will resist in the barracks until the end and never perform military service.

Osman Murat Ülke
September 1, 1995
Izmir

Following this statement, and his failure to present himself for military service, Osman Murat Ülke was arrested more than one year later, on 7 October 1996. What followed was an seemingly never ending circle of arrest and sentencing. The European Court of Human Rights described this in his admissibility decision as follows:

On 8 October 1996, the applicant was arrested. In the charge of 18 October 1996, the military prosecutor attached to the general etats-majors tribunal of Ankara charged him with incitement to dissuade conscripts from doing their military service, on the ground of Article 155 of the criminal code and of Article 58 of the military criminal code. In its decision of 28 January 1997, the general etats-majors tribunal of Ankara ("the etats-majors tribunal") sentenced him to 6 months in prison and to a fine based on the charge of 18 October 1996. The etats-majors tribunal also noted the deserter status of the applicant and consequently decided to refer a ruling to the military prosecutor attached to the etats-majors tribunal in order to enlist the applicant. On 3 March 1997, the applicant appealed to the Supreme Court. He invoked, inter alia, Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention as grounds for this appeal and declared that he was a conscientious objector. On 3 July 1997, the martial Supreme Court upheld the first instance decision.
On 22 November 1996, the applicant was transferred to the 9th regiment attached to the gendarmerie headquarter in Bilecik.
He refused to wear the military uniform and to execute the orders from the regiment commandant. He was detained and placed in the detention house of the regiment where he refused to wear the prison uniform. In the charge of 26 November 1996, the military prosecutor attached to the Eskisehr Air Forces headquarter tribunal of the 1st tactics accused the applicant of "persistent disobedience" and called for his condemnation on the ground of Article 87 of the military criminal code. Regarding the applicant's refusal to wear the detention prison uniform, in a charge of 26 November 1996, the headquarter tribunal of the 1st tactics of the Eskisehr Air Forces ("the headquarter tribunal"), condemned the applicant to a disciplinary measure which restricts the applicant's right to receive visitors during 15 days. In a decision of 6 March 1997, the tribunal finally sentenced the applicant to 5 months in prison. On 4 July 1997, the martial Supreme Court upheld the contested decision.
When he was released on 27 December 1996, the applicant did not go to his regiment. In a charge of 7 March 1997, the military prosecutor attached to the headquarter tribunal charged the applicant with desertion and "persistent disobedience ". In a decision of 23 October 1997, the headquarter tribunal sentenced the applicant to 10 months in prison and to a fine.
On 29 May 1997, the applicant was released provided that he would go to his regiment to fulfil his military obligations on the 31st of May. As he did not fulfil this condition, he was arrested on 9 October 1997 and transferred to Eskisehir prison in order to serve the 10-month prison sentence decided by the headquarter tribunal on 6 March 1997. In a charge of 16 October 1997, the military prosecutor attached to the headquarter tribunal called for the applicant to be condemned for his desertion between 31 May 1997 and 9 October 1997. In a decision of 22 January 1998, the headquarter tribunal sentenced the applicant to 10 months in prison. In a decision of 30 September 1998, the martial Supreme Court upheld the first instance decision.
On 26 January 1998, the applicant was escorted to his regiment in Bilecik. He was arrested because he refused to wear (the) military uniform. In a decision of 11 June 1998, the headquarter tribunal sentenced the applicant to 7 months and 15 days in prison. On 7 October 1998, the martial Supreme Court upheld the contested decision.
The applicant was escorted to his regiment on 20 March 1998, and was arrested, on 21 March 1998, because he refused to wear the military uniform. In a decision of 4 May 1998, the headquarter tribunal sentenced the applicant to 7 months and 15 days in prison on the ground of "persistent disobedience ". On 7 October 1998, the martial Supreme Court upheld this decision.
On 4 May 1998, the applicant was send back to his regiment where he refused to wear the military uniform. In a decision of 11 June 1998, the headquarter tribunal sentenced the applicant to 7 months and 15 days in prison. On 7 October 1998, the martial Supreme Court upheld the first instance decision.
On 24 November 1998, the applicant was released and transferred to his regiment where he refused to wear the military uniform once again. After he was searched for, found and arrested, he was sentenced by the headquarter tribunal on 26 November 1998 to 7 months and 15 days in prison. On 22 September 1999, the martial Supreme Court upheld this decision.
[Council of Europe: European Court of Human Rights Second Section: Judgment as to the Admissibility of the Application N°39437/98 by Osman Murat Ülke against Turkey, 1 June 2004]

Osman Murat Ülke was released from Eskisehir military prison on 9 March 1999 - again not a proper release, but with an order to present himself again to his military unit. However, this time Osman Murat Ülke was not accompanied to the military unit by soldiers, but was ordered to go on his own, which he did not do. Instead, he went home. Since then, he lived a semi-legal life, officially being a deserter, but not being arrested.
In it's judgement on the merits of the case, the European Court of Human Rights, on 24 January 2006, came to the conclusion: "The numerous criminal prosecutions against the applicant, the cumulative effects of the criminal convictions which resulted from them and the constant alternation between prosecutions and terms of imprisonment, together with the possibility that he would be liable to prosecution for the rest of his life, had been disproportionate to the aim of ensuring that he did his military service. They were more calculated to repressing the applicant’s intellectual personality, inspiring in him feelings of fear, anguish and vulnerability capable of humiliating and debasing him and breaking his resistance and will. The clandestine life amounting almost to “civil death” which the applicant had been compelled to adopt was incompatible with the punishment regime of a democratic society.
Consequently, the Court considered that, taken as a whole and regard being had to its gravity and repetitive nature, the treatment inflicted on the applicant had caused him severe pain and suffering which went beyond the normal element of humiliation inherent in any criminal sentence or detention. In the aggregate, the acts concerned constituted degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3.
"
[European Court of Human Rights: AFFAIRE ÜLKE c. TURQUIE, Judgement, Requête no 39437/98, 24 January 2006, Press Release, 24 January 2006]

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the body overseeing the implementation of judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, also dealt with the case in several meetings. At it's meeting on 13-14 February 2007 the Council of Ministers:

"deplored the fact that the Turkish authorities had as yet taken no individual measure to put an end to the violation found by the Court, the applicant still being subject to an arrest warrant with a view to the execution of his sentence."

The recent development - the notice sent by the military prosecutor's office to the address of Osman Murat Ülke's father, ordering Osman Murat Ülke to present himself to serve the outstanding sentences - is a further sign that the Turkish authorities have done nothing to remedy the situation. To the contrary, Osman Murat Ülke, who has been living a more or less clandestine life since March 1999, now is at high risk of being arrested again, in spite of the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights.

  • War Resisters' International calls for emails/faxes to the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe, urging the CoM to communicate to the Turkish government the concerns about the possible arrest of Osman Murat Ülke, and the failure to solve the situation. An email can be sent at http://wri-irg.org/co/alerts/20070711a.html.

  • War Resisters' International calls for letters of protest to the Turkish authorities, and Turkish embassies abroad.

  • War Resisters' International calls on the Turkey to finally solve the situation of Osman Murat Ülke and to comply with the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights.

  • War Resisters' International calls on Turkey to finally recognise the right to conscientious objection, to exempt all existing conscientious objectors from military service, and to immediately release imprisoned conscientious objector Halil Savda.

Andreas Speck
War Resisters' International

Archives of co-alert can be found at http://wri-irg.org/news/alerts