Turkey: Another objector on the path to 'civil death'

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Halil Savda faces second sentence for insistence on disobedience

With a second trial for "insistance on disobedience" (Article 88) presently going on, Turkish conscientious objector Halil Savda is well on the path to what the European Court of Human Rights had called 'civil death' in its judgement on the case of Turkish fellow objector Osman Murat Ülke.

The background to Halil Savda's case is appalling:

  1. Halil Savda was called up for military service in 1996. At first he followed this call-up order, and finished his basic training. However, he then did not follow an order to report to a different military unit. He was arrested in 1997, and the State Security Court in Adana sentenced Halil Savda to 15 years imprisonment for "membership in an illegal organisation". The court found him guilty of being a member of PKK, which Halil Savda denied. Halil Savda had been arrested for the same reason in 1993, but had been released after 1 month. During this time of imprisonment he was repeatedly tortured.
  2. On 18 November 2004, Halil Savda was released from prison, and transferred to the gendarmerie in Antep, because of desertion from military service in 1996. He was kept in an isolation cell for six days. On 25 November, he was transferred to the military unit in Corlu-Tekirdag, where he declared his conscientious objection to military service.
  3. On 16 December 2004, the Corlu Military Court ordered the detention of Halil Savda for "insistence on disobedience".
  4. On 28 December 2004, Halil Savda was released from prison after a trial session, but ordered to report to the military unit in Corlu-Tekirdag. Halil Savda did not follow this order, in went home instead.
  5. On 4 January 2005, the Corlu Military Court sentenced Halil Savda in absentia to 3 months and 15 days of imprisonment. Halil Savda appealed against this sentence.
  6. On 13 August 2006, the Military Appeal Court cancelled the decision of the Corlu Military Court from 4 January 2005 because of errors in the conduct of the trial.
  7. On 7 December 2006, Halil Savda reported to the retrial for his conscientious objection, after the decision of the Military Appeal Court from 13 August 2006. The court ordered his detention during the trial, and Halil Savda was arrested in court.
  8. On 25 January 2007, the Corlu Military Court ordered the release of Halil Savda from prison, but at the same time gave order to transfer him to the 8th tank brigade in Tekirdag. There, he was given the order to put on a uniform, which he refused. He was again arrested and charged with "insistence on disobedience". During his detention, he suffered from heavy abuse by four guards, and had to spent three days in an isolation cell, dressed only in his underwear and without any facilities to sit or sleep.
  9. On 15 March 2007, the Corlu Military Court sentenced Halil Savda to 15 ½ month imprisonment on charges of desertion and disobedience, based on his desertion in 1996 and his refusal to obey orders in 2004.

In an open letter to the judge of the Corlu Military Court, dated 26 March 2007, War Resisters' International wrote:

Already the sentence from 15 March constitutes a violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion), both of which Turkey has signed and ratified.

The new trial is not only a violation of Article 9 ECHR and Article 18 ICCPR, it also constitutes a violation of Article 14 para 7 of the ICCPR, which states that "no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country". The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention made this clear in its opinion 36/1999, on the very similar case of conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke: "The Working Group is of the opinion that there is, since, after the initial conviction, the person exhibits, for reasons of conscience, a constant resolve not to obey the subsequent summons, so that there is "one and the same action entailing the same consequences and, therefore, the offence is the same and not a new one" (see Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, 18 September 1999, No. 2, No. 130/95). Systematically to interpret such a refusal as being perhaps provisional (selective) would, in a country where the rule of law prevails, be tantamount to compelling someone to change his mind for fear of being deprived of his liberty if not for life, at least until the date at which citizens cease to be liable to military service."

War Resisters' International calls for an international day of action on 12 April in solidarity with Halil Savda on the day of his trial, and likely sentencing. More information on this day of action is available at http://wri-irg.org/co/cases/savda-070412-en.htm.