In the Zirve Publishing House Massacre case held in Malatya, verdicts of release were issued for three suspects tried for instigating the murders. Lawyers of the victims’ families share the view that the releases are a further outcome of the consensus reached between the AK Party government and ultra-nationalist circles after the 17-25 December corruption scandals.
The 101st hearing of the Zirve Publishing House Massacre case was held on 21 January 2015, Wednesday, at the Malatya 1st High Criminal Court. At the hearing, the panel of judges ruled for the release of three suspects remanded in custody, Major Haydar Yeşil, retired Colonel Mehmet Ülger and İnönü University Faculty of Theology Instructor Ruhi Abat. The panel of judges based its ruling on the time the suspects had already served, the absence of any suspicion of escape, and the fact that evidence had been collected. The court imposed a ban on leaving the country, and ruled for the implementation of the judicial control system.
The Zirve Publishing House, based in Malatya and a publisher of books on Christianity was attacked on 18 April 2007, and publishing house staff Tilman Ekkehart, Uğur Yüksel and Necati Aydın were murdered.
Erdal Doğan and Nalan Erken, lawyers of the victims’ families, reacted to the verdict of the court. According to Doğan, the release verdicts are not surprising in view of the new process that has emerged following the government’s changed stance after December 17.
Erdal Doğan said the following regarding the releases: “After December 17, the government formed a new consensus with the Ergenekon organization. Therefore, I don’t find these releases surprising. In judicial process, the revelation of material facts from a legal point of view is more important than detentions. This verdict discredits the case. We believe that this crime was the work of an organization, and that there is a structure behind it that instigated and prepared the crime.”
The panel of judges changed three times
Lawyer Doğan also recalled that the panel of judges was changed three times throughout the judicial process, and underlined the danger that the case might be subjected to political influence: “It takes a long time for every new panel to read the case files and gain an understanding of the incident. The changing of panels according to political climate and power struggles seriously harms the case. I hope this panel can read the file as soon as possible and reach a verdict without being subjected to politial influence. In view of the fact that the government has formed a new consensus with the Ergenekon organization, and that this case is part of Ergenekon, we can say that it is a case highly susceptible to political influence and bargains.”
Releases against common sense
Nalan Erken, a lawyer of the victims, reacted to the release verdict despite incriminating evidence with the words “Their release despite plenty of evidence in the case file pointing to these persons as instigators of the crime, is against common sense”.
Nalan Erken stated that she shared Erdal Doğan’s concerns regarding the case, adding that the change of the panel of judges had an adverse affect on the judicial process: “The file includes hundreds of folders, it is very detailed. When following the abolishment of specially-authorized courts the case was assigned to a court that had no prior knowledge of the case, our hopes had dimmed already. The five persons who committed the murders were released according to the new law; however, following the family’s emphatic appeal, the court had ruled for the use of electronic bracelets. They repeatedly violated the security measures pertaining to the use of electronic bracelets; and the police has records of these violations, but the court simply overlooked them all.”
Former releases were because of long detention periods
Following the massacre, the suspects arrested at the crime scene, Emre Günaydın, Cuma Özdemir, Hamit Çeker, Salih Gürler and Abuzer Yıldırım, had been released with the introduction of the new law regulating long detention periods.
An additional bill of indictment had been prepared in June 2012 for suspects including retired General Hurşit Tolon, and they were included in the case. The bill of indictment argued that the massacre had been carried out by the Malatya cell of the Ergenekon organization.