Turkey: CO sentenced to 15 months and temporary conscription buy-out introduced

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A military court in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas has sentenced conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan, to 15 months in jail. The verdict was transformed to a fine of 9,000 Turkish Liras, for “failing to obey orders.” Mehmet is appealing the verdict Mehmet's struggle against the Turkish military has been running for over a decade.

The verdict disregards a previous ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in which they found on a violation of article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and in addition of article 3 (prohibition of torture or inhuman treatment) of the Convention. The Court ruled that the heavy criminal sanctions imposed on those who did not comply with compulsory military service did not strike a proper balance between the general interest of society and that of conscientious objectors.

Mehmet declared himself a conscientious objector in 2001 and was detained in April 2005 in the Aegean province of Izmir, after which he was sent to the army branch in the northern province of Tokat. The same year, he was convicted to four years in jail for disobedience, after starting a hunger strike after being forced to cut his hair and beard and wear a uniform, which was ultimately carried out forcibly by seven soldiers.

Tarhan’s lawyer, Suna Coşkun, said on 11 February that the ruling disregarded the 2012 ECHR verdict in 2012 (which also fined Turkey 10,000 Euros for violating the European Convention on Human Rights), citing the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The Constitutional Court has also returned their applications, Coşkun said. “The military court’s ruling is both against the constitution and rulings issued by the ECHR. We will appeal it,” Tarhan told KaosGL, an Ankara-based LGBTI association.

On 2 December the Turkish government opened it's occasional programme that allows for a conscription exemption fee. The plan exempted from military conscription all Turkish men older than 28 as of 1 January, provided they pay a lump sum of 18,000 Turkish lira (US $7,579).

Within a month, 113,000 men had already applied for the exemption. Over the course of the programme 150,000 and 200,000 conscripts are likely to take up the option, out of more than 600,000 that qualify. The government will collect between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion dollars from the scheme. The money will go to the 'Defense Industry Support Fund', which finances procurement programs.

Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said "(Thanks to the paid conscription system) We are both solving these people's [conscription] problem and giving financial support to the armed forces." Banks are taking advantage of this by targeting those eligible and offering loans.

Sources: hurriyetdailynews.com, Turkish military court sentences conscientious objector to 15 months despite ECHR ruling, 11 February 2015; Defense News, Turkey Expects $1.2B-$1.6B Procurement Boost, 10 February 2015; Bloomberg Business, Dodging the Draft a Boon for Turkish Banks Selling Loans, 9 December 2014; hurriyetdailynews, Why are Turkish men paying out of their noses to be exempt from military service?, 6 December 2014; CO Update, Turkey: European Court of Human Rights again says Turkey violated human rights of conscientious objector, 02 Aug 2012; CO Guide, Case of Tarhan v. Turkey (Application no. 9078/06), 7 July 2012.