Council of Europe increases pressure on Turkey

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A solution for Osman Murat Ülke and other conscientious objectors?

The Council of Europe has increased its pressure on Turkey in the case of conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke. Osman Murat Ülke declared his conscientious objection and burned his call-up papers on 1 September 1995 in Izmir. He was arrested more than a year later - on 7 October 1996 - on charges of Article 155, "alienating the people from the military". Once in the hands of the military, he also was transferred to his military unit, where he refused to obey any orders, and was repeatedly charged with "disobedience", leading to what the European Court of Human Rights later called a "constant alternation between prosecution and terms of imprisonment", which lasted until his release 2 1/2 years later, still officially obliged to perform military service, and thus destined to live a clandestine life.

On 24 January 2006, the ECHR ruled that his treatment amounted to "civil death" and a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, sentencing Turkey to pay compensation. However, while Osman received the compensation, the situation did not change. In June 2007, he received a new arrest warrant for the remainder of a sentence dating back to 1999. Turkey is thus defying the European Court of Human Rights.

On 17 October 2007, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe passed a resolution "emphasizing in this regard that the Convention and the judgments of the Court have direct applicability in Turkish legal order by virtue of Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution". The Committee noted "with concern that, following the government's declaration, the applicant was summonsed on 09/07/2007 to present himself in order to serve his outstanding sentence resulting from a previous conviction and that his request for a stay of execution of his sentence was rejected by the Eskişehir Military Court on the ground that the said declaration before the Committee of Ministers could not lead to a stay of execution of the applicant's sentence because the content of the law under preparation – including whether or not it contained provisions that would apply for or against the applicant's case – was unknown".

The Committee regrets "that, despite Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, the applicant is now facing a real risk of being imprisoned on the basis of a previous conviction;

Stress[es] the necessity to take urgent individual measures in this case;

URGES therefore the Turkish authorities to take without further delay all necessary measures to put an end to the violation of the applicant's rights under the Convention and to adopt rapidly the legislative reform necessary to prevent similar violations of the Convention;

INVITES in particular the Turkish authorities rapidly to provide the Committee with information concerning the adoption of the measures required by the judgment;

DECIDES to examine the implementation of the present judgment at each human rights meeting until the necessary urgent measures are adopted."

The European Commission (of the European Union) writes in its 2007 progress report on Turkey: "Furthermore, the Committee of Ministers awaits information on the measures envisaged by Turkey in order to bring the legal framework governing the situation of those who refuse to perform military service on conscientious or religious grounds into conformity with the requirements of the ECHR."

Meanwhile, War Resisters' International has been made aware by representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses that at least two Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are presently in prison in Turkey. Çaglar Buldu is presently in the military prison of Afyon. From 28 April 2005 to 13 July 2006 he spent 15 month in prison. He was arrested again on 24 September 2007, and will probably be imprisoned in Afyon until 20 November. He is then likely to be transferred to a civilian prison to serve a remaining sentence of 43 days. Unfortunately WRI does not have an address for him.

Baris Görmez was arrested on 22 October, when he reported to the recruitment office. He is presently under arrest at the Istanbul Maslak City Gendarme Commandership, and it is expected that he will soon be transferred to his unit in Antalya. It is presently not know how long he will be in prison.

Sources: Resolution CM/ResDH(2007)1091, Execution of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

Ülke against Turkey, 17 October 2007; European Commission: SEC(2007) 1436, COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT, TURKEY 2007 PROGRESS REPORT, 6 November 2007, Email, Jehovah's Witness representative to CPTI