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TURKEY: Conscientious objector Mehmet Bal beaten in prison

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  • Turkey
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Turkish conscientious objector Mehmet Bal, who was arrested by plain clothes police on 8 June 2008, has been severely beaten in prison. According to reports from his lawyers, who visited him 11 June in prison, during Mehmet Bal's first day at Hasdal Military prison a senior officer took him into a prison ward and ordered other prisoners to "do what is necessary to remind him of prison rules". Five or six prisoners beat his face and body with a plank of wood. At some stage Mehmet Bal passed out from the beatings, and was taken to a cold shower so that he would regain consciousness and the beating continued. After the attack, Mehmet Bal was taken to Gumussuyu Military Hospital for treatment. Although he could not move his neck, legs and arms, he was not admitted to the hospital, and taken back to the prison on a stretcher.
This treatment of a conscientious objector in a military prison is not unique. As a consequence of severe beatings by "fellow" inmates in a military prison, İsmail Saygı, who had been arrested in March 2008, withdrew his declaration of conscientious objection. It had happened before that prison authorities did not intervene when other prisoners abused an imprisoned conscientious objector (see the case of Mehmet Tarhan).

As reported earlier, this is not the first time Mehmet Bal had been arrested for his conscientious objection. He presented himself to the Army in October 2002, only to refuse all orders, as he had declared himself a conscientious objector (see TK12718-251002).

Mehmet BalMehmet Bal

Mehmet Bal had been rearrested for his conscientious objection by Secret Service on 22 January 2003 (see TK12718-230103), and was then transferred to Adana military prison (see TK12718-240103). In Adana Mehmet Bal was interviewed by the military prosecutor, who carefully listened to Mehmet Bal's explanations. Bal said that he is a conscientious objector and does not see himself as a deserter. The prosecutor decided to start a trial, but without keeping Mehmet Bal in prison. He wanted to send him back to his unit, where he should get holidays, so that he would be able to spent the upcoming public holidays with his family. Back at his military unit in Mersin Mehmet Bal was accomodated in the officers' guest house. On Monday, 27 January, the commander gave order to transfer Mehmet Bal to the military hospital in Adana. There Mehmet Bal was asked to shave (to take a picture), and to fill in a questionnaire with 550 questions. Mehmet Bal refused both. As a result of this, the doctors gave him three months holidays to recover, because of "a social disturbance of his personality". He was ordered to report to the medical academy of the Turkish military in Ankara at the end of this three months period. On 28 January in the afternoon, Mehmet Bal was released.
However, Mehmet Bal did not present himself after the end of the three months period. Subsequently, an arrest warrant for desertion has been issued, which now lead to his arrest. In addition, he faces several charges of insubordination for refusing orders.

Turkey does not recognise the right to conscientious objection, in violation of article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In a decision from 24 January 2006 on the case of Osman Murat Ülke, the European Court of Human Rights decided against Turkey and noted: "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."
The United Nations Human Rights Committee recognised in a decision from January 2007 the right to conscientious objection as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as guaranteed by Article 18 ICCPR. In fact, in this decision on two cases of conscientious objectors from South Korea, the Human Rights Committee stated that not to provide for the right to conscientious objection is a violation of Article 18 ICCPR (see CCPR/C/88/D/1321-1322/2004 from 23 January 2007).

War Resisters' International is very concerned for the health and safety of Mehmet Bal. It has happened in several past cases of conscientious objectors imprisoned in Turkey that objectors were subjected to arbitrary rescrictions and disciplinary punishments in military prison.

In the case of Mehmet Bal, War Resisters' International calls for urgent protest faxes to:

Adana 6. Kolordu Askeri Cezaevi
Adana, Turkey
Tel. +90-322-322 83 67
Fax: +90-322-322 81 36

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

Presidency of the Turkish Republic: Fax +90-312-4271330, email cumhurbaskanligi@tccb.gov.tr.
A protest email to the Turkish President Abdullah Gül can be sent at http://wri-irg.org/co/alerts/20080610a.html.

Andreas Speck
War Resisters' International