Appeals court upholds acquittal of Turkish state actors in 1990s extrajudicial killings trial

A regional appeals court has ruled to uphold the acquittal of 19 defendants, including a former interior minister, in a trial involving the enforced disappearance or execution of 18 people in Turkey’s Southeast in the 1990s at the hands of a clandestine military organization known as JİTEM, Turkish Minute reported, citing the T24 news website.

JİTEM, the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-terror Unit, has been accused of involvement in the torture, disappearance and execution of many Kurdish politicians and businesspeople during the 1990s, a period of bloody conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants.

In addition to former interior minister and police chief Mehmet Ağar, former special operations officer İbrahim Şahin and former military and intelligence officer Korkut Eken are also among the suspects in the case.

The Ankara 1st High Criminal Court had ruled in December 2019 to acquit all 19 defendants who faced charges of premeditated murder in line with the activities of an armed criminal gang.

The 1st Criminal Chamber of the Ankara Regional Court, which acts as a local appeals court, ruled to overturn the acquittal of the suspects in 2021, ordering a retrial. Despite the appeals courts decision, the Ankara 1st High Criminal Court granted an acquittal to the suspects once again last year.

According to T24, the 1st Criminal Chamber of the Ankara Regional Court this time ruled that the charges regarding the murders of Abdulmecit Baskın and Behçet Cantürk had exceeded the 30-year statute of limitations, while the local court’s acquittal decision for other murders was considered justified. A number of judges at the court have been replaced since its first decision to overturn the acquittal of the defendants in 2021.

T24 reported that the statements of Ayhan Çarkın, who had publicly confessed to his involvement in extrajudicial killings, were considered “contradictory, inconsistent and manipulative” in the verdict, while witness statements and evidence were said to be based on “hearsay, opinions and speculation.”

Ayhan Altun, one of the members of the court, issued a dissenting opinion of 160 pages to the six-page ruling.

Another report by T24 revealed on Monday that Altun stressed that the majority of the defendants “indisputably” committed murder and that people in the leadership of the criminal organization gave orders for those executions, regardless of whether they are the subject of this trial or appeals court review.

Altun also referred to the Susurluk incident, a fatal car crash that exposed links between state officials and organized crime bosses and strengthened claims that the deep state had been responsible for the many unsolved murders that mainly took place in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast in the 1990s.

The deep state was alleged to be a group of anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, including high-level figures from the Turkish military, security agencies, judiciary and mafia.

The case will be forwarded to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

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