Erdoğan pardons disabled bomb expert 20 months after his incarceration

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used his presidential power to pardon disabled former bomb disposal expert Bilal Konakçı nearly 20 months after he was put behind bars for conviction on bogus terrorism-related charges, Turkish Minute reported on Friday, citing the Official Gazette.

Konakçı was a decorated police officer whose life was upended in 2009 after a bomb left in front of a school detonated while he was trying to defuse it. Besides losing his eyesight and right hand, he also lost some of the fingers on his left hand. He has difficulty walking as well as hearing loss.

Konakçı was arrested after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 for alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

He was accused of terrorism for having an account at Bank Asya, a commercial bank founded by businessmen affiliated with the Gülen movement, and for using the ByLock messaging app. He was released and put under house arrest after remaining in police custody and jail for more than a month.

He was re-arrested in February after Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a conviction and sentence handed down on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization.

A decision concerning the pardon of the 45-year-old Konakçı based on a Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) report on his “continuous illness and disability,” sent by the Ministry of Justice, was published in the Official Gazette on Friday, Kronos said. The decision by the president, who has the authority to pardon convicts due to advanced age or health problems according to the 104th article of the Turkish Constitution, lifted the remainder of a sentence of seven years, six months handed down to Konakçı.

Journalist in exile Sevinç Özarlsan tweeted the first picture of Konakçı after his release from Menemen Prison in the western province of İzmir on Friday.

“They kept a person in such a condition in prison for 20 months,” Özarlsan said, tagging the Twitter account of Turkey’s Justice Ministry.

Konakçı previously said in a letter he wrote from prison that he feared for his life there and that life had become unbearable as he was unable to take care of himself due to his severe disabilities. “Prison conditions are endangering my life as I can’t walk, use the bathroom or eat on my own,” he said.

Erdoğan also pardoned 54-year-old Hasan Şen, who was sentenced to 24 years, seven months in prison on charges of drug trafficking and threatening with a weapon and has been behind bars since 2018, due to a report on his “continuous illness,” according to Kronos.

Opposition politicians and legal experts have criticized the Supreme Court of Appeals decision to uphold Konakçı’s conviction and sentence without even stopping to think about how he could have committed the crimes he was accused of as a person with such severe disabilities.

Despite the fact that Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a prominent defender of human rights, and Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) deputy Mustafa Yeneroğlu had previously condemned Konakçı’s imprisonment, and multiple campaigns were held on social media stating he shouldn’t have been arrested and calling for his immediate release, Erdoğan’s decision to pardon him came nearly 20 months after his imprisonment.

Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

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