The suspect of arson attack targeting Müjdat Gezen Arts Center released by Turkish court

An İstanbul Court has ordered the release of a suspect in an arson attack on the Müjdat Gezen Arts and Culture Center in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district. Mehmet Ali Aligül faces between one and nine years in prison on charges of causing property damage and threatening public safety with arson.

The Müjdat Gezen Arts and Culture Center was set alight in Feb. 20. Police and fire department teams were dispatched to the scene after the attack, which caused damage to the building. Security footage at the entrance of the building showed a man pouring gasoline before setting the building alight.

Aligül, a 39-year-old shuttle bus driver, was arrested on Feb. 24, a day after initially being released on probation in connection to the fire. Aligül was identified as the assailant from video footage, prompting police to raid his address in the Sancaktepe district of İstanbul. The suspect confessed to the attack in his first testimony, saying he staged the attack in reaction to Müjdat Gezen’s alleged “insult” against the granddaughter of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamit II.

“I did it as a reaction against Müjdat Gezen’s insult targeting the grandchild of Abdülhamit. I was also drunk at the time of the attack,” Aligül added. After his release, Aligül said he did not regret what he had done, contrary to his testimonies to police and a prosecutor’s office, saying he was “not afraid of anybody.” Aligül also denied that he was under the influence of alcohol while staging the attack. Hours after his statement, the suspect had been re-detained by police while he was on his way home.

A lawyer for the arts center, Celal Ülgen, said they did not object to Aligül’s release, noting that no one should be punished with pre-trial detention. “Although we define this as a terrible situation, we do not have any objection to the release of the suspect. Detention is a precaution and there is no need to implement this. We do not want anyone to be punished with [pre-trial detention],” he said.

April 28, 2017

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