Turkey’s Constitutional Court says Sivas massacre convict eligible for parole

Turkey's Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court of Turkey has paved the way for the release of a person convicted of involvement in a deadly arson attack on the Madımak Hotel in Sivas on July 2, 1993 that claimed the lives of 37 people, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Kısa Dalga news website.

Yunis Karataş was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to aggravated life imprisonment after the abolition of the death penalty in Turkey. He was found guilty of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and starting the fire.

According to Articles 107 and 108 of the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures (Law No. 5275), life prisoners are allowed to apply for parole after serving their minimum sentence.

In a recent ruling on whether Karataş was eligible for parole, the Constitutional Court argued that the distinction between a terrorist offense and a terrorist perpetrator was essential, citing the fact that Karataş was not found to have been a member of any terrorist organization.

If offenses against the security of the state, crimes against the constitutional order and its functioning, and crimes against national defense, as defined by the Turkish Penal Code, are committed by an individual who acts in the name of a terrorist organization, that person is not eligible for parole according to Law No. 5275.

The court said hierarchy and continuity must exist for an organization to be considered a terrorist group and that this was not the case with Karataş. The court also stated that the legal definition of terrorism had changed since the time of the attack and that the changes benefitted Karataş.

Karataş’s lawyer argued that he was eligible for parole since he had not been found to be a member of any terrorist organization. The court agreed, and Karataş will be released on parole.

The Madımak Hotel attack has been described as one of the darkest days in Turkish history. The hotel was hosting an Alevi cultural festival, and the attackers targeted the attendees, many of whom were prominent intellectuals and artists.

Yüksel Köse, one of the lawyers for the defendants, claimed in a 2008 interview that Karataş was the person who started the fire by setting a curtain ablaze. However, the Constitutional Court did not find any evidence linking Karataş to a terrorist organization or to the planning of the attack.

On July 2, 1993 an angry mob torched the Madımak Hotel, killing 37 people, mostly Alevi artists and scholars who were there to attend a conference.

In attendance was Aziz Nesin, a left-wing Turkish short story writer, hated among religious Sunnis in Turkey, who had become the target of attacks for attempting to translate Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel “The Satanic Verses” into Turkish.

A group of radical Islamists, having been provoked by several local political leaders, gathered in front of the hotel following Friday prayer and accused conference participants of being infidels.

Thirty-three attendees, two hotel staff members and two protesters died in the fire. Nesin was able to escape because the attackers initially failed to recognize him.

In a controversial move President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2020 used his presidential power to pardon a man who was given an aggravated life sentence for his role in the Sivas massacre.

A number of lawyers who defended the suspects in the massacre later became politicians in Erdoğan’s ruling party.

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