ANASAYFA Forum TURKISH CHRISTIAN FORUM (in English) News Turkey: Alleged masterminds of malatya murders named in court

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    Defense turns trial of slaughter of three Christians into missionary witch-hunt.


    MALATYA, Turkey, July 9 (Compass Direct News) – Despite new court testimony naming a web of ranking local officials behind the slaughter of three Christians in Malatya last year, defense lawyers for the alleged murderers attempted to turn last week’s hearing into an investigation into Christian missionary activities.

    The defense also pursued a line of questioning linked to a farfetched conspiracy theory, based on the murderers’ claims that the Malatya office of Zirve Publishing Co. was secretly linked to the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group.

    But the firsthand testimony of a prosecution witness claiming to know personally the instigators of the deadly plot dominated Friday’s (July 4) hearing, with plaintiff lawyers concluding this put them “one step further” in unraveling the case.

    Playing to rising anti-Christian sentiments in 99 percent Muslim Turkey, the murderers’ attorneys peppered four of the six witnesses testifying at hearing with probing questions about their personal religious beliefs and involvement in Christian activities.

    “Don’t bother with the murders, tell us about missionary work!” shouted a sarcastic headline on the front page of Taraf newspaper the morning after the trial.

    It was the eighth hearing in the case, trying five murder suspects caught at the scene and two accomplices for the April 18, 2007 murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske in a Christian publishing office in southeastern Turkey.

    Although the presiding judge accepted most plaintiff objections to irrelevant defense questions, the day-long hearing was punctuated by recurring, heated shouting matches across the courtroom between the two ranks of attorneys.

    Irrelevant Probing

    “Do you have any authority delegated to you to spread Christianity yourself?” one defense lawyer asked Ozan Cobanoglu, the first witness to testify. A student in western Turkey, Cobanoglu had innocently connected Turkish Protestant pastor Aydin by e-mail with Emre Gunaydin, the alleged ringleader of the killers.

    Outraged plaintiff lawyers objected immediately to the defense’s inquiry.

    “This question must be rejected, because it violates the constitutional restriction against forcing anyone to openly declare their beliefs,” lawyer Ali Koc stated.

    But moments later, the defense asked Cobanoglu, “Why was Necati Aydin chosen to lead the Malatya church? Who selected him? What was the significance of all the e-mail messages he received, congratulating him on his new position in Zirve?”

    These questions had no relevance to the case, attorney Erdal Dogan declared.

    “Please, show a little respect,” he said to defense lawyers. “This case is about three savage murders, not an inquiry into the Christian faith and its practices! Don’t be ridiculous!”

    But defense attorneys continued to raise what one plaintiff lawyer labeled “stupid” questions regarding Christian activities related to the Zirve Publishing office.

    Questioning Emin Mig, an accountant from Adana who had been working in the Zirve office the morning shortly before the attack, defense counsel demanded details about the activities and income of a company registered by Geske, the German victim.

    “This witness is not here to testify because he was the accountant of this Silk Road Company,” complained the plaintiff lawyers. “He has been called to give information about being at the scene of the crime on that day!”

    Turkish Christian Gokhan Talas and his wife, who resided in Malatya when the murders occurred, also testified as eyewitnesses who came to the Zirve office while the crime was underway.

    The couple had tried unsuccessfully to open the locked office door during the attack and then spoke briefly by cell phone with victim Yuksel, who warned them to go away from the office.

    After Talas gave his account of what occurred, a defense lawyer asked, “In which regions and what category of society were their missionary activities being conducted?”

    When the court granted demands shouted by plaintiff attorneys to retract that question, the defense lawyer promptly went on to ask, “So in which villages did they help with construction projects to spread their faith?”

    Again the judge ordered the defense to retract the question.

    ‘Terrorist’ Conspiracies

    Later Talas responded sharply to another defense question as to whether the victims’ activities spreading Christian faith were linked with PKK terrorists trying to set up a separatist Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey.

    “No Christian has any ties with the PKK,” Talas said. “To the last drop, the blood of Christians is tied to this nation.”

    Gunaydin and his collaborators claimed in their police interrogations and court statements that they were told that the Christians at Zirve were allied secretly with the PKK.

    At one point defense lawyer Mehmet Katar held up a one-page “job description” taken from Zirve computer files, insinuating that the discipleship expectations its staff members were instructed to follow with new Christians in fact represented training guidelines for PKK activities.

    “There is not a single concrete proof of this!” scoffed a plaintiff lawyer. “Where do they want to go with these questions?” he asked the court. “Where will this go from here? Will this go to Kandil Mountain [the hideout of the PKK near the Iraq-Iran border]?”

    The plaintiff lawyers even challenged one question about missionary activities offered by presiding Judge Eray Gurtekin himself.

    Interrupting him, they reminded the judge that the Turkish Supreme Court had ruled definitively that religious missionary activities were completely legal under Turkish law. Unfortunately, the plaintiffs said, the Malatya court’s ongoing refusal to remove 16 files of internal information about Zirve Publishing from the case was only encouraging the defense to follow this line of irrelevant questioning.

    The two other witnesses who appeared in the afternoon sessions of the hearing reportedly had close ties with prime suspect Emre Gunaydin.

    Jailed Informer Confronts Ringleader

    Former noncommissioned navy officer Metin Dogan, 24, was brought to court in handcuffs from Malatya’s Elbistan Prison, where he is serving a 16-year sentence for murder.

    The witness reiterated in detail accusations he had outlined in a letter to the Malatya prosecutor in January, identifying individuals he believed to be behind the Malatya plot against Zirve (see Compass Direct News sidebar, “Informant’s Letter Names Alleged Masterminds,” May 14).

    Dogan named four men who had approached him: a local politician in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Mehmet Ekici; a leader of the ultranationalist Ulku Ocaklari youth organization, Burhan Coskun; a former MHP member of the Turkish parliament, Namik Hakan Durhan; and a retired major general, Hikmet Celik. He said the four men had secretly commissioned him in August 2005 to attack the Zirve office in a daytime raid and kill all the occupants.

    In a chilling new detail, Dogan said the perpetrators promised to supply him with two accomplices – whom he was instructed to kill afterwards.

    He also said Ulku Ocaklari President Coskun had insisted, “This job will be done with a knife, it cannot be any other way. If it’s done with a gun, it cannot be arranged with the police.”

    But less than two months later, Dogan was arrested in Mersin for killing his older brother’s murderer and sent to prison there.

    According to Dogan, he was contacted in January 2007 by a Mersin prison warden named Kemal Sevim, who brought him a message from Durhan, the former MHP parliamentarian. Durhan reportedly asked Dogan if he could do anything to help him there in prison. He then informed Dogan that his “assignment” had been passed on to Gunaydin and that he should keep quiet about it.

    Dogan said he then wrote a letter to Gunaydin, urging him not to carry out the attack. He also said he asked his older sister to call and warn the Zirve office about this, which he said she did.

    After Dogan made a formal statement to the prosecutor about these claims, he said his father’s home was attacked and riddled with bullets, and his family warned that he should not say anything.

    An investigative report published in Zaman newspaper on May 15 documented Dogan’s claims, including an interview with his father and photographs of the bullet shells and damaged farmhouse.

    “I know their power,” Dogan stated. “But I am not afraid of anyone anymore. They can’t frighten me.”

    Claiming he had been “quite friendly” with Gunaydin since age 17, when they were both involved in the Malatya Ulku Ocaklari, Dogan said he had often worked out in the sports center run by the suspect’s father.

    But under questioning from the bench, Gunaydin denied knowing Dogan. In previous statements, he had also denied participating in the Ulku Ocaklari group.

    Gunaydin did confirm, however, that after he was sent to prison, he had received a letter from Dogan. Since he did not know the sender, he said he wrote back to Dogan asking, “Who are you?” and gave Dogan’s letter to his lawyer.

    MHP Witness Denies All

    Dogan also testified he was a close friend of Ruhi Polat, a provincial council member of the MHP in Malatya named by Gunaydin as an acquaintance.

    But when Polat entered the courtroom to testify later that day, he insisted at first that he did not remember Dogan’s face and could not recall his name. Polat eventually admitted that when Dogan was small he had come to his cafeteria, but declared he had not seen him for 10 years.

    In response, Dogan told the judge that Polat was lying, since his cafeteria had not even opened until 2004.

    Gulping with emotion, Polat told the court that the accusations against him in the Malatya case had completely ruined his life and his family. Noting that his wife had divorced him, he said his daughter had been implicated for using his mobile telephone to call Gunaydin several times in the months before the killings.

    He denied any close acquaintance with Gunaydin and insisted he had no information regarding Christian missionary activities.

    “I have no information whatever concerning the events of this case,” Polat told the judge. “I have no information at all regarding missionary activities in the Malatya province.”

    But suspect Abuzer Yildirim had said in recorded statements to police investigators, “Emre Gunaydin told us that he got the information on missionary activities from a person called Ruhi Polat, who went to his father’s gym and researched information on Alevism, missionary activity and Christianity, and wrote reports for the government.”

    The court ordered an investigation to check the accuracy of Dogan’s testimony, which flatly contradicts statements from both Polat and Gunaydin.

    Ironically, Gunaydin’s complaint that he was “psychologically disturbed” by the security measures forced upon him in prison grabbed headlines in a large number of Turkish dailies reporting on the trial. The accused killer told the judge that the light in his solitary-confinement cell remained on 24 hours a day.

    In the absence of German widow Susanne Geske and Turkish widow Semse Aydin, the mother of murdered Christian Ugur Yuksel was the only member of the victims’ families present at the July 4 trial.

    Pursuing the Perpetrators

    Facing the Turkish press on the steps of the Malatya Criminal Courthouse after the hearing, plaintiff lawyers expressed tentative hopes for not just convicting the killers, but also uncovering the people behind them.

    Attorney Erdal Dogan was quoted by CNNTURK as saying: “We are exerting efforts to get one step further in our investigations. [Then] maybe we will be able to see what is behind this incident.”

    His colleague Ozkan Yucel commented, “If apart from these five youths, we are able to determine the perpetrators and the plan behind them, this trial may possibly, in a true sense, be successful.”

    One Turkish Protestant leader attending last week’s trial told Compass, “The obvious involvement of others is cropping up, but it is not clear if the Malatya court officials will really take this into consideration. Their resistance to follow up all these leads seriously points to even more concern.”

    News of the eighth Malatya hearing was overshadowed in Turkish media by last week’s wave of shock arrests of high-level military and civic officials accused of involvement in the so-called Ergenekon gang, said to be behind more than a decade of assassinations in Turkey.

    State prosecutors investigating the group have yet to file an indictment on their year-long probe, although it is expected within days.

    But according to widespread reports in the Turkish media, the group is suspected of having played a role in the vicious Malatya attack, as well as the murders of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in February 2006 and Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007

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