TURKEY: MALATYA ‘INVESTIGATION SCANDALS’ ROCK TURKISH PRESS
Prosecution to be probed over alleged mishandling in trial of murderers of Christians.
ISTANBUL, December 11 (Compass Direct News) – Reacting to a storm of media reporting seriously flawed conduct by state prosecutors in Malatya, the Turkish Interior Ministry last weekend opened a judicial investigation into alleged collusion of public officials in the torture and murder of three Christians in the southeastern city last April.
Mounting evidence emerged that the five confessed murderers had direct, repeated links with local police officers, members of the special military forces, a regional council member of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and even a chief public prosecutor. The reports included banner headlines in national newspapers and a leading slot on evening TV news broadcasts for five consecutive days.
Implications swirled over why the Malatya Prosecutor’s Office had ignored obvious leads from telephone records of the suspects and failed to investigate two very detailed, incriminating letters by “informers” who claimed to be close to the perpetrators behind the five young killers.
Mysteriously, 10 days of security camera tapes recorded in the main suspect’s hospital room turned up blank, allegedly erased by security authorities. Then evidence revealed that a gun recovered at the Zirve Publishing office where the crime occurred had been confiscated just two days before by local police.
“There is incorrect information in the press regarding Malatya,” Interior Minister Besir Atalay finally declared before the Turkish Parliament on Saturday (December 8). “Guns are being written about. The guns were toy guns. All of them are in the prosecutors’ hands.”
But according to an expert report in the case files regarding the gun recovered at the scene, the pistol equipped to shoot blanks “looked exactly like a real weapon … at first glance, it would be difficult for anyone familiar with guns to distinguish it from a real gun.”
Announcing that two senior police officials would probe all public accusations against the Malatya investigation, Atalay promised parliament deputies, “Be sure of this: as a ministry, we will increase our transparency.”
An Interior Ministry official told Radikal newspaper on Sunday (December 9), “Depending on the results of the investigation, the necessary legal actions will be taken against any police personnel involved.”
Today Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin was quoted in several national newspapers, admitting that he felt “uncomfortable” about claims in the Turkish press naming “public servants” reportedly connected with the Malatya murders.
“We are pursuing these carefully … the security apparatus has engaged two senior police inspectors,” Sahin said. “Everything is being investigated.”
Cell Phone Evidence Ignored
The first scandal to hit the press last week focused on the mobile telephones of the five young murderers who were apprehended at the scene of the crime.
Records of the suspects’ telephone contacts and conversations over the six months previous to the crime revealed what the Today’s Zaman newspaper called “murky connections … with individuals employed by state agencies or the military.” But the prosecution did not include any details of this preliminary probe in the indictment.
Plaintiff lawyers representing the families of the three slaughtered Christians have demanded complete records of all the suspects’ mobile phones, complaining that the prosecution only investigated the phones found on the suspects when they were arrested.
New evidence indicates that the five killers had used a total of 106 different cell phones during the six months previous to the murders. Leading suspect Emre Gunaydin changed his cell phone 35 times, Salih Gurler 38 times, Hamit Ceker 17 times and Abuzer Yildirim 16 times.
Inexplicably, no investigation was made into the cell phones of the fifth murderer, Cuma Ozdemir, nor of Kursat Kocadag, one of two suspects accused of assisting in the murder plot. Nor were records examined on two other cell phones found on the suspects that were registered in names other than their own.
Another exposed piece of evidence focused on Ruhi Polat, a provincial MHP council member in Malatya. According to telephone records, suspect Gunaydin exchanged 18 messages with a phone registered in Polat’s name between March 15 and April 12.
In suspect Yildirim’s recorded statements to the police, he told interrogators, “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 [an Alawite sect of Islam, considered heretical by Sunni Muslims], missionary activity and Christianity, and wrote reports for the government.”
Polat denied having close connections with Gunaydin during his police statement, saying he had sometimes used his father’s gym and had only met him a few times.
He claimed that his daughter, a student enrolled at the gym run by the suspect’s father, was using his cell phone when Gunaydin repeatedly called it.
Quoted by the local Malatya Guncel newspaper on December 6, Polat declared, “The claims in the newspapers are totally unfounded. This will be revealed in time. I trust our judiciary and security officials.”
Similarly, a chief prosecutor in the Kartal district of Istanbul claimed that he had given the cell phone which the suspects called to one of his relatives several years ago.
“I did not talk to Abuzer Yildirim or to any of the other suspects,” the implicated prosecutor said. “I have no connection to this murder case.”
Cover-up of Named Conspirators
During the opening hearing on November 23, plaintiff lawyer Ali Koc had demanded an explanation of the prosecution’s failure to include in the investigation files a letter e-mailed to the leadership of the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches and submitted to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office on September 24.
Written by someone claiming to know the perpetrators, the letter stated that the persons encouraging and directing Emre Gunaydin were “our commander Mehmet Ulger, and a lecturer at the theology faculty, Ruhi Balat [Polat]. Balat was working with our commander Ulger for around 4-5 months.”
“The first person to contact Balat was Halil Isler, the commander of the university police station. Later, contacts with our regiment commander were made through Sergeant Mehmet Colak, with the code name Seyhmus. Particularly before and after the event, these meetings were frequent.”
In response, Malatya prosecutor Seref Gurkan told the court that because the letter involved accusations against military personnel, it had been forwarded to Malatya’s Second Infantry Command Headquarters for investigation by a military prosecutor.
Last week Halil Isler’s name appeared in still another scandal, when it was revealed that the security camera tapes monitoring injured suspect Gunaydin’s hospital room for the first 10 days had been erased.
According to the case files, Malatya prosecutors ordered the two video cameras monitoring Gunaydin’s room at the Inonu University Hospital replaced because they did not record sound. When the old cameras were removed, security officials declared that for “technical reasons” they could not copy the 10 days of silent recordings and destroyed them.
In what the Turkish press termed more than a coincidence, Lt. Halil Isler was the officer commissioned by the prosecution to oversee the security camera surveillance in Gunaydin’s room.
Malatya Police Chief Ali Osman Kahya denied that the recordings were erased, insisting they had been handed over intact to the court.
But scanned copies of documents published in the newspapers declared otherwise. One signed by a senior Malatya police official informed the chief prosecutor that the camera records had been “destroyed,” and official documents signed by hospital personnel also confirmed the disks in question were blank.
‘People Used Me and Destroyed My Life’
A second letter was received from a convicted murderer jailed in Mersin, stating that he had been a member of the same ultranationalist youth movement in Malatya with Emre Gunaydin.
“The people who used me and destroyed my life have also used Emre,” Metin Dogan wrote to the Malatya prosecutors, naming the Malatya branch of Ulku Ocaklari (Forges of Ideal) as the force behind the Christians’ slaughter.
“I know a lot about the murders at the publishing house,” Dogan said. “I know who used Emre, who committed the murders. I want to make a statement and show you my evidence. I want to … inform you so that no more of my brothers will be used and no other lives are lost.”
Two Turkish Christian converts from Islam, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, were tied up, beaten, tortured with knives and left with their throats slashed along with German Christian Tilmann Geske on April 18 in the Malatya offices of Zirve Publishing, a distributor of Bibles and Christian literature.
During the opening hearing on the case on November 23, plaintiff lawyer Ergin Cinmen noted to the court, “According to the written testimony of the suspects in the case, their sole reason for killing the victims was that they were Christians and were involved in introducing and recommending to others their faith.”
Writing on December 8, political columnist Mehmet Ali Birand called the “barbaric murders in Malatya ... another of [the] performances” of a certain small group of thugs in Turkish society.
“They attack foreigners and especially Christians under the guise of nationalism,” Birand concluded. “The police know exactly where they are and who feeds them … They should be dealt a heavy sentence to teach them a lesson.”