Conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan sentenced to 25 months imprisonment
War Resisters' International, London, 17 October 2006

On 10 October 2006, the military court of Sivas finally ruled in the case of Turkish conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan (TK14724), who had been unexpectedly released from prison on 9 March 2006, following an order of the Military Court of Appeal in Ankara. Back then the court in Ankara had to deal with appeals against the decision of the Sivas Military Court from 15 December 2005 (see co-alert, 15 December 2005), brought to the Appeal Court by the prosecutor and by Mehmet Tarhan. The court gave as reason that, in case Mehmet Tarhan would be finally sentenced, the sentence would unlikely be higher than what he had already served. The decision was a surprise, because normally the Court of Appeal does not have the power to order the release of a prisoner - it can only refer the case back to the military court, and judge on the validity of a ruling by a military court.

On 10 October, the Sivas Military Court finally ruled on the case. Mehmet Tarhan himself was not present at court, but was represented by his lawyer Suna Coskun.

Mehmet Tarhan was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment for "insistent insubordination in front of his unit" on 10 April 2005, and to 1 year and 6 months for a further act of disobedience on 10 June 2005 - according to Turkish rules about combining sentences, this gives a total of 25 months in prison.
The fact that Mehmet Tarhan was sentenced for two different charges of disobedience constitutes a violation of the international legal standard of "double jeopardy": Tarhan has been sentenced twice for what has to be considered as the same offence.

In 1999, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention gave an opinion in the case of Turkish conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke (OPINION No. 36/1999 (TURKEY)): "The Working Group is of the opinion that there is, since, after the initial conviction, the person exhibits, for reasons of conscience, a constant resolve not to obey the subsequent summons, so that there is "one and the same action entailing the same consequences and, therefore, the offence is the same and not a new one" (see Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, 18 September 1999, No. 2, No. 130/95). Systematically to interpret such a refusal as being perhaps provisional (selective) would, in a country where the rule of law prevails, be tantamount to compelling someone to change his mind for fear of being deprived of his liberty if not for life, at least until the date at which citizens cease to be liable to military service."

The recent decision of the Sivas Military Court also ignores the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in January, also in the case of Osman Murat Ülke, and demands from the European Union and the Turkish public to recognise the right to conscientious objection. The ECHR decided: "The numerous criminal prosecutions against the applicant, the cumulative effects of the criminal convictions which resulted from them and the constant alternation between prosecutions and terms of imprisonment, together with the possibility that he would be liable to prosecution for the rest of his life, had been disproportionate to the aim of ensuring that he did his military service. They were more calculated to repressing the applicant’s intellectual personality, inspiring in him feelings of fear, anguish and vulnerability capable of humiliating and debasing him and breaking his resistance and will. The clandestine life amounting almost to “civil death” which the applicant had been compelled to adopt was incompatible with the punishment regime of a democratic society."

Mehmet Tarhan has now been sentenced to 25 months imprisonment. As he did not present himself to the court, he presently is not in prison. In addition to the danger of imprisonment following the recent sentence, Mehmet Tarhan is presently also officially a "deserter" from the Turkish military, as he was given an order to present himself to his military unit when he was released from prison on 9 March 2006. The situation of Mehmet Tarhan amounts exactly to what the ECHR described above, and called "civil death" - a situation which has not been resolved for Osman Murat Ülke either.

Mehmet Tarhan's lawyer Suna Coskun appealed against the sentence of the Sivas Military Court on the same day.

In addition, there are several other cases pending:
1. A lawsuit regarding the imhuman treatment of Mehmet Tarhan in prison. This case has been postponed to 8 November 2006.
2. A trial against several of Mehmet Tarhan's supporters, who had been arrested at one of his trials. The next hearing in this case will be on 23 November 2006.
3. The case of conscientious objector Mehmet Bal is still ongoing, with the next hearing scheduled for 8 March 2007.
4. The case of conscientious objector Halil Savda, which had been overruled by the Military Appeals Court in Ankara. The next hearing is scheduled for 7 December 2006.

War Resisters' International calls for letters of protest to the Turkish authorities, and Turkish embassies abroad. 

Andreas Speck
War Resisters' International