The experiences of Pinar Selek at the hands of the Turkish judicial system defy understanding. I have just returned from the February 9 hearing of her case in the Istanbul Court. The charge against her is implication in a deadly bomb explosion. The sentence called for is a life term in solitary. I attended the hearing as a representative of War Resisters International, one of a score of international ‘observers’, including several Members of the European Parliament and a representative of Human Rights Watch.
We joined Pinar’s supporters, friends and relatives in the tightly packed public gallery. We watched as the presiding judge heard a cursory presentation of old evidence, retired to deliberate for fifteen minutes, and returned to pronounce the few words necessary to acquit Pinar. There was singing and dancing outside the court as we celebrated the removal of the threat hanging over Pinar. We phoned her in her exile in Germany and said “Come home and join the party tonight, Pinar!” Fortunately, wisely, she hesitated to do so. Twenty-four hours later we were confounded and dismayed to hear that the prosecution had appealed to the Supreme Court for a retrial.
So what is this all about? In 1998, Pinar, then a young feminist sociologist, seeking to understand the motivations of both sides in the enduring armed conflict between the Kurdish minority and the Turkish state, carried out a research project that involved interviewing members of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. On return she was apprehended by the Turkish security services and, when she refused to reveal the names of her informants, was severely tortured.
A little while before this, an explosion in the Istanbul Spice Bazaar had caused a number of deaths and injuries. Pinar, now conveniently in the hands of the state on account of her research, was a handy suspect ‘bomber’. In the twelve years since that fateful explosion she has been subject to continuous unresolved prosecution. She has been imprisoned for two and a half of those years. During periods of relative freedom, after acquittals and before re-prosecutions, she has founded and been active in a feminist antimilitarist organization, Amargi. Amargi women activists have in turn been at the core of her support group. Recently Pinar, aged 40, has been living the life of an exile in Germany, supported by a grant from International PEN, the worldwide assocation of writers. She is the editor of Amargi Journal and respected for her many analytical articles and books, the most recent of which is a critique of militarized masculinity.
In a succession of court hearings, no credible evidence has ever been produced to suggest that the explosion in the Spice Bazaar was caused by a bomb. On the contrary, the material facts point to a gas leak. The only link between Pinar and the explosion that, for a while, seemed credible, was a confession by a man who named her as his partner in this ‘crime’. At his trial, however, he retracted his statement, which had been obtained under torture. The truth was that he did not even know Pinar. He was acquitted. Pinar however continued to be suspect.
She has been tried twice in the Istanbul local court (in 2006 and 2008) and each time acquitted. On both occasions the prosecution has r