News / Middle East

Bombing Case Reopened Against Turkish Writer

Turkish sociologist Pinar Selek talks to the Associated Press during an interview in Istanbul, Turkey, 2001 file photo. Turkish sociologist Pinar Selek talks to the Associated Press during an interview in Istanbul, Turkey, 2001 file photo.
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Turkish sociologist Pinar Selek talks to the Associated Press during an interview in Istanbul, Turkey, 2001 file photo.
Turkish sociologist Pinar Selek talks to the Associated Press during an interview in Istanbul, Turkey, 2001 file photo.
Dorian Jones
— Turkey is facing growing domestic and international pressure over the reopening of a bombing case against writer and sociologist Pinar Selek. The case has become the focal point of ongoing concern over Turkey's judiciary despite a decade of reform.

A video of leading Turkish writers, academics and human rights activists condemning the decision by an Istanbul court to reconsider the acquittal of Pinar Selek. For 14 years, Selek and her supporters campaigned to overturn her conviction for alleged involvement in a fatal bombing at Istanbul's Spice Market in 1998. The court's decision to review her acquittal has caused shock and anger.

Cengiz Aktar is a political scientist at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University.

"This is a legal scandal, a legal farce," said Aktar. "It's totally Kafkaesque, because the same court which has decided about the case and released Pinar Selek, the same court has come back to its own decision and asks for life long sentence. It must be a joke, but a very silly joke."

There has been strong international reaction to the decision, with several members of the European Parliament condemning it and the EU rapporteur on Turkey issuing a statement warning about its implications for the country's EU membership bid.

Supporters of Selek claim she was the victim of a politically motivated prosecution because of her research into the Kurdish rebel group the PKK.  According to Emma Sinclair-Webb of the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, the case highlights many of the Turkish judiciary's endemic problems during the 1990s and early 2000s.

"It’s a huge miscarriage of justice. The case of a women who is accused on the basis of no evidence, or statements extracted under torture were used to convict Pinar Selek. The evidence of a bombing is completely lacking; there is no forensic evidence that there was even a bombing in the Spice Bazaar back in [19]98," she said.

Selek, who has been acquitted three times and now lives abroad, was released after all of the witnesses for the prosecution retracted their statements, with most of them claiming they had been tortured. Selek also claims she was tortured. Forensic experts say the explosion in the marketplace was caused by a gas canister used by a restaurant there.

Observers says the case is symbolically important in helping Turkey close a chapter of its recent past characterized by human rights abuses and miscarriages of justice. The government claims it has introduced major reforms of the judiciary to end such abuses. But political scientist Cengiz Aktar warns the decision by the court to reopen the case sends a worrying message.

"I think the case gives an idea of the dire state of the judiciary in Turkey; after so many changes, amendments, reforms and still the judiciary is not functioning properly in this country and we will suffer from this in the decades to come," said Aktar.

The Istanbul court is expected to make a final decision on the Selek case in January. The government has refused to comment, saying the judiciary is independent. But observers warn that domestic and international pressure on the government and judiciary is expected to grow ahead of the court ruling.

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