Seven years after three Christians were tortured and killed in southeast Turkey, the Malatya trial’s 93rd hearing has been postponed for another 10 weeks, until June 23.
Under judicial changes enacted last month, the murder trial set to resume on April 10 has been transferred to Malatya’s First High Criminal Court, where a completely new panel of judges and prosecutors are assigned to the case.
“We are disappointed,” one Christian in the small Malatya fellowship said this week. “We do not know what all this means, but it seems very unlikely that the case will finish up this summer.”
Turkey’s 5,000-plus Protestant community had expressed “great sorrow and pain” when the five accused killers were released from prison in early March as part of new legal changes. In a press release, the Association of Protestant Churches deplored “this insensitive and unjust decision,” noting that the suspects had repeatedly threatened the victims’ families and lawyers during the court hearings.
But since the young men face probable life sentences, the court ordered them to be fitted with electronic tracking devices and to be kept under house arrest until a final verdict is reached. Now with a new court bench taking over, that could be many months away.
The five defendants were arrested at the Zirve Christian publishing house in Malatya just minutes after the victims were found dead of stab wounds and slit throats on April 18, 2007; the victims are Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yukset and German Christian Tilmann Geske.
With some 100,000 pages of documents recorded on the case, plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan told Al-Jazeera-Turk this week that the new judges and prosecutors will need to invest hours of “very serious precision” as they examine the case files.
Stressing that the trial has come to its “most critical stage,” Dogan declared that it is not a simple case. “We have come directly against the ‘deep state,’” he said, referring to the shadowy intrigues of the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy trying to unseat the Islamist-leaning Turkish government. The assassinations have been linked to an suspected ‘deep state’ organization embedded in various branches of the secular Turkish military.
“Completing this case is a historic opportunity that could be lost,” Dogan warned. “If the case is reduced to just enmity and hatred, the real instigators who pulled the trigger could be left in the shadows.”
Former military officials are among the nine accused perpetrators now jailed and awaiting judgment for complicity in the murders.
Protestants meet Justice Minister
Alarmed over the Malatya prisoners’ release on March 8, Protestant church leaders urgently requested an official engagement with Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag. The meeting between the minister, German widow Susanne Geske and four representatives of Turkey’s Alliance of Protestant Churches was held on March 17.
“We all openly expressed to him the issues disturbing us and our expectations,” alliance president Ismail Kulakciolgu said afterward. Reportedly the justice minister was troubled by the common public perception that “killers with blood on their hands have been set free.”
Geske told the minister that the prisoners’ release made it more difficult for her family to live in Malatya, since her children could no longer stay at home alone. But she stressed in later media interviews that she had no thoughts of leaving Turkey, saying she had forgiven the killers and that God had taken away her fears.
With the seventh anniversary of the Malatya murders on April 18, the small Malatya congregation is combining their annual memorial services for the victims with the official opening of their first designated place of worship.
The commemoration coincides with Good Friday, so the Malatya congregation has invited Christians from across Turkey to the opening ceremony of their church which will begin meeting on the rented ground floor of an apartment building in the city. Until now the group of 25 Christians has met in their own homes for worship and prayer.
Memorial graveside services will also be held that same day in Malatya at the tomb of Tilmann Geske and in the nearby village cemetery where Ugur Yuksel is buried. Another service will be held in the Aegean coast city of Izmir at the tomb of Necati Aydin; he pastored the Malatya fellowship until his death.