Amnesty International has welcomed the conviction of three Turkish soldiers for “intentionally wounding” a conscientious objector while he was in military custody.
A military court in Istanbul sentenced the soldiers to three months and 10 days’ imprisonment on 13 November for the “intentional wounding” of Mehmet Bal in June 2008.
Mehmet Bal was arrested for evading military service on 8 June and detained at Hasdal Military Prison in Istanbul.
His lawyers told Amnesty International that the next day, a senior military officer took Mehmet Bal into a prison ward and ordered military prisoners to “do what is necessary to remind him of prison rules”.
Prisoners in the cell then kicked Mehmet Bal and beat his face and body with a plank of wood.
After the attack, Mehmet Bal was taken to Gümüşsuyu Military Hospital for treatment. He was then sent back to Hasdal Military Prison on 10 June, reportedly without having fully recovered from his injuries. Mehmet Bal was eventually released on 24 June and found not guilty of the charges against him in December 2008.
The three soldiers convicted of intentional wounding were all prisoners being held in the cell at the time of Mehmet Bal’s detention.
No charges have been brought against the military officer who allegedly instructed the prisoners to beat Mehmet Bal, nor against any other official at the prison.
Lawyers representing Mehmet Bal have appealed the verdict on the grounds that the men should have been convicted of the more serious offence of “torment” (eziyet).
“We welcome the fact that soldiers who ill-treated Mehmet Bal have been convicted. However, Mehmet Bal should never have been detained in the first place for simply exercising his right to freedom of conscience in refusing to perform military service,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey.
Conscientious objectors are frequently ill-treated in Turkish military custody after being arrested and detained for their refusal to perform military service.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Turkish authorities to stop the prosecutions of conscientious objectors and to introduce a civilian alternative to military service in line with European and international standards and recommendations
Legislation allowing the repeated prosecution and conviction of conscientious objectors for their refusal to perform military service remains in force despite a European Court of Human Rights ruling that such practices represent a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (prohibition of torture or other ill-treatment).
In the vast majority of cases, effective investigations are not held following allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by state officials and those responsible are not brought to justice.