Almost Nine Years Later, Verdict in Malatya Killings Trial Still Awaited

Defense could seek removal of monitoring devices on suspects.

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – Another court hearing in the case of three Christians that were killed for their faith in Turkey almost nine years ago is set to be held next week.

The Jan. 5 hearing will be the 109th hearing to take place since the killing took place in 2007.

On April 18, 2007, three Christians were killed by men with links to Turkish nationals in the office of the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya in southeastern Turkey. Ugur Yüksel, 32, and Necati Aydin, 36, both Turkish converts from Islam, and Tilmann Geske, 45, a German national, were bound, interrogated about their Christian activities and then with knives; tortured, mutilated and killed, according to court evidence.

Police arrested five men almost immediately after the crime was reported; Salih Gurler, Cuma Ozdemir, Abuzer Yildirim, Hamit Ceker and Emre Gunaydin. Gunaydin attemped to escape police by jumping out of an upstairs window of the office and suffered serious injuries. Several others were later arrested in connection with the crime, including Turna Işıklı, Gunaydin’s girlfriend.

According to several Christians close to those killed, one or more of those arrested cultivated relationships with the victims. Several Christians said Gunaydin went so far as to pose as being interested in the Christian faith or even becoming a Christian to get as close as possible to the three men.

When they were arrested, at least one of the suspects had a note claiming they committed the slaying for their country.

“They are trying to take our country away, take our religion away,” the note read in part.

In 2008, the court held its first hearing in the case, but the proceedings were problematic and difficult from the start. The judges and prosecutors were changed more than once, causing significant delays, and subpoenaed witnesses simply refused to show up in court to testify without legitimate reason, and without being punished later for contempt of court.

Most significant in delays was the attempt to explore links between the killings and a larger alleged attempt by the Turkish military to subvert the Justice and Development Party-led government.

From the beginning of the trial, Gunaydin was portrayed as the leader of the attack, with links to nationalist groups, in particular nationalist writer Varol Bulent Aral. According to testimony by Gunaydin, Aral urged the killing of the Christians and said he would have support of the state, meaning hard-core nationalists within the military.

In 2009, the murder case was linked to the Ergenekon file, concerning a suspected cabal plotting against the government. As a result of this, a host of new witnesses were called into court, including a colonel in the gendarmerie and three army officers.

Especially galling to families of the victims, the five suspects in the trial were released on bail on March 10, 2014 under a new reform law that reduced the allowable period of pretrial detention from 10 years to five. Under public pressure, authorities required them to wear electronic monitoring devices, but the release caused extreme distress among the families and friends of the victims. The suspects had in the past threatened family members of the victims. The wife of a Christian witness of the killings suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized until she recovered, her husband told Morning Star News.

If no verdict is announced in the January hearing, it is thought defense attorneys will argue that the monitoring devices should be removed. Also expected to speak in court are the family members of the victims, who are expected to voice their frustration about the length of time the court is taking in coming to a verdict.

 

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At base of Uğur Yüksel’s grave, three words, “Killed like Jesus.” (Morning Star News)

At base of Uğur Yüksel’s grave, three words, “Killed like Jesus.” (Morning Star News)

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