Pinar Selek

If you read this website regularly, you know there are many crazy court cases going on in Turkey. The prime example of the state of justice Turkey is in, however, is the case of sociologist, writer, human rights activist and feminist Pinar Selek. She has been in a Kafkaesk battle with Turkey’s court system for fourteen years now,  over involvement in a bombing that never even happened.

Pinar Selek, 41 years old, lives in France now, where she works as an academic. She cannot go back to Turkey, as the court case against her that started in 1998 is still not over. She is very active in Europe in human rights defence work and doing pretty well, I heard from one of her friends, but she’s also tired. Tired of fighting against a system that just doesn’t let go of her. Missing her friends and family, missing her country, not being able to continue the important work she had dedicated herself to in Turkey.

What happened? It all started in 1998, with an explosion in the Spice Bazar in Istanbul, in which seven people died and more than 120 were wounded. Pinar Selek was arrested in July of that year, accused of involvement in what the prosecutor said was a bombing. She spent two and a half years in jail, and was only released after experts concluded the explosion was not caused by a bomb but by the accidental ignition of a gas cylinder.

Case closed?

No, case not closed. The case against Selek continued, and in December 2005 the prosecutor opened a new trial against her for the same non-existent bombing. Acquittal followed six months later.

Case closed?

No, case not closed. In March 2009, the Court of Appeals requested a review of the case and reversed the acquittal. Followed by a new acquittal, in May of the same year.

Case closed?

No, case not closed. The Court of Appeals objected again in February 2010. The case had to be reviewed by a lower court. The lower court refused the review, ruled that the acquittal was legitimately and fairly given and upheld Selek’s acquittal. It was February 2011 by then.

Case closed?

No, case not closed. In a hearing last month the lower court decided to drop its refusal to review the case and proceed with reopening the trial against Selek. The refusal to review was, the court claims, contrary to procedure. The first hearing of the re-opened trial is today in Istanbul. Pinar Selek and five other already acquitted suspects in the case of the non-existent bombing won’t be there. Her supporters will be. I hope Pinar gets some strength out of all the support she gets.

Why? Why does the state keep chasing after a woman who they say was involved in a bombing that never even happened? That is, so it’s assumed, because of her academic research. It focuses on groups that are excluded from society. In the year before she was arrested, she decided to focus on Kurds, after she had been doing research on, for example, transsexuals and street children. That time frame, the nineties, was ultra-violent in the southeast of Turkey, but Pinar Selek decided to take up the dangerous job of talking to different sides in the conflict to investigate what exactly was going on.

And that’s what got her into trouble. She talked to the PKK as well. After her arrest in 1998, her research was confiscated, she was tortured in prison to reveal her sources, and fake police reports were made up to incriminate her. The ‘bomb’ was just a way to get her. That there was no bomb is just a minor detail to the justice system. It was not about the bomb to begin with, it was about silencing a young, promising, brave academic and human rights activist.

It can’t be predicted what the outcome of the court case today will be. Maybe Selek will now be acquitted ‘according to procedure’. If so, of course she still cannot feel safe – she was acquitted before. Her friend in Istanbul told me that some time ago, they were walking on the street in Paris and Pinar was often looking over her shoulder, afraid of being followed. She is constantly on her guard. It must indeed be deeply traumatizing to be caught up in such a mind-blowing case for years and years, never knowing when the nightmare will end and if you will ever have your life back.

The other scenario is that the case will continue and that she will eventually be sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

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