On January 24, 2013, Pinar Selek, a prominent Turkish sociologist, was sentenced to life in prison by the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and aiding and abetting a terrorist attack, despite findings by multiple courts that available evidence did not support her conviction.
The prosecution related to a July 9, 1998 bomb explosion in the Istanbul Spice Bazaar that killed seven people. Ms. Selek was arrested thereafter, and served two-and-a-half years in prison, during which she reported having been tortured and pressured (unsuccessfully) to make a false confession. She further reported that she was informed while in detention that a suspect in the bombing had named her as an accomplice — that suspect later stated in court that he had given the testimony under torture and did not know Ms. Selek.
In December 2000, after a group of experts concluded that the explosion was not the result of a bomb but instead of an accidental gas ignition, she was released. Nevertheless, she was again charged with a crime in connection with the explosion and retried in December 2005; in June 2006 the Istanbul 12th Heavy Criminal Court declined to make a ruling after all the prosecution’s witnesses recanted their statements. She was subjected to a new trial, and once again acquitted, by the Istanbul 12th Heavy Criminal Court in May 2008. The acquittal was later reversed — she fled Turkey early the following year — and she tried once again in absentia. The 12th Heavy Criminal Court again acquitted her in February 2011.
Ms. Selek was once again charged and subjected to a new trial in December 2012, and found guilty in January 24, 2013. At the time, Selek had been living in France as a doctoral candidate at the University of Strasbourg.
Ms. Selek has consistently maintained her innocence. She alleges that she was chosen as a target because of her scholarly research on the Kurdish issue in Turkey, and for contacts that she made with members of the banned PKK in connection with her research.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparent imprisonment, prosecution, and alleged torture of a scholar in connection with the nonviolent exercise of the right to academic freedom and freedom of association. While states have the obligation to maintain public order and protect public safety, that obligation must be exercised with due regard for the rights to academic freedom, due process, and bodily integrity among others.
Updates: On June 10, 2014, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned Selek’s conviction on procedural grounds, although the charges against her remained intact. She was retried in late 2014, and once again acquitted.